There was a time that I bounded to the library and rushed to black bookstores to read new work from Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, Sonia Sanchez, Pearl Cleage, Buchi Emecheta, Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid and Edwidge Danticat.
I read a great deal and widely but these black women writers rocked my world. Not only their content, but their skill fed a hunger that was festering deep inside me. When I meet people who haven’t had an intense encounter with great writing, I can always tell. When I meet black women who don’t know or have forgotten who they are, I know that they never kept the night light on to read just one more pagge.
Jayne Cortez was one of those women. She was important. And she died on the 28th of this month.
If you care about those kind of things, her bonafides were stellar. She won an American Book award and many other accolades.
But I thought she was bad because she split her time between my hometown of NYC and Senegal. Our longtime neighbor Mrs. Taylor traveled to Africa extensively. When I thought of Cortez in Dakar, I could smell the stews and roast fish. She was gentle and funny and talked about her next gig.
Maybe she was too literal for you, but her poems always hit me just right.
There It Is
And if we don’t fight
if we don’t resist
if we don’t organize and unify and
get the power to control our own lives
Then we will wear
the exaggerated look of captivity
the stylized look of submission
the bizarre look of suicide
the dehumanized look of fear
and the decomposed look of repression
forever and ever and ever
And there it is