Hans Ulrich Obrist I have many questions I wish to ask you, but firstly I am very curious about your upcoming book, can you tell me about it?
Alexis Pauline Gumbs It’s a new biography of Audre Lorde, tentatively titledThe Eternal Life of Audre Lorde. Biography as Ceremony. I was thinking about Pompeii and volcanos because this book is becoming something like a Lordeian guide to the universe. There is geological and scientific research that I did not expect I would be doing, but that I am now carrying out because Lorde loved geology. She was very interested in stones and the history of the Earth itself. This is just one example, but there is a section on radioactive daughtering that has to do with her mother. Lorde would describe her personality and her mother’s as volcanic, erupting in very passionate exchanges. The remaining active volcano in the Caribbean volcanic arc is Kick’em Jenny, located between Grenada and Carriacou. Lorde’s mother was born in Grenada, in Grenville, and her grandmother was from Carriacou, so they would go back and forth across this active volcano. An underwater volcano erupting about every six to eight years, it’s just infinitely fascinating.
The book itself is about Lorde as a cosmic force, as someone whose impact, I think, is related to something like geological time. She thought about herself as a meteor in some ways, and so I’m delving into that. I realize everything I want to say about Lorde would never fit in one book. This is one thing, but the conversation about Lorde continues forever.
HUO Today, I was reading the great new book on John Ashbery’s work; he sometimes left poems unfinished.
APG Yeah, exactly, it will never be finished.
HUO I suppose yours will not be a book about Lorde in the sense of what you wrote about Sylvia Winter. Instead, you are more thinkingwith Lorde.
APG Exactly, it’s morewithher. There is more storytelling about her life than there are about figures I wrote about previously. It stays a little bit closer to her archival presence instead of departing from her theoretical claims.
HUO Regarding the volcano connection you mentioned, do you know if Lorde ever visited Pompeii?
APG I don’t know if she visited Pompeii. I don’t think that she did. She went to Grenada and Carriacou; she wanted some of her ashes to be there. She went to a volcano in Mount Pele in Hawaii. She went there for a solar eclipse soon before she died. Gloria Joseph went back and did bury some of Lorde’s ashes in the volcano in honor of the Goddess Pele.
June Jordan –and you may know this already –did go to Pompeii. When she received the Prix de Rome in 1972, she wrote her Roman poem series and one of them – Roman Poem Number Five (1972) –is about her visit to Pompeii.
HUO Can you talk a bit of Jordan, as she is an author that you have often mentioned to me, an author you are thinking with?
APG Yes, absolutely. Jordan was born in Brooklyn, the daughter of Jamaican migrants to the US. She identified primarily as a poet, but she also wrote opera librettos, children’s books, and incredibly incisive essays. She is formative in the way that I think about Black Feminism, she has a very sharp critical lens. She created something called the ‘Poetry for the People’ curriculum, which continues to this day. It is a technology for understanding poetry as a technology and an active and alive community that lives on, even though she passed away in 2002. She was also contemporary with Lorde, and they had a friendship and collaboration and some disagreements and deep identification in love, all at the same time.
There is a talk Jordan gave at UC Berkley in 1977 called ‘The Creative Spirit and Children’s Literature’ where she describes creativity in a way that I come back to, over and over again –she says ‘love is lifeforce’. That is the first line of her talk, and I feel like everything is in that short sentence.
HUO That’s so beautiful. I want to mention ÉdouardGlissant in relation to the volcanos because I found some notes from when he spoke to me about the idea of the ‘tremblement’, a volcanic trembling in a way. Molly Nesbit, Rirkrit Tiravanija and I went to Paris to see Glissant, and I asked Édouard what he thought of the idea of a Utopia Station, to think of utopia differently. We were at the Café de Flore in Paris. I will never forget this conversation: he started with a major critique of the classic utopia and explained that he wished to design a new authentic form of utopia, which would be a continuum, not a static system, as something was otherwise missing. The second thing Glissant then told us, in terms of utopia, was to read his novel Sartorius from 1999 –which has become one of my favorite books –where he describes how the utopian Batoutos people derive their identity not from a genealogy but from being in constant exchange with others. As a third point, Glissant started to talk about utopia as a quivering, as an almost volcanic trembling, because it transcends the established system of thought, or the subject itself, to be unknown. To quote him from our conversation: ‘It must be said from the start that trembling is not uncertainty and it’s not fear. Trembling thought, in my opinion, in every utopia passing through this kind of thought, is first of all an instinctive feeling that we must reject all categories of fixed thoughts and categories of empiric thoughts.
The whole world trembles’. He told us: ‘The whole world trembles physically, geologically, mentally especially, because the whole world is looking for the point not the station’. That was interesting to us because we wanted to call our project Utopia Station. ‘We need to find the utopian point where all the world cultures, all the world imagination can meet, without dispersing or losing themselves’. ‘And that’, Glissant told us, ‘I think is utopia. Above all, utopia is a reality where you can meet the other without losing oneself’. So, I was curious to ask you about your relationship to Glissant’s thinking because what you said about Lorde seems to really connect to this idea of the ‘tremblement’.
APG Yes, I think so. I will read you something from Lorde’s journal in 1977: ‘I want you to spread like a magic arc between the volcanic eruptions of what must be countered to the lighter but surer soil of what we hope shall be the future with birth at midnight with deep groans, hostile and pain ridden. Love is not alone of the magic builders. We are.’ I do think that Lorde was trying to invoke and provoke something like Glissant’s idea of ‘tremblement’ with her poetry. I think she was asking for people to meet her at this point of transformation that she called poetry. She was often disappointed and felt like people wanted to keep it together; they did not want to be trembling; they did not want to be in this passionate moment. But then they hold on to this quote, ‘when I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid’ and ‘speak your truth even if your voice shakes’. So, there is this trembling which is part of her experience as somebody who stuttered, somebody who was doing vibrational work. I love this idea of a utopian point. I don’t know where a person does not become dispersed. I don’t know if Lorde would have believed that this was possible. I think that when she says, ‘I am who I am, doing what I came to do, acting on you like a drug or a chisel to remind you of your me-ness while I discover you in myself,’ there is and honoring of the other person and a possibility of that reflection. In a sense there is a letting go of that desire to not be dispersed, which is a desire that feels familiar as a ‘diasporic daughter, diasporic grand-daughter’. I understand what dispersal means, especially because I understand diaspora and dispersal has to do with the violence of capitalism and transnational capitalism. Lorde draws on the groan it takes to give birth, and a person is dispersed in this process. I think there is something exciting about that. I want to go back and read Sartorius.
HUO It’s also a book that has a lot to do with a ‘we’ and that makes me also think of your extraordinary book Dub (2020) and the idea of thinking with Sylvia Wynter where you sort of point at the ‘we’ that requires no other. You talked about the year 1975, when the great Wynter and her colleague Glissant went – of all places – to Wisconsin, US, to a gathering of ethno poetics and Wynter basically said in her talk that, ‘there is no such thing, and if there is, there should not be’. I thought it was so interesting that you quote that passage where Sylvia Wynter says there should not be an ethno, but a socio-poetics –the ‘we’ –because we need a poetics of a possible relation.
APG I hear some synergy with what you shared earlier about Glissant in terms of this ‘we’ that requires no other. Ethno- versus socio-poetics – with ethnopoetics being an example of othering. I don’t think it’s too extreme to say this function fetishises the other, leading to anthropological energy in ethnopoetics. It looks at the poetry of the others to understand other civilizations, ancient civilizations, and indigenous people, too, from other places. This is the other.
HUO Did Wynter tell you why these Caribbean theorists, her and Glissant, were at this conference on ethnopoetics in Wisconsin?
APG The journal Alcheringa and the series of conferences on Ethno Poetics have their own institutional histories that I don’t know that much about, but this idea of ethno as other and this reclamation of poetics as a social possibility of a true sociality that doesn’t require an othering to exist. Wynter breaks down a core part of what is her argument, in many places, including this talk that the definition of what is it to be human this dominant definition requires this othering. Someone must be visibly excluded from the category of the human for it to cohere as a category. Maybe we need the trembling and actual dispersal of that coherence to be able to be with each other. Wynter talks about the very existence of ethnopoetics as an example of relations mediated by capital, war, weapons and the extraction of resources instead of being responsive to a shared environment that includes us as participants. Beings beyond our species and the planet herself are not others for us to dominate.
I think that Jordan felt some outrage about the preservation of Pompeii, or the touristification of it. And, of course, she was a tourist. But the first line of Roman Poem Number Five is ‘This is a trip that strangers make’. In a way her meditation on Pompeii is an extended meditation on what it means to be a stranger, and the strangeness of the ritual of witnessing a horrific moment of destruction and preservation at the same time. There is a place – all capital letters – she writes, ‘VISITING DISASTER IS A WEIRD IDEA, WHETER YOU THINK ABOUT IT OR NOT’. She describes the experience but then interrupts the description and interrupts the tour guide to say, ‘wait, what is happening?’ But she is also becoming strange in the process, and she is also learning about desire, destruction, preservation, lust. It’s a poem that I have read multiple times, but I think I will read it many more times. She ends the 17-poem series with that one, which shows that visit to Pompeii was very impactful in her entire journey to Rome.
HUO Maybe we can publish the poem alongside the conversation.
APG Yes, I think it’s a good idea, because really, I haven’t visited Pompeii myself, I have only visited it through her poetry. I am reading it from Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (2005). But it was originally published in New Days: Poems of Exile and Return (1974). All the Roman poems are all in the section on Exiles.
HUO Stella, one of the curators in Pompeii, emailed me yesterday about your book Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals Emergent Strategy Series (2021), which is connected in terms of time. I thought that was an interesting link because I looked again at the way you find transformative guidance in marine mammals who appeared many years ago and, of course, carry a possibly unique knowledge. It would be fascinating to hear more about your meditative approach, which allows for a connection with time far away, deep time and connects us deeper with the environmental crises to the extinction crisis.
APG What inspired me with Undrowned, really what was happening is I was experiencing a depth of grief and a somewhat melancholic refusal of time. That is one way of describing grief and loss. My father’s death makes time unacceptable in a visceral way for me. I was experiencing that in a way that I hadn’t experienced it; there have been, of course, physical impacts and the fact that colonialism makes time unacceptable. Still, the moving of time in the face of his death is something that shook me, speaking of trembling. What could hold the depth of change that I was experiencing, that I felt was necessary on this one scale, but that was also connected to a larger scale of – precisely what you say – the fact that the scientists have announced, time means it’s too late. Our species’ impact on the environment makes it too late for us to expect any extending future on this planet. As Wynter and others explained, the moving forward of time ties into the exact industrialization that has had the carbon impact, for example, of heating the oceans, fueling the genocide of marine mammals. It calls on a deep grief and it calls for a depth of transformation that is, for me, impossible to really conceptualize in the form that I am in. So not only massiveness, not only the blubber-filled idea of breathing, but you also think of like the lungs of blue wales, a huge breathing space that is something that my grief is calling for. I crave that breathing space for us, but it’s also the submersion, pureness, and challenge of surrendering to the ocean in a way that marine mammals do. It is interesting to relate that to deep time, which is related to the interspecies encounter of the middle passage; it’s associated with the physical processing of the bones of people that jump off of the enslaving ship, which was also a whale-hunting ship. I believe that, within our species, there is a deep desire not to want to be a species or to be here. We are invested and participating in systems that make being here impossible and demonstrate over and over again our refusal actually to be here.
HUO I’ve been quoting from an interview you gave, quite often in my speeches recently: ‘We have the opportunity as a species to unlearn and relearn our pattern of thinking and storytelling in a way that allows us to be in communion with our environment as opposed to dominating it’. I wanted to ask you to speak more about the importance of unlearning and relearning.
APG That is also coming from Wynter’s work on homo narrans – about species as not the ones who know but the one who tell a story. That story is about what it is to be human: about dominating nature and therefore not being nature because nature reproduces a fear of domination that explains all the inexplicable behaviors, I’ve seen in this time of populism. Not only does it enable new modes of coexistence, it requires modes of coexistence. Wynter says that as many people have existed, there have been that many ways of being in relationship with an environment or a part of an ecology, and this theological idea of development is the story of how a dominant relationship to nature became understood as the only possible relation. Every other form of relation is a failure in these economic terms. I do feel a longing for that coexistence. I do feel that this idea of communion is possible. It’s certainly necessary but it’s also possible to tell a different story, to have that possibility of communion on a grand scale. I think it’s still a matter of finding the ceremonies; communion is still a ceremony. It refers to a catholic ceremony, but I think what she is pointing to is other than Catholicism and is more biodiverse than that tradition, of course, and it could exist in infinite forms. The infinitude of those forms is what threatens the domination, but it is also what requires the domination to be paranoidly dominant. Because, otherwise, all those forms would proliferate, and no form will be dominant, there will be that ‘we’ that needs no other in our true biodiversity. I do hear that in what you shared from what Glissant is saying about the lineage, not coming from this sense of purity or origins, it’s in relation, it’s present.
HUO That is what Sartorius is all about that. In the preface of Undrowned you write: ‘Those who survived unbreathable circumstances are the undrowned and their breathing is not separate from the drowning of their kin and fellow captives, their breathing is not separate from the breathing of the ocean, their breathing is not separate from the sharp exhale of a hundred whales, their breathing did not make them individual survivors, it made a context, the context of undrowning. The context of undrowning, breathing in unbreathable circumstances is what we do every day in the chokehold of racial gendered capitalism, we are still undrowning.’ I often visit the poet Etel Adnan – who is now 96 – in Paris, a painter who makes amazing paintings, poetry, and writing together. She always says that we have to learn to listen. This idea of listening is the key. You say that this idea of ‘listening is not only the normative ability to hear, it’s a transformative and revolutionary resource that requires quieting down and tuning in’. Can you explain that a little bit and tell us more about listening?
 [Editor’s Note: Roman Poem Number Five by June Jordan is re-published as Historia #31]
APG I certainly wanted to disrupt that kind of ableism and the idea that only certain people can listen. I’m always listening, and I’m always thinking about listening. I was the kid who would sit with my grandparents and listen to them. I notice many elders tell the same story again, but slightly differently. I have this experience when I talk to my grandmother: I’m listening to her, and she’s telling me things that she has already told me, and she says ‘Oh, I’ve never told you’, but she doesn’t remember. I guess that’s just an example of what listening is. Still, there is something important happening in her repetition; certain stories from a particular part of her life are very present with her right now.
HUO Adnan says that, in relation to listening that ‘it has to do with togetherness, not saturation, love, not suspicion, the commune future, not isolation’. Which seems to connect with what you just said no?
APG Yes, exactly that.
HUO It brings us to Grace Lee Boggs and the importance of transgenerational listening. Also, inZami: A New Spelling of My Name(1982), Lorde opens with a question: ‘To whom do I owe the power behind my voice, what strength have I become, yeasting up like some blood from under the bruised skin’. That question connects to what you already talked about in terms of ancestors. I want to ask if you could speak more about trans generation and trans-species connectedness across all living being extinct and alive.
APG It is interesting because when Jordan writes about Pompeii, she is thinking about what it means to preserve this moment from the past, but is it a way of being or not being concerning the transformation that’s continuing to happen? With the land itself and the Earth itself. Lorde is thinking about that question ‘to whom do I owe’ when she is writing Zami. She wrote that book because she felt that she owed her story to future generations. It came specifically out of this moment where Barbara Smith – who is younger than Lorde – stood up in an MLA meeting and said, ‘I’m a Black lesbian feminist, literary critic wondering if it’s possible to be that and live to tell the tale’. Lorde was sitting in that audience, and she said, ‘Oh, it means I did not tell my tale, there is another generation of people who need to know about the Black lesbian feminist of before, who were born in the 1930’s’, like Lorde who lived through that period, so she knows the answer to that question. She constructed the text in a way that brought her to her motherland as a Black lesbian feminist, to Carriacou (near that underwater volcano) where they use ‘Zami’ as the name for the practice of women loving each other in that particular environment. Boggs has impacted how I think about communion, which could be a code word for education or being present with each other. When she thinks of these ideas of becoming solutionaries, she thinks about the importance of an intergenerational scale. I was interested to find out that Lorde was teaching James Boggs’s book on systemic racism in class and how they intersect, The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook (1963). She was teaching it at John Jay, college of criminal justice and she designed a course called ‘race and the urban situation’ which is the first course on systemic racism taught to criminal justice students, some of whom were police officers wearing guns in Lorde’s classrooms. She was bringing James Boggs to them and then Grace Lee Boggs changed my whole life and then I came back to find Grace Lee Boggs’s primary collaborator there in Audre Lorde’s classroom.
HUO This is fascinating because, of course, the intergenerational discussion brings us out to Mobile Homecoming. Again, I would like to return to Glissant because he did two things in a later conversation towards the end of his life. First, he introduced me to Manthia Diawara. Do you know Manthia? I’m going to introduce you both; it’s super urgent.
APG I would love that, yes.
HUO On his eighty-eighth anniversary, Glissant introduced me to Diawara and said, ‘I want the two of you to collaborate forever’, and it happened. The second thing he did was to keep asking me to go outside the museum. He said, ‘you did your things in the museum, but you have to understand that the place in which the exhibitions are traditionally presented are invisible to a large section of society’. He encouraged me to think of other forms of engagement, new models of exhibitions that take art into society. We discussed the idea that every corporation should have an artist on the board to liberate and brings it into society. And that, of course, has to do with his own biography. He was a poet, a philosopher, and a curator, public intellectual, member of the resistance and spoke out their favor in Martinique in 1967. He also founded the Institute of Martinique d’Etudes, a school that he saw as a nature of change as it introduced creole to a French-dominated curriculum. He did all these things as a public intellectual, outside books, beyond teaching. The Mobile Homecoming has been described by you as an ‘intergenerational experimental archive project to amplify the generation of Black LGBTQ brilliance’. So please tell us more about this and the importance of the archive in relation to Mobile Homecoming.
APG My partner, Sangodare and I set out to create an experiential archive, a living library, which is happening now. A transformative process where we are learning about each other from each other. We are the archive. We replay some of the practices that come out of LGBTQ Black communities. Lorde was part of a healing circle, which she believed helped her live longer after dealing with cancer. We partnered with Mary Anne Adams, founder of an organization for Black Lesbians called Zami/National Organization of Black Lesbians on Aging, to host a healing circle on the first day of the new decade in 2010. For us, the primary archive is the intergenerational encounter; that’s where that actual exchange happens. In our experiences. It’s live; we also collect materials, we collect the newsletters, we collect ephemera, we collect the books, and we have this Black feminist Bookmobile project and library…we cherish the material. What we center is a technology of being together, a portal that allows us to continue to listen, tune in, tap into the possibility of the experiential archive; it’s always possible. I think about many things that I have done – that would be usually classified as community work– instead as ‘the performance of school’. Many of my projects have school in the name, i.e. The School of Our Lorde, Juneteenth Freedom Academy, Lucille Clifton ShapeShifter Survival School. These schools are intergenerational, but they are also performative, pedagogical and counter institutional. They are all part of the experiential archive; they are spaces of communion that are not interested in necessarily reproducing themselves in the same form. I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but part of what I am expressing is that every school is a performance. Creating a school and privileging creole curriculum and obviously making this idea possible of creolité and upon Caribbean relation that could be possible is a threat to the normative dominant, the French school, the metropolitan and colonial ideas of what is school for, who should we be in relation with, and what is possible, what is learning, all of those questions is fascinating to me. I remain committed to those questions and those possibilities, and the Mobile Homecoming Trust Living Library and Archive, which is what all of this has evolved into, is thinking about this idea intergenerationally. If the primary archive is the experiential archive, which it is, then how do we create a Utopian Point, how do we create a space where people can have breathing room like the lungs of a blue whale, where we can actually, I mean, this is what you do, listen to the philosophy, the dreams, where someone can say, like what Glissant was doing, they can say the intention and the dreams that they have that will exceed their lifetime to the people who will continue to be accountable to them beyond that lifetime, a place of that, a place for that, but that does not contain it but instead exemplifies it as something that is possible, not only possible everywhere, but already going on everywhere. And yet, happening in a way that is not dominant and is not meant to dominate.
HUO I wanted to ask you what are your dream projects, because I am interested in this idea of the unrealized project. We know a lot of architects unrealized project because they usually published them. In the architecture profession, reality often gets reduced by publishing unrealized projects, so there is this architecture competition. Only one of them is getting built. And then sometimes, they get realized. But we know almost nothing about writers, poets, novelists, visual artists, philosophers, unrealized projects.
APG I feel like I am in good company. I’m glad that is a practice that is beyond. I started to write my dreams inspired by my younger brother Seneca who has a profound memory for his dreams. From a very young age, he is fifteen years younger than me, he had a fantastic memory for his dreams, and then he would draw comic books from them and conduct experiments. He would learn from them like a dream lab he was conducting when he was nine years old. That inspired me, and it wasn’t until later that I learned that Lorde assigned her poetry students to keep dream journals. Many of Lorde’s poems are the published version of her dreams; the imagery came out of her dreams and she worked with it in her poetry. I write my dreams down. That is the first thing I do. I keep the notebook right next to my bed because I don’t remember my brother’s memory for dreams; they’ll slip away. Usually, if I don’t write them down first, they’ll slip away. I don’t know if I might ever publish them. I don’t usually go back them for poetic material in the way that Lorde did and that she had her students do in her classes. I did a little bit of that in high school, I did a little bit of writing poems based on my dreams that I wrote down. And I did 35 dream poems in conversation with Octavia Butler’s ‘Earthseed’ verses. And I wrote a series of dream poems for my brother, so scratch that. I’ve been secretly following Lorde’s pedagogy all along! But I also just go back and read them. I’ll talk about during the day of the dream, or I’ll reach out to someone who’s in the dream about it. Still, more, there is almost this. I wonder if shaky is an appropriate word. The dream journal is a kind of shadow journal, I have a different journal where I write what I think is going on, but the dream journal if I go back to the period that I had this set of dreams, it’s like, that is what was going on under the surface that I did not understand consciously. It was already present in my dreams. Often, I’ll go back and read it years later. It’ll ultimately make sense, which insight, why I was dreaming that or what that meant, or what it led to or how it changed me, but at the moment, I am not necessarily conscious of that; I just diligently keep this archive. The other thing that I found is that if I do this practice of writing the dreams down, I remember them more than if I don’t, so I’m making space for more dream memory.
HUO I think I have the book here, actually, one second. Hélène Cixous, it’s called Dream I Tell You (2003). It’s a glimpse into the raw material. It’s quite unedited in a way.
APG Yeah, I think that’s great. Years ago, I wrote an essay about Lorde’s dream journal, called ‘Daughter Dreams’. She would write her dreams and then she would ask her kids their dreams. I love the idea of a dream archive and what would it mean to value that, have it to use, and value it as deeply as we value the poems themselves, or the things that come out of it, or the intentional work.
HUO And you did a dream retreat with Almah LaVon; it’s called Dark Sciences: A People of Color Dream Retreat (2015), which was a convening, a dream convening. So that is one project because you curated this project.
APG It was a project of curation. The space it was in is called Alma de Mujer in Texas, an area that the Indigenous Women Network stewards on sacred land. Twenty-one people of color went there, slept there and dreamed, and we ate. We did this set of activities. Almah led an underwater writing workshop that is very formative for me; you can see its influence in every writing I have done since then. You can see it inUndrownedfor sure. We also did this oracle where everyone wrote images from their dreams, put them in a jar, and then talked about our aspirational dreams, maybe our unrealized visions like what you are asking me about. Often it was a struggle that people were going through in their lives. Then they picked an image from the jar that was from someone else’s dreams. It spoke directly to what they needed to think about concerning what they were dealing with, and a lot of it was around people’s healing, changing their relationships in some ways. It was interesting because the curation was self-selected, the people who were there, which people applied. Still, their self-selection was also a form of collective curation of deciding to be there and then just how the ceremony of engagement that we created worked, the primary ceremonies being sleeping and eating. That was life-changing for me for sure. It shifted my relationship to dreams as a form of ancestry receptivity and as a form of access to deep time, tangibly, and there’s just more work there, so I am just valuing dreams. And I think the other thing about the Dark Science Dreams retreat is understanding that dreams also, though we may experience them, you know, like Hélène Cixous wrote down her dreams and she encouraged you to write down yours. I am writing down my dreams. We may experience them through this idea of individual subconsciousness. Still, there is something collective about them. They are functional on a collective scale. That is why many cultures have had dream houses and have had a practice of sharing dreams collectively. I feel like that is part of what Lorde was doing. Everybody her the household shared their dreams, and they were all supposed to learn from them. Now, this group of people who were part of this retreat, we continue to share our dreams and realize that even in this small group twenty-one people, one of whom Lucia ‘LL’ Leandro Gimeno is now an ancestor, our dreams belong together.
HUO The other part of the question with the unrealized project, it’s interesting because, of course, I am thinking about Jordan. She won a prize in architecture, not poetry. She got it for an architectural collaboration with Buckminster Fuller, which was about an unrealized project that she called Skyrise for Harlem. It was a project about roundness, an ecological project, a project about the residents of Harlem having space for their creativity and space to move and be social with each other. It was published in Esquire magazine, but it was only attributed to Fuller even though they knew Jordan wrote it.
APG Speaking of unrealized projects, June Jordan’s Skyrise for Harlem is one that I think about, and it continues to exist in interesting ways. One of my sister collaborators Ebony Noelle Golden did a project called 125th Street and Freedom. Now she is doing a project that has to do with ritual performance, and she collaborates with the National Black Theatre and with the Apollo and she is bringing June Jordan’s vision to Harlem again. The processional and ritual work Ebony does, embodies this architectural vision that June Jordan never realized. I’m talking about other people’s projects, but it’s so generative what you’ve said about the unrealized project; I’m going to get to mine, I swear. And Toni Cade Bambara created the anthology of The Black Woman in 1970. In 1988 Essence Magazine had a Black Women Writers retreat in Nassau, Bahamas, and they had this closing circle where they talked about their future projects. Bambara had a vision for a project that would be an anthology. I mean, almost like what you created with the book, it would be recipes, star maps, proceeding from legislature it would be all these things. She was pulling these things together, and it was something that did not happen, at least in the way that she had imagined it coming out from that group of people. There is the Combahee River Collective, which had a vision for an anthology that was unrealized. They compared it to something called the Whole Earth Catalogue of Black Feminism or almost like our bodies ourselves of Black feminism but not specifically about health like the Boston Women’s Health Project. It was something that they envisioned that they wanted to represent the collectivity of Black Feminism. Their standard for it was that it should be produced not only by who they were, which was educated Black lesbian feminists in the US North-East, they wanted it to be on a grander scale, they wanted it to include writings from women that were in prison, they wanted it to be inclusive in a way that they as a collective were not and so it ended up being an unrealized project. Potentially the time factor was part of it; potentially, the funding factor was part of it. The communion they wanted to represent was not a communion they were experiencing among different Black women who seemed separated by systemic barriers. No one is separate, but they were experiencing each other as distinct in that time. Those are unrealized projects; I think about those three unrealized projects at least once a day. Mobile Homecoming space of breathing is a project that is being realized. I was just on the land that we are incubating in on.
HUO Where is the land?
APG It’s here in North Carolina on the road called Old Oxford Road, near a place called Horton Grove. This area of North Carolina is Saponi land; it has been stewarded by the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, and the Eno River defines it. It was then part of the extensive holdings of a plantation called Stagville for generations, and Horton Grove, a part of that same plantation is a preserved area. It is a North Carolina historical site. Some of the buildings the enslaved community created are there, and Horton was an enslaved architect. It is a very important and powerful site. It’s a site where we made our film When We Free. The point is that the land we are now in direct relationship with is not adjacent to but in proximity to that land. We are still figuring out its history concerning Stagville. It’s about ten minutes from where I am sitting right now. So, we realized our vision of a retreat center where we can activate the experiential archive. We are excited to share and collaborate and realize it more and have people have these experiential archive activation moments.
HUO Are you working with an architect?
APG Yeah. You know that’s interesting because this architect, Pat Harris, is the first Black woman to be a licensed architect in the State of North Carolina. We met her through the Mobile Homecoming Project. We are now in a relationship and collaboration with her. We’re working with an incredible builder Helena Cragg, and it’s a merging and developing, in a non-linear way which, for all my poetic embrace of the non-linear, still sometimes stresses me out as somebody who tries to realize its dreams.
HUO So that is amazing; that’s a still partially unrealized project which is on the path to be realized.
APG Yes, it’s on the path to be realized. Depending on my experience of time, maybe it’s already realized, and I am just not experiencing in that way yet. That is what I think about, and I just imagine a reality in which our elders are cherished, the real project is the intergenerational reality where the living library is a biodiverse mode that exists, it is a version of what Boggs was talking about when she envisioned ‘school’. It is a version of what the New Jewel Movement achieved with Each One Teach One intergenerational literacy program in Grenada during the Grenadian Revolution.
HUO It’s unfinished, but it’s a long duration project, no? Is Brilliance Remastered also in a way a project in progress to be realized?
APG Yes, it is, it is. It’s again connected to Lorde’s phrase ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’ (from her lecture at the Second Sex Conference). I guess there would be no need for the university if we fully realized this. Basically; that’s the scale of it. I remember being part of a Black feminist delegation to the Dominican Republic created by Ana-Maurine Lara, where we visited the markers of colonialism. The first western university in the ‘new world’ is there, in Santo Domingo. Near the first plantation in the new world. I think about the project of Brilliance Remastered as an un-mastering. I think about it as a continuation of the ongoing revolution. I think about Brilliance Remastered in that way.
HUO There is also the Broken Beautiful Press, a publishing and distribution initiative. Can you tell me about that?
APG Kitchen Table press inspires it, and it’s different from the Kitchen Table Press. Kitchen Table Press is a women of color press that came out of a conversation between Lorde and Barbara Smith in 1980. Broken Beautiful Press was a school for me to learn what I need to learn from the example of Kitchen Table press, what I need to learn about publishing, publishing as a performance. Broken Beautiful Press is not necessarily really operating now. It moved from print material to digital PDF download network database; it’s a digital trace. You can still download everything Broken Beautiful Press has published on the site.
HUO And that, of course, has to do with, do you have time like maybe five more minutes? I still have two more questions. Is that okay?
HUO All of those projects have to do with learning, which goes back to Lorde. She teaches us that it is necessary for collective evolution.
APG There is this audio novella that I wrote that I haven’t published. I want to produce it; that’s an unrealized project. Speaking of utopia, it’s about this supposed utopia, post-revolutionary society, an empowered Black community singing and dancing for and with each other at all times. Still, there is a scarcity of stillness and silence. And they have outsourced their stillness to one person who lives in a cave underground and does this vibrational works and sits there and has gone deaf sitting there but is tuning in to the vibrational reality by just sitting there still. Several stories, including The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993), influence it. But there is Ladeedah, this young woman, and she is the only person in the community she knows of who has no rhythm and is tone-deaf and craving stillness. She is the person who will bring stillness and silence back into the community, but she must go on this journey to understand that is her role. I say that because I think stillness and silence are important. When I am sitting in stillness and silence and listening, I write. What am I listening to? Am I listening to myself? I consider it to be ancestral listening. Is it silent if it’s populated, if there can be an artifact of it? Listening is not scarce because it’s renewable, it’s possible, it’s not like fossil fuel, it’s infinitely possible, but it’s not happening. It’s not happening nearly as much as it could, and certainly not even a fraction of as much as it’s needed if we want to fulfill Wynter’s yet unrealized project, of socio poetics. I want to revise that; it’s not scarce because it’s possible, and the material exists because we are the material for it, yet I think many of us are afraid of it, if not afraid, certainly deeply out of practice with listening. I’m all about self-expression. I dance as one of my most healing nourishing practices, and I sing as one of my most deeply nourishing practices, none of which I do for performance or for pay or professionally in any way at all. But on the edge of that is the same thing that I think that Wynter and Glissant are talking about is this profound possibility of listening, and I am here for that.
HUO That is such a beautiful conclusion; thank you so much.
APG Thank you for such an amazing conversation, I love that, and I got some citations that I get to read so we can go even further into the next conversation.