A scholar and poet illuminates a legacy of African-American women through biographical sketches, archival photos, and verse.
Long before Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, black women have been resisting the onslaughts of racism and sexual subjugation, as detailed in this unique volume. “Some of these movements began in the colonial era,” writes Hill (Creative Writing, African-American and Africana Studies/Univ. of Kentucky; editor: The Fluid Boundaries of Suffrage and Jim Crow, 2016, etc.). “Writing poems about such women has forced me to question what it means for a Black woman to engage in resistance within this particular time and this specific place.” On the scholarly side, the book offers a series of short biographical sketches of black women in American history. Following each is a poem (or more) of celebration; “these poems are love letters,” writes the author. Through them, she traces her own literary influences as well as the heroic inspiration of black women who resisted, suffered, and even died in the face of oppression. One of the more recent is Sandra Bland, who died of what the official record noted was a suicide in a Texas jail cell after a minor traffic violation and altercation with the officer ticketing her. “Prior to her arrest,” writes Hill, “Bland curated and documented her protests of police killings on various social media sites using the hashtag #SandySpeaks. Upon her death, her #SandySpeaks works went viral. They stand as an archive, a record of her intelligence and activism.” Another woman was immortalized in the ballad “Joanne Little” by Sweet Honey in the Rock after stabbing an assailant with an icepick as he attempted to sexually assault her. She was acquitted of first-degree murder. More familiar names such as Eartha Kitt and Zora Neale Hurston receive similar tributes, as the collection builds to the author’s own stream-of-consciousness monologue, her “autobiographical journey.”
A memorable book that is neither easy to classify nor dismiss.