By Shontrice Barnes •
Ever since I could remember, writing has been a huge part of my life.
All throughout my childhood, I had kept journals of random things that I would write. Stories, poems, songs, random thoughts… words were some of the only ways I knew how to express myself.
The most vivid and recent memory I have of journaling is the journal I bought when I was 13. I have no idea where that journal is today, but I remember that it was small and grey, with purple dots. Thirteen was a rough age for me. Going through puberty in a low-income family during a recession isn’t easy! Therefore, much of this journal was filled with very angsty poems. In that moment though, my angsty poems were my way of making sense of a world where I didn’t feel connected to my peers, where I could be honest about the difficulties of being a poor, fat Black girl in 2010.
Of course, my writing was never linear or consistent. And most of the time, I could only write when I was sad. When my mama went into remission for the last time, I was 15, with a new journal that was decorated with a beautiful stitching of an owl perched on a branch. I spent a lot of time writing then and even more after she passed. I was 16 by then. Once again, my poems were the only place where I could be honest about being a poor, fat Black girl who was now an orphan. From then on, I wrote and I wrote. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes not at all.
I wrote in secrecy. I whispered about my secret to others. But for the most part, my writings were for me, and occasionally, my creative writing teacher in 10th and 11th grade. I would never call myself a writer, despite doing everything a writer would do.
I am 23 now, and I just posted one of my poems on my Instagram for the first time. I just started a blog. I am in the process of creating a zine. And I’ve never felt so alive.
Well, remember, I write when I’m sad. COVID-19, the killing and deaths of Black folk, and the protests against police has taken a toll on your girl. So, I did what I knew best, which is write. But this time, I read while I wrote. Specifically, I read other Black women, who like me, used writing as a site for radical honesty and vulnerability.
Then, I read Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, and it felt like she was speaking directly to me. From all the way in 1983, to right now in 2020, she was telling me to write, and read more Black women, but especially to write because it would be more important now than ever.
In the essay that the book is named after, Walker reminds me that my art comes from my mother. My mother who filled her own journals with poems and stories. My own mother who wrote plays about spirituality and God, plays I would later act out in front of a congregation. She directed, she sang, she danced. My mother created. Walker shows me that I have inherited a creative spirit, nurtured by generations of Black women through systemic oppression and misogynoir. That my stories are also my mother’s stories. My mother was poet, and it will be my name that is signed to the poems of our shared stories. It will be her signature that flows through my words.
Walker states that “Guided by my heritage of a love of beauty and respect for strength- in search of my mother’s garden. I found my own.” With those words, I imagine my mother tolling at the land, singing in her alto voice, planting the seeds for me to speak our truths, to tell our story. The story of a poor, fat Black girl, now openly queer, determined to build from generational trauma and share her voice. The story of a Black girl creating her own garden.
Shontrice Barnes is a queer Black feminist writer, activist, and political scientist. She holds a BA in Political Science and African American Studies from the Virginia Commonwealth University and is a second-year Public Policy with Women’s Studies MA candidate at the George Washington University. As a scholar, Shontrice is interested in Black body and sexuality politics, pleasure politics, and spatial politics. In her free time, she enjoys ranting on twitter, taking care of her plants, discovering new Black women rappers, and watching re-runs of the Real Housewives of Atlanta.