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Multitudes and Multiverses: Black Futures Co-Editors Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham

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Since last week, I’ve noticed the movement and magic of support for Black Futures organically growing in real-time. The strength of co-editors Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham’s vision is manifesting on my phone screen, on my Twitter and Instagram timelines with pictures of the book open and proudly displayed. I see community building, I see an archive accumulating, and I see proximity afforded by the creation, production, and dissemination of this book. 

“The Black Futures Project” started five years ago in DMs between Drew and Wortham. The book form of Black Futures, which I had the pleasure of reviewing last week, is the current iteration of that project, published December 1. In the editor’s letter, Drew and Wortham state, “This book is a series of guideposts for current and future generations who may be curious about what our generation has been creating during a time defined by social, cultural, and ecological revolution.” The growth of Black Futures and the migration of its message over such a brief period is a testament to the intentionality of their aim. 

"It's Time to Reclaim Our Skin" by adrienne maree brown in Black Futures. Art: Shadi Al-Atallah, I used to feel (before Lamictal), 2018, mixed media on unstretched canvas, 57 1/10 x 70 9/10 inches.

Audre Lorde called poetry “the skeleton architecture of our lives.” This thinking suits Black Futures, a poetic work of art made whole by its contributors’ vulnerability and honesty. The book “is not designed to be a comprehensive document,” Drew and Wortham write. “Blackness is infinite—a single book cannot attempt to contain the multitudes and multiverse.” The book marks an impressive cross-section of content and form, with recipes, plans, photos, suggestions, soundtracks, and definitions for how to build and maintain our own worlds, how to design and define our own lives. I’ve struggled to find the right way to describe a feeling I’ve experienced, an instance where the experience of my Blackness was ineffable. In several moments I found similar feelings in Black Futures through both written and visual language. 

Black Futures will exist as a time capsule, and in the future when readers open and excavate its pages, they’ll find possibilities of what it meant to be Black in 2020—what it meant to be Black and creative and queer and disabled and in love and in pain and lonely and fulfilled. And what it meant to fail and survive, to thrive and to try. To write, speak, draw, and paint in order to fabricate realities for ourselves and for the ones that we love. I am quite certain that the Black Futures project will remain a bastion of the wonder of Black mastery as well as the beauty of Black mundanity. Just like Audre stated, poetry “lays the foundation for a future of change.” 

As I write this, I can glance at the book resting on my bookshelf. The iridescent cover, designed by Jonathan Key and Wael Morcos, is catching rays of sunshine. It is an oracle in textual form, waiting for me and other readers to tap into the collective memory and majesty of the stories, voices, and art of the folks whose energy, labor, and legacy constitute a blueprint for Black futures. 

Much of my work this year has involved finding out how creative people have been getting through quarantine. I’m grateful that Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham were generous enough to share their time and answer questions about their favorite poets, how 2020 has been for them, and about Black Futures.

"The Enduring Legacy of Baltimore's Arabbers" by Lawrence Burney from Black Futures. Art: Gioncarlo Valentine, Tony the horse starting his route in West Baltimore, May 23, 2018, archival inkjet print, 8 x 10 inches.

Teri Henderson: Do you have future plans for subsequent Black Futures volumes or other joint projects? 

Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham: This is such a good question! For now, we’re staying focused on our days-old book baby but stay tuned. 

I know that Black Futures was born from a DM between you two. When you began, did you have an idea of what you wanted the final project to look like? Roughly how long did it take to get to where we are now?  

Yes, we started the book back in 2015 with the promising hope to create a volume that could speak to the incredible trends that we were seeing in Black culture. We are both deeply inspired by seminal projects including Toni Morrison’s The Black Book (1973), Toni Cade Bambara’s The Black Woman: An Anthology (1970), and others. We set out to create a text similar to those that could encompass some of the trends, connections, and manifestations we’d observed online. 

Who is your favorite author? 

We are both voracious readers with too many to distill down to one! But a few that stand out: Toni Morrison, Sarah E. Lewis, Claudia Rankine, Koa Beck, Sarah Broom, Tourmaline, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, adrienne maree brown, and so many more.

Who is your favorite poet? 

A few that sing to our hearts: Aracelis Girmay, M. Nourbese Philip, Patricia Smith, Nicole Sealey, Eve L. Ewing, Rita Dove, Cyrée Jarelle Johnson, Angel Nafis, Morgan Parker, danez smith, and Tommy Pico.

 

"Gaybe Love" by Linda Villarosa in Black Futures. Art: Jordan Casteel, Twins, 2017, oil on canvas, 72 x 56 inches.
"The Notion of Pride" by Rahim Fortune from Black Futures. Art: Rahim Fortune, Shinnecock Powwow, 2018.

How have you been navigating the past year in quarantine? 

Lots and lots of personal reflection and consistent assessment of wellness and personal and community care needs. Revisiting the pleasures of a long phone call, movie nights, and spending time in nature when it feels safe.

What has been your greatest joy this past year? 

KD: I learned that I might actually like tea. A huge personal character development.

JW: Learning how to be still(er) and alone for long stretches of time. It’s not as terrifying as my brain once led me to believe!

What is the first vacation you will take post-COVID-19 quarantine?

JW: I’ve been craving a meditation retreat, something remote and quiet, to process everything that’s happened in the last year, while I figure out how to further integrate those teachings into my life and practice.

KD: I am flying straight to Ibiza! 

Have you purchased any artwork this year? If so, what has been your favorite purchase?

JW: A work by LaKela Brown, who appears in the book. 

KD: I got a beautiful portrait by Shikeith from curator Meg Onli’s benefit print sale for the Philadelphia Bail Fund.

*****

Wortham and Drew are currently on a virtual book tour. Many of the dates are hosted with Black-owned bookstores, and they’re in conversation with Black scholars, critics, and cultural figures. On December 11, they will be in conversation with Taylor Renee Aldridge, and on December 14 they will be in conversation with Eve L. Ewing.

From "Independent Subtexts" by Devin N. Morris in Black Futures.

Featured image: Jenna Wortham (photo by Naima Green) and Kimberly Drew (photo by Tyler Mitchell)

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