BookMates

*taps mic* Is this thing on?

Hi everybody,

It’s been a long minute, huh?

Well, I’m excited to say I’m back and I did not return empty-handed. For MONTHS I’d been working on a web series that took many twists and turns and has finally evolved into what I’m so thrilled to share with you all.

BOOKMATES is a series following two book-loving friends and the situations bibliophiles find themselves in.

They’re short and sweet skits that I hope you enjoy as much as I enjoyed making them.

The teaser is below…catch all the fire names we dropped in just 26 seconds!

Comment below, I wanna know what you guys think!

Ain’t I A Mother: Motherhood as Freedom in ‘Underground’

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WGN’s ‘Underground’

It’s been a while (a long, looong while) but I’m back with some thoughts to share, specifically regarding Underground. I love the show since the premiere and that love has required a lot of defending against haters. But now that the season has ended I’ve had time to mull over a lot of the things that struck me and one of those things is motherhood. Season one presents us with three black women who are slaves on a Georgia plantation. What’s unique about these women is their declaration of motherhood, a right not afforded to them due to their being, legally, property. That declaration of motherhood is a form of freedom as violently toiled for as physically escaping the plantation.

Toni Morrison first presented the argument for motherhood as freedom in her novel, Beloved. Morrison looks at real-life Margaret Garner and how her decision to kill her child was Garner’s defense against slavery and assertion of motherhood. I believe, in their own way, the mothers of Underground are odes to Garner and mothers alike in the age of slavery who did not allow an institution of hate and violence bar them from claiming, loving, and protecting their children.

You can read my piece on Catapult!

 

Elsewherewithinhere: Daphne, AL

 

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ElsewhereWithinHere

ElsewhereWithinHere is an online collection of places that have inspired, made, or broken the writers who wrote about them.

I wrote a piece on the time I travelled to my father’s childhood home in Daphne, Alabama.

Click here to read it.

13 Women Writers on Self-Reliance

Self-reliance is an understanding of one’s ability to define and determine the self. That understanding is a difficult one to reach as a black woman. Often times our paths are obstructed by the looming presence of a society whose existence seems rooted in keeping us down. But, as Maya Angelou reminded us, we still shall rise. See what these 13 writers have to say about the matter of self-love and self-reliance.

Read more of my latest offering for Blavity 

Gathering of Waters – A review

Gathering of Waters

Published: 2012

Publisher: Akashic Books

Pages: 252

“You would never think something so horrible happened in such a peaceful place” – Gathering of Waters

Elements of the supernatural have been the tie that binds Black American literature across genres. Whether you’re reading Octavia Butler or Alice Walker or Sister Souljah there is the presence of the unseen that exists, visible exclusively for those who get it, those who live it, those who understand the function of symbols in every day life. Toni Morrison described it as “all the parts of living […] on an equal footing. Birds talk and butterflies cry, and it is not surprising or upsetting,” otherwise known as animism.

Animism is the “idea that souls inhabit all objects, living things, and even phenomena.” This idea is what shapes Bernice McFadden’s novel about Money, Mississippi and one of its first families. Gathering of Waters is the meaning of the name Mississippi, a name given to the southern state by Choctaw Native Americans. While the European may have loved the name, he did not bestow that affection for the name givers and so they were violently exterminated. Mississippi’s evil past is, inadvertently, exhumed in order to build the town of Money, who serves as the narrator of Gathering of Waters.

It is Money who introduces readers to animism and how what is deemed as “bizarre,” and “absurd” are nothing more than “memories of previous existences.” Those previous existences are the souls that inhabit all things and if there is one thing to remember it is that “souls never, ever die.” That fact is displayed in the family Money has followed with a “desperate infatuation” for decades. A haunting history is revealed, ripe with tragedy and Bernice L. McFadden grips you from the very beginning with her stunning prose that is both succinct and poignant, commanding every inch of your attention.

Gathering of Waters is framed by three tragic events that take place in Money, Mississippi. It does not begin with the violent murder of Emmett Till in 1955; the story works itself backwards unfolding a cycle of evil beginning with the first problem to enter Money, “carrying a pink parasol in one hand and a Bible in the other.” In the 78 year existence of Money, Mississippi we not only follow a family’s inception, but the presence of a soul, a memory, a previous existence, that is not bound by the manmade boundaries of prejudices. Its presence shifts across color lines perpetuating an evil that devastates and destroys: young lovers are separated, lives are lost, families are torn apart. Gathering of Waters is an examination of the past and its active role in the present. McFadden brilliantly offers a deeper insight of the ways in which generations are linked; her use of the omniscient spirit of Money as a narrator allows her to interweave the material world and the spiritual world in a way that is neither surprising nor upsetting. McFadden sets both worlds on equal footing.

 McFadden succeeds in not only adding to the rich tradition of southern African-American gothic literature, she delivers a body of work whose soul will stick with readers forever. It has been such a long time since I’ve read a novel that I sacrificed sleep for on an account of not being able to bare putting it down. Gathering of Waters left me with the same sensation Song of Solomon introduced me to–I can never un-see what McFadden opened me up to, there are themes that will continue to unravel and amaze me for the rest of my life. This is a novel that I know I will turn to again and again. I am now going to devour everything McFadden has previously written.

Rating: 5/5

The Magic Beyoncé and Melina Matsoukas Form

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Beyonce, ‘Formation’
Formation (noun) – the action of forming or process of being formed.

Beyoncé understands the power of visuals. In 2013 she graced the world with an entire visual album and forever changed the way artists release music. So when she prepared Saturday, February 6, 2016, to be the day she’d return to scalp the globe with her pro-black anthem she knew she would need a video to capture the track’s grit and gutter. It would only make sense that she’d turn to Melina Matsoukas, the woman whose directed over 10 of Bey’s visuals.

While known for her vibrant colors, vintage flair, and ingenious direction, Melina does not shy away from controversy; her visuals have often either been banned or come under heavy scrutiny, but that doesn’t seem to stop the NYU and AFI alumna from creating thmelina-matsoukas-video-maven-w-magazinee most stunning videos at a time when narrative music videos seem to be declining. In her latest collaboration with Queen Bey she delves into the spirit of Southern Goth and New Orleans to bless viewers with a healthy dose of #BlackGirlMagic, #BlackExcellence, #BlackEverything.

“I got hot sauce in my bag, swag”

‘Formation’ opens with Beyoncé dressed down in a red and white calico inspired fit and black boots. She is standing atop of a partially submerged New Orleans Police squad car as the late Messy Mya states “bitch, I’m back by popular demand.” Immediately you know that what you are about to witness is unlike anything you’ve ever seen from the Beyoncé and Melina catalog. Flashes of scenes from Abteen Bagheri’s (@abteen), That B.E.A.T., give you just enough time to brace yourself before being launched into a space where the past, the present, and the future intertwine at the picturesque plantation home. Inside is Beyoncé in various Southern garb as she recites her linage:

“My daddy, Alabama. Mama, Louisiana. You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas Bama”

It is then that you realize Beyoncé is leading you to a place of no return. For years she has subtly distanced herself from the mainstream media that once kept her in a commercialized box. ‘Formation’ is where she breaks her silence. What we hear, and see, is a Beyoncé who is unapologetically black, who likes her “baby hair with baby hair and afros,” and her “negro nose with jackson five nostrils.” Blue Ivy Carter stands before us, her afro a glorious halo, with all of the grace and confidence that make up her celestial DNA. Melina cuts back and forth between Mother and Daughter conjuring up a spirit, a tangible feeling, so visceral and magical it belongs in a Toni Morrison novel.

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Formation’ is an homage. As Beyoncé sits in a sparse room in a corset, twirling an umbrella, pictures of her ancestors behind her, Melina has expertly woven generations together illustrating the shoulders upon which Beyoncé, Blue, and all black women stand. One of the most powerful moments is the performance scene in the middle of the home’s hallway. Beyoncé and her dancers are clothed in maroon leotards with deep necklines and dancing fiercely as Bey declares:

“I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it.”

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Amidst those walls where Bey, and crew, dance with a dominant strut are the spirits of the women who once walked those halls as servants, violently stripped of the ability to work toward any dream, let alone own it. Women who were incapable of any agency over their own bodies and sexualities. No one captures that spirit with the same poignancy as Melina who places one of the most powerful women in spaces that once existed as oppressive structures for black bodies and souls, thus, reforming the image–reclaiming power and restoring dignity to what we’ve too long been made to feel ashamed of. 

While managing to insert her signature vibrant color schemes Melina continues to push the envelope as she makes some of her boldest statements yet. As the black boy in his hoodie dances before the line of SWAT officers, and the NOLA squad car submerges, and
the graffiti demanding “stop shooting us” pans across the screen, we see Melina brilliantly tackling police brutality and the incessant violent assault on black lives and bodies. This is not solely Melina’s boldest move, it is also Beyoncé’s. For a womantumblr_o25mci3Bo51qf29nao2_500 who is so calculated  and strategic with her image Beyoncé needed a vision she could trust to handle the most controversial moment of her career with grace. Melina is who Beyoncé trusts. Time and time again these two forces prove that when combined they are nothing short of Magical.

“Ok, ladies, now let’s get in formation.”

Flight

Keep24(Stephanie Fields, Flight)

“You want to fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down” – Toni Morrison (Song of Solomon) 

So it’s finally here! I started this project in September 2015; I had absolutely no idea where I was going with it and since its inception it has taken many twists and turns. Throughout it all–the crying, the hair pulling, the teeth decaying–I am proud to have finally completed my collection of short stories & present it to the world!

“Flight” is a multimedia collection of short stories that use photo, film, and written text to explore themes of escapism for black women. The collection features 4 short stories, films, and photosets.

I am very thankful to all of those who encouraged me through this process, it has truly been a transformative experience. I hope that you all enjoy and share; I would really like to know what you think.

Ok, enough sentiment, you can find–and follow–the collection by clicking this link HERE.

xoxo – Steph

P.S. there is MUCH more coming from me in the New Year!

“Writing a Novel is Terrible…”

In September I decided to write a collection of short stories. I had a very distinct theme that was appearing in my creative narratives and I thought, “I should really hone in it and try to create a small comprehensive body of work.” In the spirit of Shonda Rhime’s Year of Yes, I said, “Yes! Let’s do it.”

It is now December and I am ready to bury my head in the sand. Probably because I’ve expanded my project to include multimedia elements, but not really. It’s the writing. The writing is so hard, especially when you’ve spent a good couple hours typing away at the keyboard thinking you’re “in your zone,” and you stop to re-read only to find a bunch of mess that you wouldn’t show anyone.

Toni Morrison admitted to taking three years to write a novel, that is not my plan. I began this journey thinking I could do four short stories with some multimedia complements and be done. As January approaches I am coming to terms with the fact that one does not simply agree to write and it be done.

Instead, it is much like how Flannery O’Connor described:

“a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.”

My teeth are still healthily situated in my gums, however, I am not too sure about the state of my hair or sanity.

How do people make a career out of this?!

Dear Queen Morrison,

toni morrison

It is with trepidation that I write this. A familiar trepidation that arises in me every time I attempt to deconstruct, analyze, or appreciate your work. I know I am unworthy and without the masterful use of metaphor, language, and syntax that God seems to have exclusively gifted to you, but in the spirit of your many beautifully flawed and defiant female characters: despite my short-comings I insist on saying what I have to say, which is thank you.

  Praise for your overall genius is nothing new for you, I wonder if it even gets old after a while, but I do have to confess that when I first encountered a novel of yours in the ninth grade “genius” was the last adjective I thought to describe you. But like the good word says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man/woman, I gave up childish ways,” and eventually I had seen the light of the intricate maze of plots you set in the beautiful, dangerous, and mysterious landscape of  your language.

The spirit of fearlessness that I’ve found in all of your work from Pilot to Consolata is inspiring and affirming—no one does a complex black woman like you. No one penetrates the taboo and exposes its good, its bad, and its ugly like you. And no one confidently refuses to explain their work like you do:

“I have spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books” – Toni Morrison 

suddenly there was a place for me to escape the Eurocentrism that confronted me at every corner. You showed me humanity and the complex forms it takes when shaped by race, sex, class, and religion.

There have been many times where I’ve finished one of your novels and contemplated giving up my own desire to be a writer. I mean how am I ever going to write something as intricately metaphoric as Song of Solomon, or as intensely intimate chaotic and beautiful as Tar Baby, or as brilliantly symbolic as Paradise? But the brilliance of your work, both fiction and non-fiction, is that you evoke and even require that I write, that I continue to add to the cannon of African-American literature. It is you who famously said,

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it” -Toni Morrison

and even though I’m convinced you’re written every book I could possibly want to read, you encourage me to explore my voice and to share my stories and, most importantly, never explain that which is already understood by those for whom I write.

Thank you for being you and for sharing your gift—we are all unworthy of it.