I graduated from university almost a year ago now (yikes), and in this time frame between then and now, I have been slowly pushing myself to become re-acquainted with the act of reading for pleasure. After studying a literature degree, three years worth of photocopies, highlighters and neck cramp kinda’ took its toll; but taught me much in that time.
In retrospect, I actually stumbled upon my degree. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to pursue, but garnered that it would be best under a creative or humanities banner. I knew at the very core of my work and interests was the desire to observe and document people and to construct this in a way that validated the anecdotal and the personal without the overbearing weight of socio-political and economic emphases; which often appears in the fields of International Development, Sociology and even Business.
I’m not really a numbers gal, and I left the sciences behind a long time ago; so studying books and critical examinations of why and how we read and write was a great entryway into strengthening my beliefs about the personal- in particular, its role in building day-to-day relationships. Whether real or imagined, these books in some way contributed to why I write and why I say what I say.
One thing that always followed me throughout my degree, was the sense that I and other Black students were unfairly represented (if at all) within the compulsory readings. Generally speaking, these texts spanned across themes and emotions I could connect with, but nothing concrete about the overlaps of my race, gender and class.
Out of anger and despair, I wrote about this lack of diversity in my dissertation and one of my final essays. As a student, my critical work discussed the absurdity of teaching a degree that begins in medieval England and works its way to present-day Britain, yet, does not explore or implore Black/writers of colour. I mean, we didn’t just crop up out of nowhere, so why do we fail to draw attention to these developments?
I asked this question to my advisers, lecturers and other students where I addressed the homogeneity of academic, creative and critical material. The general responses ran along the lines of: ‘That’s something for the American Studies department‘, ‘Have you tried looking into a different school?‘ or even, ‘We have a great Feminist Lit module;’ – the last one really stumped me as I failed to see the relevance. In each case, there was an understanding of this gap but a lack of will to try and change or alter it.
It felt like a hopeless cycle asking white cis males why they continued to research and teach white cis males. Even in the odd electives, I found myself forming a gap in which I could wedge my beloved favorites. Sadly, a lot of these authors were met with disdain, as they were not ‘credible’ or required ‘more sources/references’. My last year in undergraduate study really pushed me as I fought to interject Black writers that were heavily overlooked or grossly generalised in their criticism. (Here, I point to the pigeonholing of say James Baldwin, Audre Lorde and Alice Walker as notable queer figures, yet overlooking their radical, often revolutionary racial and class activism). Even on graduation day, it felt like my degree was designed to protect the monotony of literature that discussed and pertained to non-black people and any suggestion of an alternative was to be heavily questioned, if not completely disregarded.
Through my student union’s formation of a Womanist society, and other students creating physical and online spaces dedicated to Black folks, I know that I am not the only one. There are several articles and academic pieces that look into the lack of diversity within the academic and publishing world. So much so, I was fortunate enough to be apart of the final few considered for Harper Collins Publishers first Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic (-herafter BAME) scheme. Writers and readers alike are becoming aware of this niche, but slow to little effective progress is being made.
When you’re the only black kid on your course and one of the head lecturers tells you there’s no space for black theatre makers on the curriculum so you spend three years learning about Chekhov and Carol Ann Duffy but then realise that you can write your own stuff for lil black girls and so you do that, and sell out the Bristol Old Vic and the lecturer that told you there’s no space for you, pays to watch you perform ✌🏿️🎓#bristolgraduate
In order to stop defending micro-aggressions within academia, I made the decision that 2017 would be the year I only read books written by people of colour. This meant a lot of rummaging through my stacks and boxes to dig out some books that I had long forgotten or had half read. It also meant putting down some of the books I had started. This reading challenge began with Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; and you can read my first impressions in an interview with Bookmarker Berlin. This also continued with Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of my Name and two books brought to me by my beloved companion; one of which actually belonged to the late, great Stuart Hall! (His signature is on the first page and I smile each time I flip it open).
I’m mostly keeping track on my Goodreads account, but would like to write about my progress on other platforms, perhaps a mini series on this blog? I cannot express how good it feels to engage with content that finally speaks to and about you. To really feel as though you’re connected through such a silent, yet powerful medium. Each day I try and contribute to this global network of writers and thinkers and how my words may make even the tiniest impact on someone else.
I am ever so grateful to have this platform and share it with likes of you. I am thankful to the wonderful activists, filmmakers, sportsman* and dancers who also channel these sentiments in their own practice. I can’t contain myself when I think of all the links being made in the Black diaspora and how it all starts with thinking and communicating.
If anything else should go awry, at least I am armored with books. Here’s to a great year of reading, writing, thinking and sharing.