School Library Connection Author of the Month Interview

SLC Author of the Month

I’m delighted to share a Q&A with School Library Connection as its December Author of the Month. I got to share my love of The Bronx, the story behind Ava Murray’s name in the I Can Write the World series and more about faith, solitude and writing across genres. I hope you’ll check it out. You can read the whole thing here, but I’ve included an excerpt below:


I love the way Ava’s mother uses the window frame to explain how journalists “frame” stories. It seems like so much of our news these days is framed to fit a particular narrative, rather than to express the truth. Why do you think this started to happen, and what can be done to fix it?

Thank you; it wasn’t until I had the great honor of sitting on a panel at the 2019 Bologna Children’s Book Fair with Rudine Sims Bishop, whose beautiful description of books as windows preceded Kim’s description in the book, that I thought more about the significance of how we talk to children (or don’t talk to them) about how stories are framed, or shaped.

I think that it’s fairly recent in society—adjacent and aligned with the rise of social media—that everyone sort of considers themselves a journalist. When you think about it, journalists are witnesses, people who report what they see. So in a way, everybody’s right. What everyone doesn’t necessarily have, though, are the ethics that go along with what professional news gatherers have—this inclination to shine a light on injustice and unfairness. Most news reporters get into the business (and it is increasingly considered mainly a business) with the aims of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. But I think the reason why news more often resembles propaganda now has to do with a kind of commodification of truth and certainly of news. Integrity or nobility are less emphasized than they used to be because most media moguls are looking for revenue to survive in an environment where no one thinks they need an intermediary for news.

One thing I think all of us could do more of is to consider how powerful our platforms are, whether you think you have one or not. All of us who write, for example, have presences online. How can we use that to help others share their opinions or their stories more mindfully? Sometimes it’s as simple as asking these questions, which I love and did not originate with me: “Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said now? Does it need to be said by me?” The other thing is if we are all journalists, now, it shouldn’t just be when it’s comfortable or cute, but all the time. Ask more difficult questions. Who is the source of this information? Are they lying to me about their objectivity? Why do I believe them? Why should I believe them? When in doubt, find your own credible sources and go with that.


Cut Me Loose | Oxford American Winter 2019

So on Mother’s Day, I wandered around Orangeburg to make peace with the parts of Marguerite I didn’t quite know but which still clung to me like smoke. Early in the morning, I parked my rental across the street from the Edisto Memorial Gardens, home to fifty-four varieties of roses. Babbling in the background was the longest blackwater river in North America, an oil-colored waterway connected to the Combahee River—the same water Harriet Tubman used to lead one hundred fifty Union soldiers to various rice plantations on June 2, 1863, to free seven hundred fifty slaves. One thing I knew for sure: my mother loved water and she loved roses.

Only two or three people were around, so I had the place to myself. Downhill, past incredible, tall trees, I went to the water, looking north and south. I walked west, toward the rows and rows of peach- and wine-colored roses, speckled, small, wide, glorious, with names like Glowing Peace and Coretta Scott King and Perfume Delight. Did you ever visit this place? Now, or then? 

Fondling the delicate velvet of a full-bodied rose, I thought of everything a rose would have meant to my mother. How I took for granted a ten-dollar bouquet of fresh flowers when I wanted to attend to my heart, but how such a simple gesture would have been too much for her to even dream about. Even though no one was around me, I didn’t want to disturb the silence, and also, the unchaining. Something rusty and dark in me moved aside, a stone rolling away from a tomb. This was not the raucous, grandstanding, trumpet-blaring Free At Last freedom I’d always said I wanted, but something more profound. A healing. What sounded like my mother’s voice in my ear. I can’t believe you made it. 

I looked up to stop the tears and spotted a Confederate flag flapping with nonchalance above the trees.

Only after my trip would I realize that, geographically, Orangeburg is a kind of nadir as defined by Imani Perry: “the lowest point in an orbit. It is the location directly below the gaze.” Look for it on a map: in comparison with its northern and eastern neighbors, Charleston and Columbia, Orangeburg is down and out of the way, overlooked. 

The rest of my essay in the Winter 2019 issue of Oxford American’s South Carolina issue is here.

Syllabus for Subversive Joy

My second semester as a Part-Time faculty person at The New School in the First Year Writing Program has officially started! I was tweeting about this course – the second I’ve designed — and there was a request to share it, so I thought I’d put it here and share with other scholars curious about pleasure politics and the overlaps/layers with regards to intersectional feminism. I can also post the Writing Toward Inclusion syllabus if that’s something of interest to y’all; let me know in the comments.

The essays/articles and scholarship that isn’t hyperlinked I accessed through the New York Public Library; I’m sure you can find copies through your local superheroes at your academic or public library institution as well. In future classes, I look forward to teaching adrienne maree brown’s Pleasure Activism which I just pre-ordered, and you should too!

I’ve adapted and erased some stuff below in order to streamline access to the best parts. Enjoy!

Course Description:

Subversive Joy: Writing the Senses As Resistance –In this first-year research seminar, we will examine literary works, theories and perspectives on the ways traditionally marginalized and/or oppressed communities have used humor, joy, spirituality and creativity to assert their humanity beyond constructs that only see some bodies as sites of trauma or for the uses of exploitation. After all, who doesn’t love an underdog, someone with so much faith and hope that they will make a way from no way? What does dedication to creating beauty and a legacy of art in a community that is rarely viewed in its full complexity truly mean, particularly for literature? Where and when has this resistance art flourished? Who has sought to de-legitimize it and have those efforts been successful? Is this simply an idealistic concept or is there scientific evidence that bears it out as necessary for survival? What is the impact on canon and individual work when trauma, pain and struggle are metabolized on the page into healing, connection and reconciliation? Readings may include Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, David Mura, Tommy Pico, Ross Gay, adrienne maree brown, Lucille Clifton, Gloria Anzaldua, bell hooks, Brittney Cooper and others.


Course Learning Objectives & Outcomes: Students who successfully complete this course will be able to conduct basic research and analyze text in order to write more comprehensive, relevant essays with inclusive audiences in mind. By the successful completion of this course, students will be able to:


  • Read texts critically for intersectional and inclusionary language and context
  • Contextualize feminist contemporary writing
  • Draft Annotated Bibliographies
  • Write effective and comprehensive narrative responses, analyses and critiques of work from a range of perspectives — especially intersectional feminist praxis –from an informed, historical perspective
  • Develop processes and strategies for identifying diverse and expansive primary and secondary sources of groundbreaking, visionary scholarship.


Required Texts

Most of the reading assignments are available online for free and will be posted to Canvas with the exception of

Rules for Writers by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers

Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches, Audre Lorde

WEEK 1 Jan. 22

Jan. 24


Introduction & Overview of the Course


January 22: Introduction, Walk-Through of Syllabus, Course Policies & Procedures.

The Global Center for Advanced Studies: “The Subversive Act of Joy”

Reading Assignment for Next Class: David Mura, “On Race and Craft: Tradition and the Individual Talent Revisited” from David Mura’s book, A Stranger’s Journey: Race, Identity and Narrative Craft in Writing

January 24: Workshop with David Mura, author of A Stranger’s Journey: Race, Identity and Narrative Craft in Writing

WEEK 2 Jan. 29

Jan. 31

Research Methods for Writing Reading for January 29th: Rules for Writers, Chapter 50: Thinking like a researcher; gathering sources

Reading for January 31st: Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde: “Poetry is Not A Luxury”


WEEK 3 Feb. 5th

Feb. 7th

On Feelings, Power & Resistance Reading for February 5th: Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde: “Uses of the Erotic.”

Reading for February 7th: Rules for Writers, Chapter 51, Managing Information, Taking Notes Responsibly


WEEK 4 Feb. 12th

Feb. 14th


Preparing for Essay I


Introduction to Workshopping & Preparation for Essay I due February 28th

Reading for February 12th: Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde: “An Interview: Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich.”

Reading for February 14th: “The History of Emotions: An Interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns,” from History and Theory 49 (May 2010), 237-265


WEEK 5 Feb. 19th

Feb. 21

Drafting, Researching and Workshopping Reading for February 19th class: “The Meaning of Pleasure & The Pleasure of Meaning: Towards A Definition of Pleasure in ‘Reception Analysis,”” by Elisabeth Klaus & Barbara O’Connor 


WEEK 6 Feb. 26th

Feb. 28th


Writers on Joy and Happiness Reading for February 26th: Mary Pipher, January 2018, New York Times Op-Ed: The Joy of Being A Woman in Her 70s

Reading for February 28th : Zadie Smith on Joy

Essay I is DUE

WEEK 7 Mar. 5th

Mar. 7th

Joy & Struggle Outside of the U.S. Reading for March 5th: “The Joy of the Militancy: Happiness and the Pursuit of Revolutionary Struggle” by Yoana Fernanda Nieto-Valdivieso

Reading for March 7th: “‘I love myself when I am dancing and carrying on’: refiguring the agency of black women’s creative expression in Jamaican Dancehall culture,” by Bibi Bakare-Yusuf



WEEK 8  

Mar. 12th

Mar. 14th


Black Feminist Visions of a Politics of Pleasure  

Reading for March 12th: “Why We Get Off: Moving Towards a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure,” by Joan Morgan, Winter 2015

Reading for March 14th: The Joys of Being A Black Woman, Crunk Feminist Collective 2011

Optional Revision of Essay I due (Part of In-Class/Online percentage)


WEEK 9  

Mar. 26

Mar. 28

Rest & Resistance Reading for March 26th: “Resting in Gardens, Battling in Deserts: Black Women’s Activism” by Joy James, The Black Scholar, 1999

Reading for March 28th: Resistance as Happiness: David Blumenthal, CrossCurrents, March 2014






Apr. 2nd

Apr. 4th


Drafting Essay 2 No Reading for April 2nd.

In-Class Writing: Draft Annotated Bibliography

Draft Thesis Statements and Outlines for Essay 2

Reading for April 4th: “Happiness (or not) after rape: hysterics and harpies in the media versus killjoys in black women’s fiction” by Zoë Brigley Thompson


WEEK 11  

Apr. 9th

Apr. 11th


Workshopping Essay 2 Drafts  

Reading for April 11th: Amber Rose & Black Women’s Sexuality, Bitch Magazine


WEEK 12  

Apr. 16th

Apr. 18th


Revolutionary Visions of Joy Reading for April 16th: “‘Learning to be Zen’: women travelers and the imperative to Happy” by Emily Falconer, Journal of Gender Studies, 2017

Reading for April 18th: Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: The Creativity of Black Women in the South. (1974)” from In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens



WEEK 13  


Apr. 25th


Pleasure & Bliss in Writing & Activism Reading for April 23rd: Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of The Text

Reading for April 25th: “Five Tangible Tools of the Pleasure Activist” by adrienne maree brown  


WEEK 14  


Apr. 30th

May 2nd



Creative Resistance & Revision Draft Thesis Statements, Outlines & Workshopping

Reading for April 30th: “Tryin’ to Scrub that ‘Death Pussy’ Clean Again: The Pleasures of Domesticating HIV/AIDS in Pearl Cleage’s Fiction” by Timothy S. Lyle, African American Review, Summer 2017

Reading for May 2nd: Ross Gay on the connections between gardening and poetry, Wild Love.


WEEK 15  

May 7th

May 9th


  No Reading for May 7th, Final Workshop, Course Evaluations

 May 9th: ESSAY 3 DUE, Final Class