This article first appeared in Afropunk, under the title “Why I Decided to Feature Black Writers Exclusively in My Literary Magazine.”
I was born six months after A Different World went off the air. Two decades later when I sat down to start the sitcom, I couldn’t get up until I’d finished the entire first season. The eleven hours of episodes enthralled me because they weren’t about black people being black — they were about black people being. There’s a difference.
Last year, I founded my magazine — THIS. — with the goal of amplifying fresh voices in contemporary literature. You might say that I was trying to foster access to a different “different world,” a literary one more imaginative and vast and inclusive than, say, The New York Times’ latest summer reading list. Fresh voices means nontraditional voices, which includes writers who pen experimental, eclectic, occasionally visceral stuff. Fresh voices also means suppressed voices: the ones that have historically been muted and stifled by what Junot Diaz called in 2014 the Great (White) Universal of Literature.
THIS. is firmly grounded in the philosophy that art should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. My beef with contemporary lit writ large is that it fails to do either. The world of literary expression exalts white voices. This isn’t new news. Walter Dean Myers and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and James Hannaham and Saeed Jones have all posited as much. This same world is also patriarchal and acutely sexist. The literary precedent, in other words, is to comfort the already-comfortable and afflict the already-afflicted.
Issue BLK is a celebration of black writing and a monument to a world of voices that has traditionally been quelled in literature. The entire collection was illustrated by the incandescent and incomparable Thandiwe Tshabalala. I coalesced stories, letters and poetry from a dozen writers based around the world. Their common denominator is their blackness, whether biracial, Black American, African or otherwise.
Our contributors are Tania Nwachukwu, Hanif Abdurraqib, Jacinta White, Amber Atiya, Ekere Tallie, Derrick Weston Brown, Alexandria Montgomery, Rachel Long, Cheyenne Varner, Abdul Ali, Yona Harvey and Athena Dixon. They muse in Issue BLK about block parties and flea markets and Mike Tyson and sage rain. Police brutality and kings and Sade and a father’s hubris. Dream catchers and bill collectors and quarter-life crises. Weddings and insomnia and old women who scream “yellow monkey!”
I chose to feature their voices exclusively because I wanted to highlight a different world. We need fresh voices. Here’s to them.