Walidah Imarisha Talks Punk, Genrecide, and Her Racial Ideology

Art, poetry, talk, Uncategorized, Words

Interview by Alyssa Campbell

kaylaartArtwork by Kayla Gutierrez

“I think writing should be less like a factory and more like a garden, nurturing and watering, but allowing what is growing to take new, sometimes surprising, and often beautiful shapes,” Walidah Imarisha tells me.

The first time I met Imarisha was in January, 2015, when she was featured as the keynote speaker to present “Oregon’s Racial History and King’s Vision of Justice,” for a Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at the Majestic Theatre, in Corvallis, Ore.

You couldn’t deny the power of her presence when she spoke: she was confident, fearless, and completely unapologetic for who she is and what she stands for. I remember the instant goosebumps when she kicked off with a spoken word poem, and by the end of her presentation the entire theatre stood for a round of applause. I thought to myself “I want to be like her one day, I want to have that kind of impact with my words.” Since then, I’ve attended a book signing, multiple lectures, workshops, and have been lucky enough to sit one-on-one for a personal interview with Imarisha.

Imarisha is a public scholar, spoken word artist, writer, activist, journalist, and educator, who currently lectures at Stanford University’s Program of Writing and Rhetoric. She’s taught at Portland State University’s Black Studies Department, Oregon State University’s Women Studies Department, and Southern New Hampshire University’s English and Literature Department.

Growing up on military base, Imarisha says the support from her mother showed her the possibilities of what she could achieve.

“My mom has been very foundational to me. She doesn’t necessarily call herself a feminist, but she absolutely is where I learned feminist principles,” said Imarisha. “She was like ‘We’re going to travel, we’re going to see the world, we’re going to do what we want to do, and I’m not going to let someone tell either of us what we can or can’t do.’ She also always taught me to be true to myself.”

She is well known for her statewide presentation: “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon?” and for creating the expression “visionary fiction.” Some of her work includes but is not limited to: author of the poetry collection “Scars/Stars,” and the creative nonfiction “Angels with Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption,” co-editing the anthology “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements,” and was an editor for the anthology “Another World is Possible.”

Has it always been a dream of yours to be in the position that you’re in with your career?

I definitely always wanted to be a writer. And I think the idea of communicating ideas and thoughts is something that’s foundational, and kind of the core of everything that I do. I think it’s more about finding different mediums for conveying ideas, and starting conversations, getting folks to think differently.

I definitely see all of my work as intertwined and interrelated. Sometimes poetry is more effective for some things, sometimes an academic format is more effective, sometimes poetry writing workshops are more effective. All the time science fiction is more effective.

I also feel the core of everything I do is a commitment to justice and a commitment to trying and revisioning the world and dreaming better futures, and so I think my life has taken a very circuitous route and gone many different places, I’m doing things that I didn’t imagine I would be doing. But I think that it was kind of keeping that as my guiding light, as my north star, and it has never steered me wrong.

When did your love for sci-fi begin?

Science fiction was one of the few genres where you actually got to see through the eyes of “the other.” And they may be a green person, or someone with tentacles, but the ways they were treated felt much more familiar.

Part of what drew me was that I got to hear stories from the alien’s perspective, from the perspective of people who felt familiar. Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting to read literature written by folks of color, but it felt like I was getting closer to hearing marginalized voices than in most other genres.

The space of saying whatever you can imagine is possible was incredibly compelling to me. I also think even though I wasn’t able to articulate it as a child, I understood that the aliens were more like me, than I was like most of the main characters.

How do you decide which outlet you want to use when curating new writings?

Most of the time it’s not a conscious decision, if I’m just writing, it’ll come out however it comes out. Sometimes I have no idea what it is I’m like: Is that a poem? Is that a short story? I don’t know what that is. Is that an essay, a personal essay? Sometimes it’s about the projects I’m working on, or things people ask me to do.

I used to be in a punk band; I started liking punk in high school and I definitely felt like it spoke to my feelings and my rage and my sensibilities. I really was drawn to the idea that we can do it ourselves, to be creative, and to question everything we’re told.

And also, when I discovered mosh pits I was like: this is an amazing outlet for the rage I feel as a young black woman every single day.

How old were you when you when you started getting into punk?

I started getting into punk while I was going to high school, I must have been 15 or 16, when I lived in Springfield, Ore., and it was all white. The bands I listened to were white, the people were white, and there were three of us who were brown. So I was like “I guess this is a white thing and I like it.”

I was lucky enough when I moved to Philadelphia, to the East coast, I got to meet punks of color, and folks who were very clear that actually punk music is rooted in black music. So I ended up hearing the band that I joined Ricanstruction. They’re all Puerto Rican, and considered themselves to be black.

They talked about the fact that Puerto Rican folks, caribbean folks, all have African heritage, and are black regardless of shade and facial features. It was really helpful because my mom is white and my dad is black, so obviously I grew up with white people being very clear that I was black. But also not necessarily feeling like I connected everywhere with “blackness” entirely.

So it was really useful to engage with these folks who were like “black is a political decision, and we choose to be black because we stand in solidarity with people who are the most oppressed.” And I was like “Word! Alright.” They were incredible musicians, all of them were some of the best musicians for their fields that I’ve ever met, and they were also all rooted in the intersections of music.

They loved punk, they also loved salsa and reggae, and hip hop; every form of music, soul and rock. Our lead singer used to say we committed “genrecide” by saying “these aren’t neat boxes, this is all music,” and he was like “this is all black music,” and it all has common roots, so we don’t have to be like “this is our punk song, this is our soul song.” So people would listen and be like “we don’t know what ya’ll are doing.”

That’s the best part, when you can’t fit someone in a category, when it’s just something that you feel.

I’m really glad I came into punk, and came to that band for many different reasons. I think it gave me my political ideological foundation, but I also think it really influenced my own writing of saying “I don’t have to accept genres, and I can commit genrecide in my writing as well.”

I think with “Octavia’s Brood,” and the science fiction anthology written by organizers that I edited, when I approached publishers they were like “we don’t even know how to sell this, or market it.” And we were like that’s fine we’re committing genrecide, we don’t have to be put in a little box.

Especially with my latest book “Angels With Dirty Faces,” I actually had an agent who said “I love this book, it’s amazing, but I have no idea how I would market it to a publishing company. Because it’s memoirs/true crime/analysis/racial ideology/sociology/ with poetic writing, I don’t know where it fits.”

It certainly makes commercial success harder, but I think it makes life more organic and real to be your full, complete self, and bring all of your pieces to all that you do.

*On her racial ideology*

It was really important for me, learning about black liberation movements, especially the Black Panther Party, and getting to engage with political prisoners from that era. Specifically Sundiata Acoli, a former Black Panther and political prisoner.

I started writing him while I was in college, and then when I moved to Philadelphia he was being held in Pennsylvania, so every month I would go visit him. I think it was really helpful for my racial ideology, because I think I had a little of what I call “the bi-racial blues,” of being like “I don’t fit in anywhere, no one wants me.”

Sundiata was helping me see the differences between different community’s reactions, because I think a lot of times, when, especially mixed black folks are feeling like “white folks don’t want me; black folks don’t want me.”

But what Sundiata said was often times when black folks were saying things like “you sound white,” or “why do you act like a white girl,” what they’re saying is, “are you going to take the privileges that you have, that I can very much see you have and leave us when it becomes convenient, or are you going to be part of this community?”

It was life changing. I think I was 18 or 19 when he told me that and we were in a prison visiting room, and I wanted to cry.

*On Black Lives Matter*

I think it’s an important movement that’s happening right now. There’s a struggle for justice in every generation, every generation has work to do.

I feel like Black Lives Matter is part of a long lineage of black survival movements in this nation that says “we will claim our right to exist. And we will claim our right to exist as we want to exist, not as you tell us we should exist.”

I think focusing on Black Lives Matter, what we do want, is visionary. It’s also science fiction, because black lives don’t matter to mainstream America, and they have never mattered to mainstream America. It’s kind of pulling this future into the present.

It’s saying “we will live this science fiction dream as if it was reality, until it becomes reality.”

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A New World Nightmare

Misc., Uncategorized, Words

A post-apocalyptic short story by Alyssa Campbell

Waking up in my bed has felt strange so many times, especially when I’ve forgotten that is where I was all along. I have fallen into these deep sleeps before, going through my day unaware of what was real and what was just a dream. When I have these awful nightmares, I try to keep them to myself, but this is one I had to share.

rapturtopfune

No one knew things would turn out this way; everyone was sure she was going to be better than the other candidate, who many had said would be like another Hitler. But they were wrong. Everything changed once she got into office, but no one was paying attention. It was the age of the “selfie;” technology shifted in a new direction, and sooner or later, everyone jumped ship. There were selfie sticks, filters that completely changed your appearance; no one wanted to look like their natural self anymore. Women and men were spending all of their money on makeup, making sure their contour was “lit” and their eyebrows were on “fleek.” 

There was a family that changed fashion forever, and soon, young girls were getting full-on plastic surgery to look a specific way, before they even started middle school. Vegans tried to make a difference, they tried to warn people to shop organic and stay away from GMO’s, but soon it didn’t matter, because everything was being labeled organic in the United States, even if it came from human DNA. Unfortunately, other countries fell into the same illusions. No one cared about the good of the planet; no one realized other forces were trying to get through and help us. Earth was constantly going through shifts, things were being revealed across the globe, people were coming together and standing up for what they believed in. 

Creatives were making art, music, literature, films, photography, and pornography, to capture these feelings and shifts they were experiencing. The bible described this period as the end of times, and the zombie stories became true, beginning with an app called “Pokemon Go.” People from all generations were playing, meeting up, walking to catch pokemon, staring at their phones. All while she was getting away with murder, a race war was taking place, police were targeting people of color, the government was trying to take away people’s rights to bear arms and enforce martial law. And that was only in America. 

People were dying all around the globe because of hate, greed, lust, and vanity. A generation war was also taking place around the world between millennials and everyone else, but mainly the baby boomers. As the earth’s energy continued to shift into a higher vibration, lower energy vibrations began to die out. Celebrities began to drop like wriggling, dying flies. One after another, people began calling them angels, saying they had served their purpose of helping the earth; a cleanse was happening and they couldn’t stay while it happened. One day, the only ones left on earth were the millennials, creatives, and empaths. 

They were the only ones who could withstand this new energy, left to bring in a new world. But along with this cleanse, everyone became renewed, meaning they had no knowledge of what happened or who they were. In preparation, a group called the Saeri, who were half alien, half human, were abducted by a group of aliens called the Oir until the cleanse on earth was complete. The Oir explained to the Saeri what was happening and why. They began by informing the Saeri that it had been the Oir all along, sending messages throughout time on Earth

They told them in order to help guide humans they had to create a story we could interpret, which is where religion came from, but that we began to focus on these things more than our actual experience on life, and the wellbeing of earth. Everything that was happening on earth was affecting the rest of the universe, which is why they had to step in. They explained that the former American presidential candidates were actually evil; they were from a different planet, trying to destroy the earth and create chaos. They wanted to steal the souls of human beings, keeping them trapped in this three-dimensional state of existence. There were celebrities who were angels, and celebrities who were fallen angels, but they were each placed on earth for a purpose, said the Oir. 

The celebrities were vessels, communicating messages from other worlds, but humans began to worship them, once again becoming more distracted from the bigger picture. The Saeri asked why they let Earth go on like this for so long, why the Oir hadn’t come sooner. That’s when it was explained how the Saeri came into being. 

They were a part of the Oir, but since Saeris were bound in a higher vibration; on earth they wouldn’t be recognized. This is why they were a hybrid, living a human experience. What went wrong? Well, when the Saeri were born they had gotten amnesia, therefore, they had to go through experiences others couldn’t relate to, they constantly felt abandoned, and alone. But they were the prophets; they were created with strong empathy and a flame that burned in them. Their mission was to break down the old ways. 

The Oir explained the true form of humans, with the earth in a higher dimension, humans would be able to access parts of their brain they never had before. They’d also be able to communicate through telepathy, they didn’t need to eat anymore, and there was no more hate or greed. There would be no God, the Oir explained. There was indeed a divine intelligence, but it was something that could not be perceived by human intellect. They didn’t want to make that mistake again, and humans would be able to understand more about this intelligence, because they would all feel a connection. 

People would be encouraged to continue to build this connection with the divine through deep meditation and eating a sacred mushroom. This would be the only time humans would need to eat. These mushrooms would constantly be supplied as a gift from the divine, so people wouldn’t have to worry about them ever running out. They would have an instant gateway; it would be there and they would realize their soul is eternal. These new times were what were once described as heaven on earth. 

There would be no more chaos and corruption. In the old world people weren’t in control of their desires; they weren’t taught to train their instincts, and therefore, they thought it was natural. In fact, it was the furthest thing from natural, and it was only a small part of the human experience, but not where other life was, in other worlds. This is why in the past it was considered a sin to lust; the Saeri would teach the humans how to be in control of their desires, how to feel light. After eating the mushroom and meeting with the higher intelligence, humans would feel the highest form of pleasure and would no longer desire pleasure from their physical bodies. 

Everyone would have an understanding that there was more to life, and there would be no promise of life in a kingdom after death. But there would be promise of fulfillment and purpose. The Oir also explained that fate was very real, and so was free will. Free will was given to all on earth, to see if humans would be able to figure things out as a collective; or if they would continue to remain asleep and let the world around them fall apart. Because of their failure, the Oir knew that humans needed a better understanding of how both free will and fate are necessary to the human experience. The divine intelligence knows no good or bad, but it was created to help teach humans right from wrong. 

The Saeri would also bring new technology to earth and humans would no longer work as slaves to a system that kept them blinded from their true purpose. There were different beings in the universe that wanted to experience life on Earth. They wanted to show themselves, but they were afraid. Now they would able to make their way onto to the planet, Earth would become a school for all lives in the universe. The goal would be to find ways to keep a supermassive black hole from swallowing the Earth. In order to do this, they would all need to work together and humans would be able to travel to different planets whenever they wanted. 

There was a lot that needed to be explained, and the Saeri were very patient; they too were upgraded, so they couldn’t feel any anger, even know they had just found out everything that had ever known was a lie. The Oir also told the Saeri the truth of the soul. That there was another half to each soul, living in a different realm. After this new transition was complete on earth, souls would be allowed to finally come together as one on earth, after this, no one would ever need to eat a magic mushroom, because they would become immortal. Once immortal, they would be able to visit the divine intelligence by simply hoping for it to happen. They would be able to manifest things like magic. 

Earth would become like it had never been. Before the Oir let the Saeri go back to earth to begin their new life, they told them they were sorry. They knew a lot had to be done in order to bring in change, but “it was all a part of the process,” they said. In the past they had to respect people’s free will and couldn’t communicate at all, and it wasn’t until they created the Saeri that they were able to find a way to help earth. They told the Saeri not be upset with the divine intelligence, but Saeri had no anger in them at all. They felt at ease knowing they hadn’t been crazy this entire time: they were actually the ones who were sane all along.

hope this time

Art, poetry, talk, Uncategorized, Words

Poem by Alyssa Faye Campbell

Art by Jessie Petrylak

blm

 

in the face of adversity the load becomes

heavy – as we strive towards so much

more. we arrived with words as keys,

discovering our strength from their

energy – “Black Lives Matter.”

forsaken chants – no remedy,

another hashtag. awaiting

brighter days; and there

will be.

even in

the dark

we grow – in

the

dark

we glow.

so much pain –

still, there’s always hope.

where is heaven for a

Black

angel –

when

will

all

Lives

really

Matter

 

Illusioned Solitude

Art, poetry, Uncategorized

Poem by Alyssa Campbell featuring artwork by Jess Petrylak

4a36cbd5-770c-42d8-8428-471e91fff8c4

I.

cheeks

Stabbing

air

Voices

slice

chalk boards

Drowning

malice

balled

Pain

mind

trap

hands

Above

swallow

floating

water

below

Head

 

II.

The sky’s railroads hold clouds traveling in packs while gods hide drinking wine

Us puppets on strings dangling from their fingertips– Death, dead

our heroes, our legends, in silence they Live on. Words on a page- through rhythm

dancing on, in silence

AnswersAreBorn

 

III.

Questions forever forming tears of longing hearts, railroads of chirping birds singing gay songs.

They’d change their tone if they knew what we have done if they knew

if they knew

 

IV.

The air stung my cheeks, voices nails on a chalkboard theheartiswrongtheheartiswrong gods drinking wine,

Us puppets on strings dangling from their fingertips–

 

V.

Death, dead- our heroes, our legends- in silence they Live on, words on a page through rhythm dancing on. Words On a page– through rhythm they dance on

insilenceAnswersreBorn

 

VI.

Clocks pointing broken fingers, dead ends- Caged thoughts spillingfrom the ceilingburnt skin- black sun’s.nuns holding rifles, Dead ends- caged thoughts spillingfrom the ceiling

Hell’s portalHeaven’s illusionEarth’s Asylum

 

VII.

Wondering soulsWondering souls, voices bold holding signs screaming “Anti-voices” aknowingunknown gods

drinking wine

Us puppets on strings dangling from their fingertips–