Black Joy

Archiving Black Memory: A conversation with Anastacia-Reneé

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/ Side Note / archive: a collection of documents or records or poems or lists or thoughts or music or breaths or blank spaces providing information about a womb, place, institution, memory, ancestors, spirits, community, coven, house, or group of people. - Anastacia-Reneé, SIDE NOTES FROM THE ARCHIVIST

Just before the first section of side notes from the archivist, a door awaits the reader. Maybe an invitation. To walk through an exhibit of poetry, songs, episodes, images.  Anastacia-Reneé, a writer and interdisciplinary artist, welcomes us into an experience of Black cultural memory. As an archivist, they provide side notes to get us started on our own exploration beyond the text. As a witness, they remind us that there are real people, real violence, real laughter, real grief behind what we call Black history, our history.

During our conversation, we discuss what led Anastacia-Reneé to curating this collection, who she looks to for inspiration, and the role of joy in her work.

This book takes us on a journey through Black cultural memory, but also through the experience of being a witness. What compelled you to go on this journey in your work?

I hope that readers do the work. The side notes are the receipts. The side notes are the history. . .And so, part of what compelled me to write the book was this idea that people have so much access to the worldwide web and to anything that they want. But still, Black history systemically has been erased. I feel like the erasure of the Black woman and of Black History is the biggest erasure poem ever.

We’re steadily trying to put the pieces together and then they’re being erased or someone else is filling in the blank for our history. And I am by no means the scholar or whatever. But just in this little piece of book, I was trying to provide the answers to some of those historical blanks in a way that was intriguing and fun. Maybe someone will read the book and say, “Okay, I had no idea about this.” And then go on their own research process.

In this collection, you discuss the 1985 MOVE bombing. When reading the poem, it just hit much harder because I’ve seen things on the internet about it, but many of us are so removed from the fact that other people actually witnessed in real-time this immense violence that happened right in the middle of the city.

I was there. And I haven’t talked about it much. It’s new for me. I was a witness, so it’s a visceral poem because I’m speaking from the archivist’s head and memory, and I’m glad you said that. I feel sometimes people are so casual about it. I guess I’m trying to provide a space for other witnesses to tap in and say, “yeah, that was more than just a random historical fact.” That’s one of the hardest poems I had to write in the book.

you almost choked on your own

memories of the helicopter dropping

bombs over africa

burnt hair in the middle

of your philly street

—  Anastacia-Reneé, 1985 (1)

The other thing that stood out was how you incorporated images in this collection. And to me, they felt like poems on their own because you really have to pay close attention to each detail. I was really struck by the Black Market image. What is the function of these images in the work?

So, those images actually come from an exhibit that I did at the Frye Art Museum that was called, Don’t Be Absurd, Alice In Parts. And it was about a character [and] her home and the exhibit was about the gentrification of her house and also the gentrification of the Black body, specifically the Black woman’s body.

So the black market was the opening room. This new market opened up right by Alice’s home. Theoretically audience members walked into this market and they looked at the board. I wanted that [image] in side notes because I am talking about the gentrification of Black bodies, the gentrification of our history and the erasure of our history and how we are just being steadily consumed and digested and recycled, right? So I felt that had to be in there.

What writers, artists and thinkers have deeply influenced the creation of this collection?

[This] is always so hard for me to answer, so I wanna preface it with, writing wise, I think there’s different kinds of ancestors. Some by mission, some by vision. Some by blood. I think I have a lot of writing ancestors. We are not related, but I think of them as part of my literary lineage. So definitely, the spirit of Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Pat Parker, June Jordan, Nina Simone. I feel like those people were with me.

And then the spirit of eighties music was with me. When I think about writers today, there’s so many. I definitely think of Toi Derricotte, Patricia Smith, Rita Dove. I think of Dr. Bettina Judd’s new book, Feelin. I think about a lot of the writers that are Cave Canem fellows and VONA alum and Hedgebrook alum. So, I thought about so many writers while writing this book.

Based on the sometimes emotionally heavy themes in your work, do you think in some ways it also embodies joy?

I think there are parts of my collection that embody the idea that I have about joy [which is] that it cannot be shaken or taken away, like “Black woman as an altar,” to me, that is about joy. Sometimes I think of joy, too, as resistance. I find it quite joyful when Black people resist.

But I also think that [my work] embodies pain and grief and I think that there’s space for all of that because they are all inside of us. Joy is my birthright. Sorrow is also my birthright, and I am happy with that. I wanna move with more happiness, and I wanna move with more ease, and I wanna move with more positivity, but joy and grief and sorrow and resistance and persistence are also inside me.

Check out these reading recommendations from Anastacia-Reneé:

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.

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