Women Who Write: Naki Akrobettoe

Back at it again with yet another Woman Writer!

Naki Akrobettoe is an acclaimed poet and spoken-word artist. She’s released two albums, given TEDtalks in Ghana, and is currently working on her first collections of poems.

I got the privilege to sit down with Naki and learn about her love for poetry and home in her piece, “Crown Morning Gold”.

Watch below:

Learn more about Naki at Nakispeaks.com 

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Women Who Write: Raven Starr

It’s been a long time, I shouldn’tve left you without a dope beat to step to, step to…

I’ve been gone for a minute, but I’m back with another profile on yet another brilliant writer. Raven Starr is a poet whose vulnerability is so authentic it will inspire you to be just as open. She’s raw, she’s honest, and she’s talented. Check out the amazing piece she shared with me, “It was 12 a.m. and I Thought I was a Rapper”

 

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 

Queen Sugar – A Review

Queen Sugar

Published: 2014

Publisher: Penguin Group

Pages: 372

Summary: Charlotte Boderlon, a California based teacher, inherits a sugar cane farm in Louisiana after the passing of her father. Driven by a need for a fresh start, she packs up her life, and eleven-year old daughter, Micah, and sets off for Saint Josephine Louisiana. Charlotte, Charley, quickly learns that neither a fresh start, nor managing a plummeting sugar cane farm, is as easy as it sounds. Family ties are tested, Love is discovered, and Life is re-defined in Natalie Baszile’s debut novel.

richmond barthe the cane cutter

The Cane Cutter, Richmond Barthé

“When Someone in a family needs help, it’s up to everyone to see that he gets what he needs”

Review: I love southern literature. My affection for the south runs deep. Anything that takes place in Louisiana or Alabama’s gulf coast I sniff out like a hound, so when I heard Ava DuVernay was creating a show about a woman running a sugar cane farm in Louisiana I scoured the internet for more information. As a bibliophile, you can imagine my delight–to put it mildly–when I discovered the series was based on a book. Once I got my hands on Natalie Baszile’s debut novel I felt a sense of nostalgia and longing surface for the region so deeply nestled in my heart. And to some degree, I was satisfied.

Charlotte Boderlon, or Charley as she prefers to be called, is a woman in need of a do-over. At mid to late thirties her life hasn’t quite gone as planned. So when she inherits her father’s sugar cane farm, trading her life in California for a second chance in Louisiana seems like a logical plan. As she and her reluctant daughter, Micah, make their voyage, Charlotte is hoping this second chance will not only allow her to re-direct the course of her life, but to rectify the strained relationship she has with her daughter. More than anything she is seeking forgiveness.

The theme of forgiveness overtly weaves itself throughout the novel as we discover Charley is not the only one in need of a do-over. Her brother, Ralph-Angel, is on the run with his son, Blue, in tow. Like his sister he is escaping a life that hasn’t quite gone in his favor, but what he’s searching for continues to elude him and eventually he finds himself returning to the home, and memories, that have caused their equal share of joy and pain.

It is in Miss Honey’s house in Saint Josephine, Louisiana, where the two siblings “come to roost” after twenty-years. It is not a reunion either is exactly ecstatic over, but for a brief moment a bud of hope blossoms in Charley’s guarded heart as she ignores the warnings against trusting her shifty brother. She wants to believe that, despite the past, everyone deserves forgiveness–she herself has made gruesome mistakes. That hope is not only extended toward her brother, it reaches to the acres of unkept sugar cane land she’s now been crowned the owner of.

“You can’t come down here thinking the field’s wide open. You gotta know this thing. You got to live it” – Queen Sugar 

Chances of the crop’s redemption seem slim and just when Charley has dug herself out of a hole, she tumbles into a ditch. As much as she considers throwing the towel in, she understands that this land is more than just sugar cane crop, it’s a family legacy: a chance to re-right the wrong that was done to her father, a chance to bestow something on her daughter–even if it is simply showing her how “a woman in desperate straits could pull her own survival out of the ruddy earth.” She takes that chance, and it is not without risk as the more she toils the tougher the terrain becomes. What she’s working at is bigger than her individual self.

“People had fought over sugarcane and died for it. They had married for it, prayed over it, and cursed its existence” – Queen Sugar

The quest to restore her father’s land comes with a battle she hadn’t prepared for: her family’s skeletons. A fresh-start does not always mean an escape from the past. But sometimes, “you go looking for adventure, all you find is disaster.”

Queen Sugar has all of the elements to make it a compelling story. Baszile has a way of revealing the history and process of sugar cane farming that does not put you to sleep. Her prose is sweet and she paints the south in such rich and realistic colors you can feel the Louisiana sun beaming on you. I understand why Ava was inspired by the novel. While there is beautiful language, an empathetic protagonist, and a quasi love-triangle, Queen Sugar also examines the very real presence of race and its -isms. Baszile weaves reflections of farming’s racial history with the harsh reality of attempting to operate in a white male dominated industry as a black woman. The odds are stacked against Charley, but her determination and her sense of duty is endearing enough to win the partnership of the most revered and knowledgable farmer, and speak to the history of black female resilience and “generations of struggle and perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.” Charlotte is not a woman made of stone, but she is also no push-over.

 

“You couldn’t expect to be the only woman in an industry filled with men and not think someone would eventually say something stupid; you couldn’t ignore the long, dark, tortured history of Southern race relations, or pretend everything would be fixed overnight. [..] But you could be brave.” – Queen Sugar 

 

I enjoyed Queen Sugar although the story began to lose grip of its reins toward the end and what should have been a gut-wrenching scene almost flew by too fast for me. Nevertheless, it opens up a dialog that will leave you wrestling with what’s left unresolved.

Rating: 3.5/5

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!

“Mother” is featured in Black Girls Talking “The Annex.”

 

Mother img

Black Girls Talking is a collective of four black women discussing and critiquing relevant topics from pop-culture to politics. Recently they created “The Annex,” described as a “home for cultural writing and criticism.” The Annex is seasonal and theme-based. For their premiere issue the theme is Resistance and I was humbled to have the opportunity to have a short story featured.

“Mother” is a short-story that looks at the intertwining lives of three women on an island during the eve of its revolution. The story has gone through extensive changes since being submitted to “The Annex,” but I am proud and thankful nonetheless.

You can read the full story by clicking the link.

No Disrespect–A Review

Quiet, that’s what Ebro from Hot 97 calls Sister Souljah–“I don’t see you speaking the same way you used to,” is the direct quote. Quiet seems an ill-fitted adjective for the once forceful Bronx-accented voice that rattled radio waves, television screens, and college auditoriums urging the African and Latino youth to wake up, fight against white supremacy, and to, most importantly, love and respect themselves. Her voice was voracious but clear, ferocious but honest. When Souljah spoke, you listened. Quiet she certainly was not. But that was twenty some years ago, before The Coldest Winter Ever and the Midnight Sagas that launched Souljah into the literary world capturing a loyal readership and the attention of Jada Pinkett-Smith, who is still trying to get The Coldest Winter Ever to the big screen.

“If you see me speaking, you’ll see me speaking the same way, plus the additional wisdom–hopefully,” she responds to Ebro. Today her voice packs less potency in volume but retains its clarity when speaking with the Hot 97 radio team. She’s been making her media rounds promoting her latest novel, A Moment of Silence: Midnight III, while still, always, managing to speak on the matter most dear to her heart–black people.

Though I didn’t grow up listening to Sister Souljah, my own affection for the black diasporic community introduced me to the force that was her presence. I ingested every YouTube clip/interview/song of hers I could find allowing her energy, dominance, and belief in black unity to fill me with enough optimism to navigate my PWI (predominately white institution). There was comfort in listening to a confident, loud, black woman profess her love and commitment to the people.

A sense of nostalgia came over me as I watched Souljah’s Hot 97 interview. I began to remember not only her confident character that was willing to challenge white supremacy, and Bill Clinton, but her autobiography I picked up yet never got around to reading. I went searching for the book with excitement, wanting to uncover more on the woman who rallied up the black youth, worked with Public Enemy and P.Diddy, and debated with Cornel West. What I discovered was…revealing.

sister souljah

Described as:

“a fiercely candid autobiography and a survival manual for any African American woman who wants to keep her heart open and her integrity intact in 1990s America,”

No Disrespect delivers seven chapters dedicated to people—specifically men–who “educated (and mis-educated) her [Sister Souljah] about love,” and introduces readers to the ways the black family structure–or lack thereof—has been deeply damaged by white-supremacy and has, as a result, failed the black youth.

Sister Souljah likens herself to Harriet Tubman, who she believes had “African spiritual eyes,” a gift Souljah claims to be blessed with as well. This spiritual eye allows for both women to penetrate the dangers of oppression and be guided the philosophy that:

“If one is not safe, all are not safe…If life is not fair and balanced, tragedy will fall on all our houses”

Her belief in African spirituality—something that often seemed like an over-romanticized myth—and profound love for, faith in, and devotion to black people drives her to challenge institutionalized structures that set black people, and black families, up for failure. This love propels her to create a survival camp in North Carolina for black youth in the “welfare hotels” of New York. This love encourages her to open her home and heart to her students. This love ignites her to rally up influential entertainers and businesspeople to invest in a benefit concert for her camp. This love also blinds her particularly when it comes to men.

“I am no angel,” Sister Souljah professes in the first line of the note to her readers, “I am a young black sister with an unselfish heart who overdosed on love long ago.” It is with this love that Souljah bares her soul in an intimately candid memoir.

“By exposing my experiences and the experiences of many of the people around me, I hope and pray that many African men and women will gain an understanding of love and life, that they will have a chance to save themselves the pain of ignorance.”

I found myself flinching through most of the autobiography, not due to any lack of depth or one-dimensional characters, but from its brutal honesty. Souljah holds nothing back as she takes us into the heart and soul of a young woman battling severe loneliness. Being an intelligent, confident, self-aware black woman did not have men lining up to treat Sister Souljah with the respect, love, and kindness she longed for. But despite that fact, one thing remained sure, her devout love for black people. 

“No matter how backward and negative the mainstream view and image of black people, I feel compelled to reshape that image and to explore our many positive angels—because I love my own people”

That exploration of black people’s positive angles—which are prodigious—has Souljah looking quite desperate in some of her romantic choices.For a woman who is so book-smart she is rendered incapable of separating intellectual theory from romantic relationships. There comes a point when she forgoes her own principals and beliefs in the black family structure for “love.” It is then where one can see how loneliness, naiveté, and idealism can bring even the strongest woman to her knees.

“I have a problem: I love hard. Maybe too hard,” she confesses. Most of us have probably not used our theoretical notions on the broken black family structure as an excuse to remain in dysfunctional relationships, but we were all young and dumb once. We’ve often ignored the signs, the warnings from our friends, the inner-voice urging us to turn away. Love, or the many flawed and fragmented ideas of it, is equally dangerous and redemptive. Without it for ourselves we are lost, without it for our fellow human we are doomed. However, we have to find a balance between loving someone and making excuses for their inadequacies. This, I believe, is the ultimate lesson Souljah risked her vulnerability to share.

“I finally figured out what takes many people a lifetime to discover. I figured out: to love myself, to understand my value and power…”

The road to self-love is a bumpy one full of detours to places most wouldn’t shine a light on, but Souljah bravely illuminated many of her own pit-falls in an attempt to be a beacon for the lost ones she devoted a career to saving. Despite a few questionable sentiments (like homosexuality being a “lifestyle” of choice), which we can only hope have evolved in the twenty years since the publication of the book, Sister Souljah is a brilliant mind and brave soul who readily gave of herself for the progression of those she loved—black people.

Kindred, a review

kindred

Finding yourself forcibly removed from your modern time to a slave plantation in the 19th century is the stuff of science fiction (Octavia Butler’s to be exact), but for Dana it’s reality—a reality as difficult to grapple with as the plot itself, but despite the inhumane circumstances, Octavia Butler cultivates a tale as hauntingly complex as the time she’s writing about while still managing to cloak each character in their unique brand of humanity. 

Dana is in the process of beginning a new family when she is taken far beyond her own ancestral recognizance to a time and a place that began her origins. That place, for some, would be an opportunity of great intrigue, but for Dana it is a place of great violence and trauma because in Dana’s modern time of 1976 she is a writer, a wife, a free woman, but in 1815 on the plantation of her soon to be great-great-great grandfather she is a slave—a role she struggles to define and play throughout the novel.

She quickly discovers that she is not being transported back to this plantation for the fun of it, she’s been casted in a dual-role of slave and savior. Her damsel in distress isn’t the slave woman forced to bring about the beginning of Dana’s family-line, not the other slave women whose bodies are used and broken at the will of their owner, not the slaves at constant risk of being sold, or killed, but their master, Rufus–who just happens to be her great-great-great grandfather. This ascribed responsibility is the test of her humanity, her strength, and her will to survive. Yet, despite all of this, Butler sets out to develop the most impractical, improbable, impossible relationship of the antebellum years—a friendship between a white, male, slave-owner and a black, female, slave. And, surprisingly, it works.

How? 

Butler’s language. It’s blunt and sharp. There is no palatable way to present slavery, so Butler disregards pleasantries and caution as she drops Dana, and the readers, into the thick of its ugliness forcing us to stumble along the way until we think we’ve gained our footing–only to have the wind, and sometimes the will, knocked out of us. But no matter how difficult–which isn’t even the word for how difficult–it gets, we are made to remain in its presence with little respite. This consistent exposure to such a harsh and bitter truth is a reminder that if actual humans could not only live it, but survive it, you surely can read it. Understand it. Understand how you got here, your connections to a root that is tangled and not always beautiful to look it, but must remain in sight. 

“Without knowing it, they prepared me to survive” – Kindred

 Butler offers no balm of romanticism to the reality of fierce tyrannical violence. It is that un-flinching honesty that allows readers to engage in the complex relationship of Dana and Rufus. A relationship critical for both; they depend on one another for survival—literally—requiring, demanding, a sense of trust between the two. But the inability of either to fully understand and trust the other gives way to consistent attempts to outsmart and undermine the other resulting in violent outbursts perpetrated exclusively against Dana. Such repercussions are ones modern-day readers know to be as tactics to remind a slave of their place, but it is Dana who—after multiple encounters with such violence—sees that love is the driving force, at least when dealing with her. Whether or not she agrees with Rufus’ expression of such “love,” the fact remains that in his world she is 3/5 of a human, his property, and he holds the power to love her, to destroy her as he pleases.

So why not leave?

Besides the obvious fact of her inability to control her departure and arrival from the world, without Rufus there is no Dana. Without his relationship with an unwilling slave-woman there is no origins for Dana.

“Was that why I was here? Not only to insure the survival of one accident-prone small boy, but to insure my family’s survival, my own birth” – Kindred

Kindred is a novel that traverses “one’s family and relations,” beyond the bonds created out of freewill and love, deeper, further back into the memory, the existence of a time when one’s family and relations were the result of bonds forced by people who created and upheld a system voiding one people of their humanity and ordaining the other people as the masters, owners, controllers of it–bonds Dana had to protect in order to secure her own destiny.   

Throw in Dana’s white husband–who accompanies her on one of these time-travel trips–and their vastly different vantage points of the time period, colorism, plus the fact that every one pretty much views her as some mythical creature with superior medical knowledge and you’ve got enough twists and turns to keep you locked on Butler’s psychologically thrilling tale.

3 things I learned from Big Magic

BigMagicFinal

I was listening to NPR’s Here & Now when I heard Elizabeth Gilbert–the woman who wrote Eat Pray Love–talking about how someone wrote the exact novel she was planning to write. As a writer/creative nothing cuts deeper than seeing someone else produce the work you believe you were supposed to. But instead of sharing that anguish, envy, rage, Gilbert did the exact opposite. Instead of believing she owned that idea for her the novel, she believed

“Ideas are these disembodied life-forms; they don’t have a form but they have a will and all they want is to be made manifest, and they circle the world looking for human collaborators to work with” – Elizabeth Gilbert

In summation, Gilbert believed that creativity, or inspiration, had left her and found its true home in the other writer, who she holds no ill-will toward and is even friends with. As she discussed this strange situation she began to talk about creativity and what it means to live a creative life beyond fear. Of course I did exactly what Gilbert wanted listeners of that show to do–go out and read her latest novel, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear–and I learned quite a bit, but here are three key things:  

1. Don’t ask permission

“You do not need anyone’s permission to live a creative life” – Elizabeth Gilbert

Fortunately, creativity is not something you need a special license to practice. There is no specific amount of training, there is no ordaining ceremony, there is no piece of paper necessary to permit you to create. According to Gilbert, creative living is “a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear.” Fear is that voice giving you every reason why you shouldn’t follow your curiosity, it’s that feeling that you can’t because you don’t have a fancy degree, or someone already wrote that, or you’ll never be as great as so-and-so. Creativity takes courage to register your fear and persist beyond it. You don’t need any priest, teacher, etc. giving you permission, but if you feel you need some sort of written permission, Gilbert is happy to give you one, scribbled “on the back of an old shopping list.”

2. Be entitled 

No, not the self-absorbed, arrogant entitled, but rather the unwavering belief in the value of your voice and your life as a creative.

“Creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that–merely by being here–you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own” – Elizabeth Gilbert

It is this belief that is essential to creating anything worth-while. You will never be able to take creative risks, to soar new heights, to unlock the hidden treasures of your own capability if you do not first believe that your existence and your work have value.

3. Success is not the point 

Oftentimes the one thing that stops us from creating is this fear that we won’t be “successful.” Success, like Life, is a concept whose meaning causes constant debate. If success, to you, is excessive monetary gain and notoriety then no, you may never achieve that, but it should never affect your willingness, your need to create.

“You will keep making your work, regardless of the outcome. You will keep sharing your work, regardless of the outcome.You were born to create, regardless of the outcome. You will never lose trust in the creative process, even when you don’t understand the outcome” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I often thought of Frida Kahlo as this point of “success” began to come up in Big Magic. Frida Kahlo was an artist who created with an intensity so desperate it appeared as if painting was second to oxygen for her. She created because it was natural, because it was her way of exploring her curiosity. She did not die a wildly famous artist, though her work was certainly known and revered, but she did not create for that reason. Success in the sense of notoriety and fortune did not directly affect her need to create. It is that trust, that love, need, and curiosity with which you must persist to create.

In a perfect world our creative passions would be able to sustain our rent/mortgages, utilities, and shopping expenses; our own responsibility would be to follow our curiosity and create from there. Gilbert isn’t giving you advice on how to pursue your creativity in a perfect world. She is giving you tools on how to persist with your creativity in an imperfect world with the existence of fear and adult responsibilities:

“this is a world, not a womb. You can look after yourself in this world while looking after your creativity at the same time” – Elizabeth Gilbert

While there is a magic to creativity, ideas, and inspiration Gilbert continues to remind her readers that creativity does not exist to support you; it is a collaborative effort between you and the genius who visits you. Now go make stuff!

Ackee & Saltfish is the web-series I’ve been waiting for

It might be too early to make such a bold statement, seeing as the first episode of the series is barely an hour old, but if you’ve invested in Emeke’s previous work I don’t think I’m being premature in my praise.

The five minute hilarious clip of Rachel trying to make Olivia understand that she did not get the Lauryn Hill concert tickets is one of the most relatable thing I’ve seen in any web content. Emeke’s simplistic style allows for you not to get distracted by the aesthetic and focus on the story. Now, that’s not to downplay how visually appealing her pieces are, it’s to say that the images she reflect have sustenance.

I’m very drawn to authentic art work—pieces that aren’t created for the specific purpose of filling a gap. Emeke is proving to have an ear for humanity and an individualistic approach to narratives that reaches her audience in their gut. I found myself actually lol-ing at Olivia’s reaction when she finally accepts that Rachel is not pulling another one of her mind games and seriously did not have the Lauryn Hill tickets. I’ve played so many games like that with my friends that watching this episode was like watching myself. Olivia and Rachel are you and your best-friend. If you’ve watched the short film (which, if you haven’t, here you go: http://www.ackeeandsaltfish.co.uk/) then you will find that Emeke has somehow spied on the exact conversations you’ve had with your friends about race/food/gentrification/Solange and reflected them in two characters who you’ll swear are just like you.

And that’s why I deem this web series as the one that I have been waiting for. Emeke is not trying to make content that qualifies to others why our narratives are valuable, dynamic, and beautiful. She’s speaking directly to us and I think that’s why she can so expertly reflect us—whether you’ve grown up in London, live in the States, in the Caribbean, or the Continent—Emeke is proving her capability to reflect, educate, and express the plurality of the Diaspora.

Props to you cecileemeke, I can’t wait for episode 2!

Oh, and for those who are worried that I gave away any spoilers to the first episode, I didn’t—you’ve got to watch the full episode to see how it ends: