An Essay from “Seismic” by Anastacia-Renée
October 26, 2020
This essay appears in Seismic: Seattle, City of Literature, an anthology edited by Kristen Millares Young, featuring writers from all across the city. Seattle was designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2017 and has been working as part of the international network since then.
Seismic is a collection that asks writers to consider what the designation means for our city and how literature might be an agent of change. Learn more and download your copy now!
I woke up on a chilly Sunday morning in our apartment (across the street from where Kingfish Café used to be) and felt as if I were nudged or pushed or energetically prompted to serenade myself with Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” And I did. I played the song and belted it from my gut and just as I arrived at the part of the song where I usually shut my eyes to feel the song deeply, Young, gifted and black / We must begin to tell our young / There’s a world waiting for you / This is a quest that’s just begun, my eyes rested upon Audre Lorde’s I Am Your Sister. I have moved around numerous times in this black body and as a mother (Kansas City, San Diego and Japan) and for that reason I find it challenging to feel anchored to any particular place. But no matter where I’ve made my home, four things have tethered and centered me: 1. Parenting 2. Remembering the power of my lineage 3. Reading 4. Writing. Because Seattle, more than any of the other place I have lived, has a more robust literary community, I have been able to see aspects of myself in organizations like Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute and Northwest African American Museum. I have planted myself, grown and opened up spaces for others to grow and flourish in organizations like Hugo House and Jack Straw.
When I grab a copy of I Am Your Sister from my bookshelf and head to a local restaurant on my street (one that has replaced a Seattle staple), I am greeted via body language by a family of tourists who can’t seem to keep their eyes off me and the book. The body language appears subtle. Short glances up and down, whispering under the breath and stopping to stare at me on the way to the restroom. I say to Audre Lorde (yes, I talk to her often), “What do you want me to receive from today’s sermon?” And she says (as I pick a random page from the book and stick my index finger on a paragraph), When I say I am a Black feminist, I mean I recognize that my power as well as my primary oppressions come as a result of my Blackness as well as my womanness, and therefore my struggles on both of these fronts are inseparable. The tourist family continues to stare at me and by now I assume soon they will make small talk and say what many visitors have said by asking me where I am visiting from or where can they get authentic soul food or if I work at the restaurant.
Something about this family was different. I let my intuition lead me back to Lorde. In my bag I also had a copy of Zami and Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker 1974–1989. These three books have served as literary sanctuaries for me. Though I am definitely in my reading and writing zone, I feel my happy place, also known as Lorde haze, will soon be interrupted. And it is.
The touristy family members walk over to my table in matching sweatshirts. Five smiles are exchanged and there is a pause. I cannot tell if the awkward silence comes from me or from them. I chastise myself for assigning them a name, but this is what writers do. After the pause we all began to speak at once. They say four variations of “Hello” and I simply say “Hi” with a half smile and hugging all three books to my chest. I find myself waiting, almost counting the seconds to guess how long it will take for the questions I am used to, but one of the family members practically leaps out of their sweatshirt and says to me, “I just couldn’t help notice that you are reading Audre Lorde and her work changed my life . . . I mean my whole perspective . . . I mean, she is, by far, one of the most influential authors and essayists of all time.”
I was so stunned by what the family member said that all I could do was smile hard and nod profusely as they followed up with, “You are not the first person I have seen posted up somewhere reading or writing. Seattle must be the right place for that.”
Long after leaving the restaurant and in fact for weeks I thought about this exchange. Not because it ended differently than I’ve been conditioned to expect, but because the family member was right. And the quote that Audre Lorde guided me to was also right. And in this way we were brought together.
My literary roots have grown in Seattle, and I feel fortunate to be planted in a place that values writers, values literature, values libraries, values bookstores, and is not only rich in its literary history but in the current roster of writers. But if I could make a wish upon a book or ask “the Lorde” Audre for a blessing for this city, it would be to add more platforms, avenues, megaphones and bridges for voices who live between the lines, in white spaces and in the margins.
I feel hope for the direction that Seattle is moving. We are remembering that Without community there is no liberation, Audre.
Anastacia-Renée is the author of five books and a TEDx Speaker, Deep End Friends podcast cohost and interdisciplinary artist. The recipient of the 2018 James W. Ray Distinguished Artist Award (Literary) from Artist Trust, Seattle Civic Poet (2017–19), and Poet-in-Residence at Hugo House (2015–17), she has received fellowships and residencies from Cave Canem, Hedgebrook, VONA, Artist Trust, Jack Straw, Ragdale, Mineral School, Hypatia-in-the-Woods and the New Orleans Writers’ Residency. Anastacia-Renée’s work has been published in Foglifter, Cascadia Magazine, Pinwheel, The Fight and the Fiddle, Glow, The A-Line, Ms. Magazine and a host of others.