I’ve been a reader all of my life. I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read or didn’t pick up a book intent on sopping up the words written inside like a giant sea sponge. Books helped me to understand voice. As the descendant of enslaved peoples who were forbidden from reading as well as a grandfather who only went to 6th grade because he was needed to work on the farm but read the New York Times every week, my mother insisted that we read instead of watch television. Reading was revolution and believe me, we did it well.
I remember reading Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” one summer. I was 13 and had just gone through a traumatic rape the summer before. Unlike Pecola Breedlove, there was no unexpected pregnancy to broadcast my shame and I hadn’t told anyone, not even my mother or best friend. I remember sitting with this book in my hands and feeling as though I could escape to a better world. Was it true? I still don’t know. What I do know is that books have saved my life. In high school through to college and even now after “entering the real world”, I find myself caught and enthralled by the words of black women writers. Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Ntozake Shange, Toni Cade Bambara, L.A. Banks and Mia MacKenzie.
What is it about black womxn writers? We’ve found a way to save ourselves, to continue to use our voices even though to know your own voice is revolutionary in itself, and to transmit that voice is power. But lets back up, because as usual, I fast forward when I talk about black womxnhood because I get excited.
Reading is one thing, writing is another. I’ve never really been a good writer in the conventional sense. I hated writing papers but I’ve always kept journals from childhood to present day. Something about academia and the way it sought to stomp out my individual tone rather than build it up gave me intense anxiety. I am a procrastinator by lack of spirit at the right moments and while I intend to to do things in a certain fashion, if inspiration doesn’t hit, well then I’m stuck there in front of my computer wishing and waiting for the writing gods to bless me. I don’t do well with deadlines and finality. But isn’t consistency, key? In the polarities of life, how am I finding my voice?
Voice changes. Literally. Our vocal capacities change with time. It’s proven. Sometimes our voices get heavier with time, raspier, etc. As our voice changes literally, does it change with perception as well, our artist voices a mirror of what our physical realities offer? Reading young Maya Angelou is very different from reading the seasoned woman. If we continue living, our views should continue changing right? We continue to adapt to the world around us or we die. I keep finding myself in states of aporia, where everything I thought I knew is actually what I don’t know at all. I’m constantly back to the beginning. I may not be a huge fan of old Socrates, but he was definitely on to something with the method of Socratic questioning that he learned from his African predecessors. Yes, I had to sneak that in there.
Learning my own voice is a constant state of questioning. Nothing is final. What I love today, I might despise tomorrow. Everything changes just as the seasons do or don’t. #ClimateChange. But seriously, what is my style today? Who is it that I am today? What helps me to find my voice? In the midst of a world in turmoil, how do we, black womxn and on a larger scale, human beings find our voices? How do we reach those who need the physical help, and soul soothing needed during times of pain and struggle?
Damali Speaks Xx