While my semester got off to an exciting start with the Computing for the Humanities Bootcamp and Branch Out 2019, once those workshops were over, I realized there was nothing standing between me and my comps preparations. So I took a couple days after Branch Out to rest up, then mentally steeled myself to dive completely into comps.
Since about last Thursday, I’ve read a lot. I read Sami Schalk’s Bodyminds Reimagined and LeRoi Jones’ Blues People; I read Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By The Door; I even read The Narrative of Sojourner Truth and Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo. I also read a number of poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar, Rita Dove and Langston Hughes, as well as chapters from Safiya Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression, Simone Brown’s Dark Matters: On Surveillance of Blackness and Anna Everett’s essay “Have We Become Postracial Yet? Race and Media Technology in the Age of President Obama.” I’ve been reading like I’m dying of thirst and books are my only cure.
Ultimately, with 117 texts left to read and 93 days to read them in, I know I have to stop reading every single word. But as much as grad school has tried to break me of my love for reading, and as much as comps is essentially academic hazing, this past week of doing nothing but reading texts and then writing about then for notes has actually renewed my love of the written word. I know not all of what I will read will be beautiful, I know not all of it will be life changing– there will inevitably be texts that I don’t like– but this week, I did manage to fall in love with a few texts.
A Voice From the South, Anna Julia Cooper
“When, looking a little more closely, I see two dingy little rooms with, “FOR LADIES” swinging over one and “FOR COLORED PEOPLE” over the other; while wondering under which head I come…” (p. 96)
I thought my love of books published by Black women in 1892 began and ended with Ida B. Wells’ Southern Horrors. Sometimes, I love being wrong. AJC was tackling the intersections and complexities of Black (Southern) womanhood long before there was the word “Intersectionality” to put in your twitter bios. (No shade, no shade). I’m definitely late to the AJC fan club and the importance of her writing, but I’m here now! Cooper had me laughing out loud at her quite frequently present shade and sarcasm. For example:
“Above all, for the love of humanity stop the mouth of those learned theorizers, the expedient
mongers, who come out annually with their new and improved method of getting the answer and clearing the slate: amalgamation, deportation, colonization and all the other actions that were ever devised or dreampt of.” (p. 171-172)
She said it, not me.
Her soapbox is the education of Black women– no, not even the education of Black women, but her insistence on the existence of Black women and thus catering towards our humanity. We aren’t doing any service to our race, she insists, by ignoring Black women. We are a critical part of the population.
If there was any doubt that Black women have always been doing the work of liberation, one need only look to Anna Julia Cooper.
“If she the G.O.A.T. now, would anybody doubt it?”
-Janelle Monae, “Django Jane”
Superwomen: Gender, Power and Representation, Carolyn Cocca
Carolyn Cocca is mainly concerned with the project of representation of women in (transmedia) comics. She covers it all– the good, the bad, and the ugly. Her chapters on figures such as Wonder Woman, Batgirl, and Buffy (among many others) are proof that women characters can have varying representations in comics and on screen, but a lot of that representation is unfortunately tied to sales and who on the artistic and editorial team is willing to, as Kelly Sue DeConnick quips, “pretend [women are] people.” (p. 220) Cocca is also deeply interested in the connections between representations of women in comics in particular with the second and third waves of feminism. And naturally, with discussions of power come questions of race and heternormativity, questions I believe Cocca handles with care.
And yet– and this is no fault of Cocca’s excellent text– I found myself wanting more of this type of analysis but about Black women in comics, Latinas in comics, Native Americans in comics, Asian Americans in comics. I think Deborah Whaley’s Black Women in Sequence is an excellent text to read in conjunction with Cocca’s book, because it fills in the narrative gaps I was feeling, at from the perspective of Black women.
What this book gave me was a desire to produce more content by and for Black women in the comics realm, so much so, that the first thing I did after close the book for the last time was open a document and start writing my first comic book script, a fantastical/superhero narrative starring two best friends, one African American and one Afro-Latina. I don’t know if anything will ever come of this story, but it made me feel emboldened to create the story I know I would have wanted to read as a sixteen year old.
And at the end of the day, in my mind, if a book doesn’t make me want to write, then it didn’t speak to my soul.
Thank you for speaking to my soul, Carolyn Cocca.
Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted, Frances E. W. Harper
Again with my books published by Black women in 1892. That was just a good year for Black women writers, apparently.
So, I picked up that book…and didn’t put it down again until I was finished reading.
I was not expecting to be so engaged! But then again, I should have known I would have liked it. Ever since I took my Interracialism class my first semester of graduate school, I have been enamoured with the Black writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly those stories which deal with mulatto characters. I honestly have no idea where the fascination comes from, but I believe it’s the interest in different variations on American Blackness that confounds and enthralls me. I also have an interest in Afro-Latinx literature of the late 20th and 21st century. I think these stories remind me that Blackness is not monolithic, it’s diasporic and infinite.
I also love a text that challenges me to think and question, that I sort of wrestle with, and Iola Leroy was definitely one of those texts. Everytime I read a text with mixed raced characters, I have to redefine what I mean by Blackness, and I think that sort of exercise is good for the mind and important for my scholarship.
“‘Slavery,’ said Iola, ‘was a fearful cancer eating into the nation’s heart, sapping its vitality, and undermining its life.’” (p. 216)
As much as I have dreaded this process, fearfully reading as much as I could last semester and in the summer to avoid having to read stacks of books a day, I have found this intellectual exercise particularly stimulating. It’s also possible that I feel this way because the ratio of novels and poems to peer reviewed monographs is overwhelming. I’m spending my days lounging around, devouring books with my dog at my side, sipping perfectly brewed coffee and thinking how one day, I will desperately miss these perfect moments.