I walked into my first English class in six years last week.
The cool thing is that I’d taken a poetry course with this particular professor before! She was engaging, she was witty–and she thought my poetry was brilliant. After looking over my second chap book for the class (my final project), she gave me this direct quote:
“This is good. You need to start getting your published. And rejection? Get over it.”
This is was a realest thing any professor had ever told me. Still.
So imagine my surprise when I saw the reading list for this next 16 weeks, seeing this semester’s required reading as white as paper. I almost cried.
Here is why.
For my latest 6 year hiatus from academia, I’ve been in activism. I’ve been in circles to push for change, and run some of thee Blackest blog on the planet: The Ideal Firestarter for the last 3 years (year four starts January 2020! Go and be a #Torch!). I have leaned in and accepted this mantle as teacher and writer. I have some other things brewing to be shared by the end of the year. So, I walked into this class with a naivete people have when they believe they know something is happening–and have it under control!
For the last 3-4 years I have been working this writing gift, and all I know, the biggest thing I had been screaming was visibility and representation. When I saw that reading list? I wanted to walk out! My heart that is still grieving the loss of Toni Morrison, that uses Lorde, Angelou, and Baldwin to cope with the national insanity, did not want to read Robert fucking Frost!
I had to settle my heart, loves. I discovered the work of Lucille Clifton–who I didn’t know she existed–and she’s Black! The part of me that was hurt by the lack of representation, wanted to quit! But the part of me that remembered the writers before me? Hughes, Hurston, Dunbar, Baldwin, Angelou and now Morrison–had to to deal with a much less melaninated canon! I had to stay–there is only one other Black girl in this class. I stayed because that’s what the writing ancestors would ask me to do.
I did my reading, did my assignment. And came to class Thursday–but know what?
Class was cancelled. Oh, well. #TheWritingContinues
JBHarris, future MFA recipient.