I’m a writer.
A word alchemist.
I am well-read, with a hungering curiosity and the desire to continue to master this craft with these 26 letters. Make no mistake, I am fiercely protective of my gift, and don’t make that secret.
Which makes what happened to me all the more–infuriating.
In keeping with the theme this month about speech, words and voice, I would be dishonest not to share this. The situation has been rectified as of this posting, but I think it bares confronting for further edification of other writers and artists.
I was asked to write poem for The Awakenings Project , cycle 1 (A1) and I agreed. I wrote the first poem as favor to the artist,Marissa Southards. with the reception of that piece, which yielded the mantra for project: I Am She, She Are We, found in the poem First, Awakenings. It was most excellent to have my work well received. I am still in awe.
With the reception of that work, and the quoting of my work, I was elated. From that popularity, I got the invitation to write another piece for this project, this time for the second cycle, A2. I wrote a piece called *HOW I CAME TO BE, and read it at a celebratory gathering for A2. This piece was written from a hetero-normative, Judeo-Christian vision: seeing as the author identifies as a Christ-believing cis-gender heterosexual woman.
Now, did I need to preface that? Nah.
But I did because I respected all those that were in attendance to the project, regardless of orientation or belief system.
During the reading, I was fine. The poem sounded just like I wanted. In the aftermath, however, there was coup brewing. There was participant, Marcia, whom identified herself as a queer atheist. Okay, fine. She told the creator of the project, and I quote “she was a fan of my work, but she felt that my poem did not represent her, and she didn’t like how I used her word–Amazon.”
By now, y’all know that I am black woman.
Marcia is not.
She wanted me to change my work, and she wanted to see the revision going forward.
Yes, I’m deadass serious.
She didn’t any make effort to speak to me personally, but the artist–whom is a dear friend whom happens to be white. Before I explain the resolution, let me tell you why this is a problem.
No one, and not NO ONE, takes my voice from me. If you take issue with what I said, or how I wrote something, come see me. I don’t need a handler, and I ain’t never been a mammy.
She pulled her white privilege on me, and circumvented me–with the same erasure that she perecieved she had been given. Marcia, I can only persume, thought by doing that I would change my work, or be manipulated to change it. The worse thing? She said she was a fan of my work.
Backhanded compliments do not work. I remember I was insulted and beyond pissed. I felt as if someone had watched me open my mouth to reach in and snatched my voice from my throat. With shock and rage, I called my husband and told him what happened with my immediate thought and quote being:
Who does this bitch think she is?!”
I come from a people where everything we have and had is fought for–even the right to tell our own truth. So, I was comfortable in telling the artist, and I quote, “I am not changing a damn word of it. I can write something else, but I am not changing a word of that.” Some indignities go beyond, “How dare you!” This was one of them.
I was ready to fight!
As long as I have been reading–since 4, writing–since 8, you don’t get to dictate my imagination. You don’t get to pull offense as rank over something I wrote. I have fought too hard to get back to this gift to be punked to change anything.
I thought about that episode of Good Times, where Thelma won the contest but the contest sponsor wanted her to change the phrase black woman, and she wouldn’t. And because she wouldn’t change it, she lost.
I thought about how Phyllis Wheatley. I thought about how brilliant, versed, and enslaved existence– and how she died penniless when given freedom. I thought about Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Sallie Hennings, my grandmothers (Mollie and Arceal) and my beloved Oracle Grandmother, Maya Angelou.
I thought about the women and men of and from whom I am descended and how they may or may not have even known how to spell their names. I would not change a word. It was my work. I made the decision to not be dictated regarding my work. Nall.
The artist sided with me. She put Marcia in her place (before I had to). As a result, Marcia pulled her photo from the project, and my work stayed in tact.
Marcia didn’t apologize to me, and neither did I. I expected what I got–nothing.
I snatched my voice from being stolen.
For my sake, and the ancestors.
*The poems listed are featured in a compliation book for The Awakenings Project–click here to order.