Spotlighting Black authors: Celebrating Black History Month with Ra Malika Imhotep
By Emily Morris
Although the achievements, struggles, and history of Black lives should be recognized year-round, Red Hen Press is taking this opportunity of Black History Month to spotlight some recent publications from Black authors. As you begin celebrating this momentous month, we invite you to appreciate the poetry and prose of these Red Hen authors.
We’ll begin our Black History Month spotlight series with an interview with Ra Malika Imhotep, author of gossypiin. Ra Malika Imhotep is a Black feminist writer and performance artist from Atlanta, Georgia. As a scholar and cultural worker, Ra is invested in exploring relationships between queer articulations of Black femininity, Southern vernacular culture, and the performance of labor. As a steward of Black Studies and Black feminist thought, Ra dreams, organizes, and facilitates spaces of critical reflection and embodied spiritual-political education.
Through an arrangement of stories, secrets, and memories experienced, read, heard, reimagined, and remixed, gossypiin reckons with a peculiar yet commonplace inheritance of violation, survival, and self-possession. In this way, Ra Malika Imhotep invites us to lean in and listen good as the text interrupts the narrative silence around sexual harm, sickness, and the marks they make on black femme subjectivity.
Emily Morris: What are some authors or artists that inspire your work?
Ra Malika Imhotep: I’m inspired by work and lives of proto-black feminist writers and cultural workers like Marita Bonner and Zora Neale Hurston along with the Black feminist writers of the 70s and 80s like Toni Cade Bambara, Lucille Clifton, and Alice Walker. I’m also inspired by black southern folk artists and craftspeople. Specifically, those who made quilts, brewed gin, danced and sang the blues throughout middle and north Georgia.
EM:When did you begin writing, and why?
RMI:I began writing in middle school as a way to understand my identity as a young dark-skinned black child, descended from enslaved Africans. I was really trying to understand what it meant to live in this world in my body and make sense of the ways I was connected to what we now call “the African diaspora.”
EM: What do we not discuss enough during Black History Month?
RMI: The ways that flash point events of the Civil Rights Movement like the Montgomery Bus Boycott were actions planned and carried out by a large network of Black women organizers who had been working to support the needs of the most vulnerable members of their communities long before the charismatic leaders we are most familiar with came along.
EM: Your poetry collection, gossypiin, reckons with the violence endured and survival tactics present in the lives of black women and gender transgressive black people in the US South. What do you think readers, especially non-black readers, find most surprising in your poetry?
RMI: Well the first surprise is the way the history of the cotton plant’s root connects to Black women’s centuries long struggle for reproductive justice and then perhaps its surprising to see how intimately one can relate to the histories of ones ancestors — how viscerally my contemporary experience as an agender Black femme born and bred in the South is connected to my Grandmother’s mourning and how that heaviness coexist with a playful sensuality the erupts from the texts.