We are grateful to Aurielle Marie for helping our organization be more accountable to the values we espouse, and we hope their insight sparks robust conversation in more literary communities around belonging, activating personal responsibility, applying lessons, and change as a practice. As a nonprofit, we offer the caveat that this essay series reflects the author’s opinions and lived experience as an organizer and literary citizen. The Offing as an organization does not endorse political candidates.
The Offing entered the conversation on race, equity, and justice nearly three years ago. Although several staff engaged 2020’s social unrest individually, each carrying our personal stakes, we had not yet responded as an organization. Hindered by the lack of guidance for literary organizations to participate in these conversations toward meaningful outcomes, The Offing invited author and grassroots community organizer Aurielle Marie to develop a short essay series for our community to 1) reflect on their work Black liberation, and 2) to provide clear, feasible actions to identify, call out, and end -isms; reduce inequity; and install responsible practices. As we approach the end of the series with this ninth installment, we want to extend our gratitude to our peers and audience for engaging these essays and completing suggested, feasible acts of support and learning. You walked with us in good faith, and though the path is much, much longer, we are grateful to take these first steps with you. We are indebted to Aurielle Marie for their journey, vulnerability and insight. We encourage you to continue sharing the posts as evergreen sources of learning.
This letter was originally sent on July 31, 2021.
Poet Brandon Wint has this quote I’m obsessed with: “Not ‘queer’ like ‘gay’. ‘Queer’ like escaping definition. ‘Queer’ like some sort of fluidity and limitlessness at once. ‘Queer’ like a freedom too strange to be conquered.”
I stumbled across a post on Instagram listing a great number of the books we all grew up on. Many, unbeknownst to us, were written by queer authors. The magic of this is that I find comfort in knowing that even before I understood myself as queer… even before my gender and sexual identity diverged from what is considered “normal,” I was surrounded by queer literature and queer culture. It brings me joy to consider that we all were surrounded. We all, no matter your identity, benefitted from the worlds and the works of queer people. They have shaped us without us even realizing. Ain’t that the most beautiful, gayest thing?
Recognizing and celebrating the abundance of queer influence is tricky, because so many of us feel social pressures to hide or quiet ourselves in order to survive. Whether it’s rapper Lil Nas X receiving backlash for poking fun at the critiques of his sexuality, or the brilliant author Akwaeke Emezi being forced to navigate an onslaught of targeted transphobia-laced harassment endorsed by a prominent literary figure, queer people are both shaping culture and being cut down by it. We are abundant just as far as we are removed from our own articulation of ourselves. We are as beautiful as we are persecuted. Ain’t that the most tragic, gayest thing?
So, I could rant about the attack on LGBTQ people from our nation’s highest seats of power, I could talk about the disparate statistics that trans people face, in housing, employment, and the chilling information out there about the life expectancy of Black trans women. I could use this space to teach you, as queer author and thought-leader James Baldwin says, to make you “conscious of all the things you can not see.” Pride was a riot, and riots are poems: meant to create friction, meant to spread information and force fundamental shifts in our orientations to the world.
But… it has been a long year, friends. A long year with so many moments of mourning. Mourning that reminds me of all the work we have left to do. But, beyond protest, Pride is also a reminder that despite whatever the State and this world throws at us, queer people are the living future. Pride is an invitation to deepen our exploration of fugitivity, debauchery, and joy. Let’s take some time to do that, together.
I hope to introduce you to some of my favorites of us. Read us. Celebrate us. Treasure the abundance of Black and queer literature and, like our child selves, be surrounded in it and made better by its existence in our world.
Akwaeke Emezi is a nonbinary Nigerian lgbo and Tamil writer and video artist. While most know them for their stunning debut, Freshwater, I love Emezi’s latest fiction book, The Death of Vivek Oriji. It is beautiful, heartbreakingly beautiful, and helps me ground in the truth of a world that holds both splendor and sorrow. Emezi further took my heart earlier this month when they stood toe-to-toe with another Nigerian writer who continues to double down on elitism, transphobia, and the erasure of trans and nonbinary writers. Stan you, Akwaeke. Stan you down.
If you haven’t read Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism, if you haven’t been broken open at the clashing of the digital world and your legible Blackness, if you have ever felt desperate to demolish the neatly checked boxes this world has tried to arrange your body inside, we ain’t the same, fam. Join the writer and curator on the page as she articulates what Black, trans, disabled, or otherwise fugitive bodies understand in their marrow: “a glitch is an error, a mistake, a failure to function. a glitch is part of machinic anxiety, an indicator of something having gone wrong. a body that pushes back at the application of pronouns, or remains indecipherable within binary assignment, is a body that refuses to perform the score. this nonperformance is glitch. this glitch is a form of refusal. within glitch feminism, glitch is celebrated as a vehicle of refusal, a strategy of nonperformance.” … Yea, gon’ cop that.
Victoria Newton Ford is your favorite poet’s favorite poet. She writes essays, too, ones that are masterful in their meticulous unthreading of thought and critique. Cunning, intentional, slow-death stanzas with sharp, urgent, seductive imagery flow from her pen. Her voice pools with magic and finesse. It’s her command of the page and of our world beyond it that makes Newton Ford such a powerhouse. This essay, Get Out, Claudia Rankine, and the Horror of Black Visibility, gutted me when it found me in 2017. Then, this reading of hers stitched me back up.
I met Chinelo Okparanta at my first Lambda Literary Writers Retreat and thought of her as someone brilliant and quiet… until I was surprised by her smirking as she delivered a hilariously shady joke in the small group of folks in conversation. Okparanta’s novels are like that… you find yourself flipping the pages back every now and then to make sure you heard what you thought you heard, to marvel over the punchline a little more. Impossible choices and expansive possibilities all live in her books. It is work that will charm you, dazzle you, and bend you to its will. It demands to be felt, and so will you. I can’t wait to read her next book!
“When everything feels like death/ the liquor, the sex, the ninth Ibuprofen/ in a row, I try to make it to the altar.” In this poem and every poem, Jada Renee Allen is a writer beyond the limitation of word. She makes quick, wise use of enjambment, voice, vibe, and technique. I have always wanted to be a poet like Jada when I grow up. And you will too. Her chapbook, Poems, is one of my favorite releases of this year. I can’t wait to see what this young talent does next.
Da’Shaun Harrison’s work does something that must be witnessed: each thought explodes at the intersection of their identities. The intersection becomes a site, a theoretical platform, a location from which Harrison addresses us. Grounded in scholarship, insight, critique, and theory, their work travels the expanse of memoir, theory, and a full plate of non-iciton delight. It is a pleasure to know and read folks like Da’Shaun who are on the frontlines of justice in ways that challenge ableist and capitalist notions of “risk”. Da’Shaun is on-the-ground because they are rooted in their work and in the social justice literatures they descend from. Their debut, Belly of the Beast, doesn’t drop for another month but after you pre-order it, you’ll want to read the brilliance in each of the essays they’ve penned over the years.
Easy Task, Don’t Make It Hard:
Take a writer from this list, and
Hire them to consult with your organization.
Bring them in to teach a workshop at your school.
Add their latest book to your curriculum.
Pre-order their forthcoming works.
Bring them on as guest editor for months that aren’t either June or February.
Support their non-literary projects.
Fund their research.
Invest in the organizations that currently support or have helped support them in the past.
Their abundant works make our lives rich and beautiful. Thank you, writers. And thank you, queer readers. May you live abundantly now and always.