Black Women and Survival in the Modern World: Camille Dungy’s Guidebook to Relative Strangers

Reviewed by Artress Bethany White

I, like many Americans, recently read that Erica Garner, the daughter of slain African American police suspect, Eric Garner, died shortly after giving birth. She named her son Eric, after her father who was killed in a street bust for selling loose cigarettes. In the aftermath of her father’s death, Erica became an outspoken activist. In turn, her sudden death at the age of twenty-seven, after becoming a new mother, foregrounds the price many people of color pay for striving to survive in America.

African American women are not a monolith, and the stories of black female survival are varied and complex. Camille Dungy’s Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History (W. W. Norton and Company, 2017) joins the current roster of black women’s memoir on an enthusiastic upbeat. In it, she chronicles a broad swath through the demands of motherhood, the writing life, and travel as lived life and survival tale. (More …)

Walking Through Fire: An Interview with Sanderia Faye

Conducted by Erica L. Williams

I met Sanderia Faye years ago at the Hurston/Wright Foundation’s Summer Writers Workshop in Washington, DC in a class led by novelist Agymah Kamau. It’s where she first revised portions of the novel that would later become Mourner’s Bench.

Faye and I became close friends during our week-long residency and before departing she gifted me a wood-scented candle to aid creativity. Throughout the years the candle has served as fuel to my creative fire, a symbol of our connection as writers of color and the artistic community of our origin. Before our interview, I asked her about the candle and she said, “There was something about your personality. I thought this energy would project in your life.”

This gesture is typical of Faye. A person who is affable enough to create lasting connections from the briefest encounters. Someone who in spite of her success remains grounded in the humble beginnings of her Arkansas roots.(More …)

Elemental Fluencies, Meanderings & Speaking Truth: An Interview with Rita Wong

Conducted by Linda Russo

I met Rita Wong because I wanted to buy her book. She had just read from undercurrent (Nightwood Editions, 2015) as a keynote speaker at the 2015 Association for the Study of Literature and Environment conference in Moscow, Idaho. The poems in undercurrent convey a strong bioregional sensibility with their emphasis on Indigenous and place-based knowledges. As she read, it was as if she was speaking a language that I both understood and longed to understand, as though perhaps these two languages were entwined. I needed that book. I waited patiently at the back of the small throng gathered after the event. I don’t remember what I said when my turn came up; I remember that Rita was entirely approachable and somewhat transcendent (buoyant?) at the same time. We greeted, I gushed, and, though she had only the copy she’d read from, she let me buy it, sticky-noted and all. In truth I began planning this interview soon after that day.(More …)

As Ordinary as it All Appears: An Interview with Sayantani Dasgupta

Conducted by Nadia Chaney

I first met Sayantani Dasgupta seven years ago at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference. She was sharp-tongued, self-assured, and kind of Cheshire-like. She had the subtle ability to appear and disappear during heated conversations about writing quandaries such as the responsibilities of memoir or the momentum of flash fiction. There were morning freewriting sessions at seven A.M. and she would show up like a panther, wide awake and hungry.  (More …)

Vermillion Fluidities: An Interview with Lee Ann Roripaugh

Conducted by Linda Russo

In April of last year, I had the pleasure of being introduced to the work and person of Lee Ann Roripaugh. We were reading our poetry as participants in “Poetry of the Plains, High Desert, and Prairie,” a panel at the AWP conference in Minneapolis. Lee was seated to my right, and I can recall an almost emerald vibrancy about her, though I know this is because she read a poem looking (in the manner of Wallace Stevens) at the Vermillion River that runs through southeast South Dakota, where she lives. (More …)