Q: In your dissertation, “We Can Learn to Mother Ourselves: The Queer Survival of Black Feminism 1968-1996,” you describe the difficulties of running Kitchen Table Press, which was so time-consuming for Barbara Smith that she often had to sacrifice her own writing. Have you struggled with this balance being focusing on your own work and supporting the work of others?
Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Alexis DeVeaux and many other Black feminists cobbled together freedom out of tokenized gigs. [They] survived a marketplace of ideas that found the intellectual labor of Black women to be expendable, while actively developing resources, practices and institutions to provide an autonomous accountable context for their brilliance and our brilliance to come.
I definitely struggle with the balance of the visible programmatic work of the maroon counter-institutions/freedom-making educational spaces that I facilitate and the quieter work of my own writing, my own meandering journey as an artist. But I have also found that there is an organic relationship, a synergistic and symbiotic relationship between the space I create for our communities and the questions I need to ask myself early in the morning. I often find that the programming I create on behalf of our community represent my dreams coming true and the most urgent rituals I need in my own creative process and so that work feeds me, literally and creatively.
Or to say is short: Community is a source of clarity and clarity is a powerful abundant resource for any artist.
Q: How can editing be revolutionary? What have been some of your most nourishing and inspiring writer-editor relationships?
Editing is a form of listening. Attention is a form of prayer. I definitely think the role of the editor is like the role of a healer or a midwife. We ask the question, what is the relationship between what is here and what is needed, between the intention and the manifestation? What are adjustments, the supplements, the next questions to be asked?
The revolutionary possibility is that editing teaches us that we could relate to the world that way. Not imposing a sacrificial structure on each other and our process, but listening and supporting a vision that is still in process with our best questions and our most loving suggestions, supported by everything we’ve learned and what we are learning right now by engaging a new text, a new conversation, a reality in the making.
I had the joy of collaborating with some of my most cherished co-editors, co-conspirators and beloved friends (Lisa Factora-Borchers, Meagan La Mala Ortiz, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha, Jessica Hoffman, Mariana Ruiz, China Martens and Vikki Law) on a workshop for the Allied Media Conference called “Editing as an Act of Love” and that’s a grounding belief that we share and a gorgeous form of intimacy that we have each been able to share between us. And this is a legacy that we absolutely gain from our feminist of color elders and ancestors like the Kitchen Table Press crew. Editing has been part of how we have built trust with each other and been transformed by each others work.
Cheryll Greene, founder of Editorseye, former executive editor of Essence Magazine and former managing editor of Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics and Culture where I interned around the same time I was founding BrokenBeautiful Press, is an example of this type of love through editing. The conversations and lifelong relationships that were made possible by her collaborations with Alexis DeVeaux and June Jordan (I’ve seen the letters! They are amazing!) are a touchstone for me about what editing means as a political practice of collaborative love.
Right now I am having the amazingly rewarding experience of an editing exchange with my sister-comrade Mai’a Williams who is based in Cairo and Berlin. We are editing each other’s upcoming books of poems via Google Documents. I haven’t gotten to hug Mai’a or her daughter (my cyber-goddaughter) in years, but the intimacy of this work with each other’s poetry is such a major form of love in our relationship, an affirmation of our energetic connection across space and a specific form of intimacy that brings me joy in my body and in my work (and in my body of work!!!). And of course it makes the work better, and bringing that editing love to her work teaches me better and better how to also listen to reshape my own work in that way.
Q: Like Kitchen Table, how has researching women of color collaborations influenced how you work (so often in collaboration)? How has the digital changed the possibilities for collaboration?
Researching women of color collaborations (which by the way is almost verbatim the language of the concentration I designed within my American Studies undergraduate degree) affirms everything that my own life and the presence of my mentors has taught me about how change happens, how we change each other, how we change ourselves and how we create alternative structures for the world that we deserve despite the dominance of the structures that would destroy us. Community is not a luxury. It is not something we can take for granted. This is something I know for sure. And one of the lessons that I draw from both the successful and the doomed collaborations of women of color in the generations before us is that we have to create the sacred spaces and the rituals that will allow us to have access to healing because healing is not only the crucial process that will allow us to collaborate with each other despite the internalized oppression seeking to divide us, it is also the gift that we are bringing to the species and the planet.
This digital moment is important because we have so many options to connect with each other. Many of the most important relationships in my life as a writer, teacher and person learning how to love better and better are sustained over the internet, which is important because it allows us to do deeply necessary work with our local communities across difference, where we are often the lone voice saying what we are saying or doing what we are doing without the isolation that some of our elders and ancestors experienced. I believe that this digital interconnection is a working metaphor for the fact that we are profoundly interconnected in body, spirit and energy across time and space. This digital metaphorical moment is training us for a post-digital moment where we outgrow our need for machines to remind us our connection, where our impact from each other goes heart to heart. May we recognize this and fill those connections with the love we deserve.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a queer black troublemaker and a black feminist love evangelist. In 2011 she was awarded a trophy for being “Too Sexy for 501-c3.” You can find her in Durham, NC or in a purple and turquoise RV roaming the country for LGBTQ Black Brilliance or at alexispauline.com.
Jade Brooks is a queer, anti-zionist Jew who lives in Durham, North Carolina, inspired daily by the bravery of the people in the South. She is an aspiring revolutionary publisher and does editing work for make/shift magazine and Duke University Press. She came up in the blackberry wilds of Oregon—by way of the dusty, crooked bookshelves of the one and only City Lights.