Black Joy

Returning Home: A writing residency is bringing Black American writers to Africa

Have you ever felt like you were being called to a place? That something beyond you really wanted you to be there?

Dakar, Senegal was that for Nicole Shawan Junior.

A Lucumí Aborisha, counter-storyteller, community builder, and lightworker, Junior describes spiritual messages through dreams, casual conversations, and other unexpected vessels urging them to go to Dakar.

They eventually heeded to their spirits and took advantage of a writing residency opportunity out in Senegal. However, just three days before Junior was set to leave, the residency was canceled. They initially thought this was a sign that it wasn’t meant to be, but their spirits continued to nudge. So, in just two days, they made it happen.

In our conversation, Junior shares how their spirit-led journey in Senegal inspired the SeaSalted Honey residency which “centers the wander, wellness, and writing of Black literary artists.”

I know SeaSalted Honey is a writing residency catering to folks of African descent. How did the founding of this program come about?

While I was there, I met a tour guide by the name of Abdul Ahad…and so because he spoke English proficiently and he’s Senegalese, we were able to really kick it. One of the things that happened was we went to Gorée Island, and we were looking out of the Door of No Return…he and I were just talking about how there were so many white people at Gorée Island…[we] were saying more black Americans needed to come and see not only Gorée Island, but also Dakar and Senegal and come home, return home. And so that’s where the idea of [the] SeaSalted Honey [residency] really was sparked.

While I was out there, I was able to practice yoga every morning [at] sunrise and every evening at sunset [on the beach]...and you hear the crashing of the waves, and you see this glorious, magnificent sun. And then I noticed that after [yoga and meditating] I was just writing fam…the [stuff] that was unearthed and unlocked because of that experience I had never personally experienced, right, that portal being so wide and so easy and just so abundant.

And I thought to myself, it would be dope to bring Black Americans writers…because there’s something about being on a black land, thee black land and experiencing this side of the ocean, this vantage point of the sun [and] these people who I was able to commune with and kick it with while I was there...something about that really unlocked my artistry.

Black Joy just wrapped up our Black RE:SET series focused on self care, rest and spiritual wellness, and so the launch of this program feels super timely. I know this residency really emphasizes liberation, and then you just spoke about unlocking a portal for your writing that you’d never experienced. So, why do you think this residency is necessary, especially for Black literary artists?

I’ve been thinking about this since I returned home. And I think what I’ve come up with is that we’ve been so accustomed to the day to day, moment by moment second to second terror that we live in, in this country, that we don’t even recognize it…we’ve also become desensitized to our own terror and our own trauma living in this country.

When I was out there, one of my tour guides got pulled over by the police. And I was like, shook…And he was so unbothered. He was bothered, but in a different way. He was annoyed…he got his paperwork out and he was sucking his teeth…he got out of the car [and] went to the cop car’s driver side. It was all types of [stuff] that would never happen here…and he got back in the car… he was like, everything’s fine, and didn’t have a ticket or anything like that.

And I was like, that’s how I want to live. I don’t want to be afraid that when I’m driving on a highway at nighttime, and a police officer stops me that I’m going to be killed, or I’m going to be assaulted… I think for me that was just representative of the possibility of unfurling in Africa…knowing that I wasn’t going to be bothered because of race…that really unlocked that portal to writing that came from silence and safety, rather than a writing that comes from the noise of white supremacy constantly.

What does Black Joy mean to you?

Black joy means laughter. Black joy means white teeth and cheesin’ grills. Black joy means gold teeth. Black joy means block parties. Black joy means Hip Hop at Prospect Park, in Brooklyn. Black joy means my cousin Antoine singing, even though he can’t sing. Black joy really, for me means liberation, it means the freedom to experience bliss without the threat of it being taken away.

I think it’s necessary for us to build spaces where we can really experience that black joy that you all are talking about. And the way that we do that is by taking down the limitations and the boundaries that have been imposed on us, including geographic ones, and saying, it’s about time that we return not only to Africa…but also to our spiritual cosmologies, our ancestral technologies in order to really craft and create truly liberated art.

If you’re a Black literary artist wanting to experience the magic of Mother Afrika, apply for the Sojourns of Return Residency by February 23rd. Find more info on the SeaSalted Honey website.

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham (she/her), affectionately known as Dani Bee, is Reckon’s Black Joy Reporter, and a Chicago-born, Mississippi-raised writer based in Oxford, Mississippi. A 2021 Lambda Literary fellow, her work has been published in MadameNoire, Midnight & Indigo Literary Magazine, Raising Mothers, and elsewhere.

The Reckon Report.
Sign up to receive the Reckon Report newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday.