More Than a Single Story: Women Writers of the African Diaspora, was a three session series at the Loft Literary Center, curated by Carolyn Holbrook in the fall of 2015. Holbrook took the title from the Ted Talk by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Single stories are the stuff of stereotypes that dis-empower.
The first session featured Tish Jones, Shannon Gibney, Andrea Jenkins, Lori Young Williams, Pamela Fletcher, and Mary Moore Easter. The second The October 4 session featured three Caribbean writers :Valérie Déus, Beaudelaine Pierre, and Junauda Petrus.
Holbrook asked what they feared writing about. For Shannon Gibney it was the experiences of others. Andrea Jenkins felt comfortable in that space but feared writing about herself. All struggled with writing about those close to them.
“Should there be a cannon for Black women writers? They disagreed, but all felt It’s important to know you are not the first, when you sit down to write.
Moore Easter and Gibney encouraged writers not to worry about what genre you are filling. Jenkins encouraged people to self-publish and not let the industry get between you and your audience.
Déus, grew up in a Haitian community in Brooklyn, New York. She fears writing about trauma. She has a ritual of retelling to mark anniversaries, but is waiting for the time when she ready to say something more about them.
She told of countless retellings of the Haitian revolution growing up — the island that overthrew slavery and colonialism all at once — a story that made her unafraid to imagine radical change.
Petrus, who grew up in South Minneapolis of Caribbean immigrant parents, compared inter-island migration that splits families and leaves children without their parents, to African-American great Migration North.
Petrus hears Black Cannon everywhere: in her mother’s voice, in Chicago’s south side, in hip hop. She told of a year her mom took them to live in Florida, of falling in love with the ocean.
Both she and Déus, talked of the difference between Minnesota lakes and rivers and the power and smell of the big salt sea.
Pierre came from Haiti to the Twin Cities in 2009. Her father told her to be a writer because she could speak French well. Now she writes in Creole, a language that most can’t read, but one that best describes her reality. Coming from a place where everyone is Black and therefore no-one is black-identified she struggles with American racism, especially as a mother of Black children in Minnesota.
Not a single story, but many essential stories.
Photo by Brian Peterson, StarTribune.