By Ashieda McKoy
The beginning of 2019 was rough. I, too, was one of the many folks wishing on memes (and horoscopes) that this year was going to be my year. Reality, of course, has a fresh way of saying No ma’am! very quickly. In many ways I felt stuck as much as I felt alien. For weeks it seemed like my body was literally underwater; I was weightless and unfocused. My limbs weren’t listening. I couldn’t quite collect my thoughts even though they were ever present. Everything and everyone was happening around the lips of the water. I still felt submerged.
In my writing I was drifting, confused. Some days I asked myself… what is a poem, anyway? I understood deeply that struggling is often the beginnings of true learning and success, but I didn’t feel too optimistic about an impending epiphany. My ever-helpful advisors and professors gave me books to read and exercises to get un-stuck. Some of the suggestions worked, though many did not. But what seemed to help the most was reading the work of fellow black queer/non-binary writers. As I write this, I think DUH… of course they were helpful, but I’ve never had formal exposure to many queer writers, let alone black ones—writers like me.
As 2019 progressed I kept a list of any work by a black queer writer/artist that helped me see myself out in the world and on the page. This list helped me re-engage and come back to my writing and these pieces reminded me I’m writing for me, but not only for me.
As this year closes, I look back on my list and wonder why it took me so long. Some of the writers I’ve read before or heard in passing, many of them I am ashamed to say I’d never heard of at all, and still others are brand new or debuting. I want to reproduce some of my list here for other non-white queer folks who feel just a little bit invisible right now or even for those folks who crave the voices of writers with marginalized identities. I encourage everyone to read the pieces on this list not solely because they are written by black queer folks but mainly because they are dope pieces of writing that should be read and shared.
So, here we go…a small excerpt from my “2019 Get It Together List” (accompanied by my brief thoughts):
- Short Fiction: Bloodchild by Octavia Butler (in her book Bloodchild and Other Stories, Seven Stories Press, 2005)
This is an older piece, but still amazing. It’s odd, so odd. It takes you out of this world and into a new one. The story asks you to recalibrate everything you know about relationships. As a poet who writes about black queer love, I appreciated the opportunity to envision refreshingly non-normative relationships.
- Poetry: Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith (Graywolf Press, 2017)
Smith has a number of great poetry collections, but this one was truly something. I found myself talking back to the page—I was at that down-low house party, I was the odd one on that dating app. This book embodies intersectionality as often each poem comments on the complexities of a black / queer / male / urban / young experience. Throughout this whole collection I felt so seen.
- Short/Erotic Fiction: “Ganger (Ball Lightning)” by Nalo Hopkinson (in her book Skin Folk, Aspect/Warner Books, 2001)
This one is sexy. Correction: it’s erotica. It’s also one of the most interesting representations of non-binary gender and sexuality I’ve ever read. Think electric body suits and honey. You. Are. Welcome.
- YA Fiction: This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kacen Callender (HarperCollins Publishers, 2018)
It’s a queer YA story about love and friendship and loss with all non-white characters…y’all, I stanned! This is also Callender’s debut novel. Again, stan.
- Non-Fiction: Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock (Atria Paperback, 2014)
The storytelling in this book was fascinating. The realness, vulnerability, and discomfort of life as trans individual was palpable. As someone who also writes intimately about real aspects of my life in my work, I felt the book was brave and important and ultimately something to aspire to.
- Poetry: Black Queer Hoe by Britteney Black Rose Kapri (Haymarket Books, 2018)
This book was talking to me, about me, around me — the language, humor, and forms are bold and, at times, unapologetic. These poems use a variety of forms to comment on sexuality, power, and blackness in a way that makes a reader pay attention. This book also saw me in a way the others didn’t, as a fat black queer woman, which added an additional layer of importance for me and my work. Read the poems. Out loud.
Ashieda McKoy is in her final year of Virginia Tech’s MFA program. She is poetry co-editor for the minnesota review and has won national awards for her poetry, teaching, and service.