Writing Yourself Well

It makes sense to me that writers don’t agree on whether writing is therapeutic.

For me, it always has been, but for some, writing is just hard and grueling. Writing  has always been a site of pleasure even when I was writing about pain. It has offered me sanctuary and escape, transformation and beauty, solace, comfort and more.

As I’ve gotten older and grown in confidence and experience, writing has started to also offer me joy.

For Black women, especially, who are expected to do so much emotional labor and work in different contexts in this country, joy is a revolution. It is an act of resistance to decide to be well, and to choose joy.

This was hard to do this week, especially. I argued with myself about it, somewhat publicly on Twitter, briefly. I wrestled, privately, with whether I should be sharing. I have been writing, in no particular order, about the historical trauma and chronic stresses that Black women hold in our bodies due to racism; the long and ignored history of Black women’s political participation in this country since before the Nineteenth Amendment; fiction and poetry at the intersection of police violence, mental health, and Black Christian resistance to the full range and humanity of queer identities that literally kill Black women with silence — directly or indirectly.

When I finally stopped; when I realized I was triggered and needed to step away, there was more to be done but there was also a historic spectacle centered on the devaluation of women and patriarchal resentment — where a respectable woman was speaking bravely and an angry, livid, entitled white man was lashing out angrily and I just could not be a witness. I could not do the work of being a witness because I was tired.

I say this not because I want anyone to play any tiny violins for me — my life is wonderful and full and I have privileges that I have been both blessed with and I have worked my ass off for. I say this because I wish when I was younger I would have read, seen and heard more Black women say and model for me what to do when you are depleted.

We have seen with the very public suicides of celebrities what happens when people suffer privately with their demons; but there’s another choice to overwhelm. There’s a proactive answer to overwhelm, to fatigue, to the stress of burnout: Go some place quiet. Fill yourself up. Do what you want to do, for as long as you can, for as long as you can afford to. Do not die, literally or figuratively, at the mercy of what you think other people expect you to perform of your pain.

I’m thankful to have friends and loved ones to affirm me and to affirm this. They save my life. Every day. Every hour. Every moment — often without realizing it. They are constant reminders that I don’t have to expose myself constantly to things that are triggering and nor do you.

That is a long, precious set up for this essay about pigeons, which I know will seem so random and is a bit different for me. I wanted to laugh and humor myself after exposure to hard things and a ton of hard work, so there you have it.

Yes, hard things are happening, and there is work to be done. But I can still claim joy in some of these moments to write myself well. And you can, too.



Serena & The Humanity of Black Women

It was a gift, especially as I teach the Combahee River Collective statement from 1977 and remind folks that we have been fighting for a long time on behalf of our own freedom not just for the sake of ourselves but so that everyone else can be free, too, to write this for Mic.

It’s more convenient for white sports fans, of course, to turn the healthy, justified rage of black bodies gazed upon for money-making sport into a weapon formed against us. But like Colin Kaepernick, Serena is a generosity. She won’t let anyone or anything make her flat or less complex. Like Shirley Chisholm, she is unbought and unbossed. She contains multitudes. She can be both livid and kind, distraught and sweet, within the same hour.

What audacity, what nerve, that black girl with the big hair and the strong legs and amazing body has, showing up, demanding to be seen as human. What a gift, in this time, in this void of regal reckoning for black or brown bodies anywhere but fictitious worlds, that we get to witness Serena’s humanity unfurl, unedited.

Kirkus Reviews Feature| Carol Anderson’s One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy

When I spoke to Carol Anderson for Kirkus Reviews, it felt like we could have talked for hours. Her book, One Person, No Vote, is an important read for anyone who cares about what’s at stake for the midterms and for 2020. What stayed with me most about what she said when I asked her about her call to action in the book is that voting is essentially the only remaining lever of power available to most people in our Democracy. I know folks feel various levels of indignation about the suggestion that anyone should be telling you to vote, but opting out combined with the steady erosion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will set us back farther than anything you can imagine — for generations.


In his 1951 novel, Requiem for a Nun, William Faulkner wrote the oft-quoted line, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This is true now, it seems, of so many things, but it’s particularly resonant for the fight against voter suppression.

As much as immigration or Supreme Court picks have dominated conversations about the Trump Administration, political power in the United States begins and ends with the vote. Acclaimed historian Carol Anderson’s latest book, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy, scheduled for publication on September 11th, situates current truncated discussions, exaggerated rhetoric and lies about voter fraud and suppression at the polls meant to disenfranchise voters in a past that feels eerily like it never became history.

Jeff Sessions, for example, when he was Alabama U.S. attorney, referred to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as an “intrusive piece of legislation,” then “rounded up twenty elderly blacks and had Alabama state troopers drive them away from their community into a predominately white area to be fingerprinted, photographed and grilled before a grand jury” to intimidate them out of voting, Anderson writes. There are troubling and astounding stories like this throughout One Person, No Vote from Anderson, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University. She said the idea for her latest book emerged when she was on tour for her 2016 book, White Rage, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism along with a host of other accolades.

“During the Q&A on the road, I often got a question about the part of [White Rage] about voting, ‘How hard is it to get an ID?’ Because headlines about voter fraud became the shorthand mantra,” Anderson says. “So you begin to talk about which IDs voters need. African Americans and poor people often don’t have the kinds of IDs that you need. I wanted to demonstrate how difficult it is to get those IDs.” She also details the combined effectiveness of voter ID laws combined with the lie of voter fraud, found by law professor Justin Levitt to amount to “31 voter impersonation cases out of one billion votes nationwide” cast between 2002 and 2015 and a “powerful and effective ‘political weapon’ wielded against minorities, youth and the poor.”

You can read the whole feature here.

Come hear me sing & read at Literaoke, a Brooklyn Book Festival event, Sept. 13

KP-Literaoke-NYC_WEBslide-670x502I’m so excited I’ve been asked to read in the company of these talented writers for a Brooklyn Book Festival event. If you’re in town (or you’re a New Yorker who will be looking for a place to party after you VOTE in the PRIMARY ELECTION THAT IS WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING ELSE I COULD WRITE HERE *ahem*) please stop by —  I’d love to see you! I have some poems to share with you I hope will make you laugh & maybe gasp.

I’ll leave the song I’ll sing a secret until I get there — No one who’s done  karaoke with me is allowed to guess the artist I’ll be singing (If you were in BK with me this past weekend Village Voice crew, no, that’s not the one!) but I bet y’all can figure it out. There’s only one way to know for sure though!

Thursday, September 13, 2018 7:00pm
112 W 27th St Ste 600
NY, NY 10001

Here’s the Kaya Press listing — Many, many thanks to Kaya Press for inviting me to read. & here’s the Facebook event.

Kirkus Feature: Jacqueline Woodson

“Our community is such a community of survivors and resisters and resilience. We’ve been like water when we have also wanted to be a bridge. Day by day, I have to find a way to figure out a way to do self-care. Writing is very cathartic for me; creating worlds where people end up OK is very helpful. Whatever’s happening now is happening for a reason, the thing that happens when there’s a big, big shift coming.”

Jacqueline Woodson on her latest books, Harbor Me and The Day You Begin