Writing about Black Death in the Time of Black Lives Matter

Wendy Thompson Taiwo

The following is a guest post by Wendy Thompson Taiwo, whose poetry appeared in issue 20 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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I began writing extensively about the conditions of black life and death in America after the murder of Philando Castile in Minnesota in 2016. The killing that took place on that hot July night—a police officer drawing his weapon, a black man shot dead—was routine and yet different. I was living with my young daughter in St. Paul when I heard the news. All of us, black and living in a state that was both in the Great White North and just another South, would wonder what we had been doing in that exact moment he was executed in that car, and if next time, his fate could be our own. 

In Kwame Holmes’ essay, “Necrocapitalism, Or, THE VALUE OF BLACK DEATH,” Holmes writes that Philando “was killed in transit, on Larpenture [sic] Avenue…in the Chevrolet that would become his tomb.” Killed in transit. Chevrolet that would become his tomb. These words would haunt me deeply as a black woman who grew up in California in the 1980s and 90s and watched the grainy footage of the beating of Rodney King and the fiery Los Angeles uprising that followed on TV. Holmes’ words would also resonate with me as a horror film fanatic who could never get over that trope where the black character always dies first. As hyper aware as black folks are and have had to be in this country, it was always so difficult to watch black figures on screen be recklessly hacked to death in the first twenty minutes of a film.

How many generations had lived through attacks by nightriders, race riots, and lynch mobs? How many of us learned the contours of the dark, the smell of the swamp, how to stay one step away from death? There is not one sound, one shadow that our kinfolk would not know to avoid, not one suspicious person our grandmothers could not suss out.

Like a roomful of white screenwriters who decide to kill off the one black character first, white people have been writing black people in the New World to death using law, story, structure, and practice. But it is against this reality that many of us write about black life—before and after death—instead of erasure, nonexistence. In writing about black death right now amid a viral and racial pandemic, I am engaging in the black tradition of conjuring language to write ourselves—our love, our losses, our shame, our preexisting conditions, our innocence, our rage—into existence. And by following in the footsteps of my literary kinfolk who wrote to excise the figurative and actual monsters that haunted and hunted us, I too use words to kill what seemingly can’t be killed, in stories where we are the heroes and survivors, where we don’t just make it out alive but live through the sequel too. 

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Wendy Thompson Taiwo is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at San José State University. Her writing has appeared in Typehouse, Mn Artists, Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism, Nokoko, and numerous anthologies. https://twitter.com/wendy_taiwo

Waken to Your Poem

The following is a guest post by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro, whose poetry appeared in issue 20 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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As soon as I wake up, especially if I don’t set an alarm and just let myself rise when my sleep cycle naturally breaks, seeds of poems are waiting to be planted in my journal. I always choose a journal by its tactile quality. Velvet with lace, satin with ribbon, sometimes leatherette (don’t want to kill animals for my poems). I have far too many of these journals bowing my shelves, but I believe that my truest poems have come from what I’ve scrawled in them

Sometimes I write things I’ve glimpsed in dreams—coneflowers or hibiscus or a house with green shutters and tiny moons carved into the corners. Sometimes I can smell my mother’s Evening in Paris eau de toilette or the smoke from my father’s Lucky Strike. I have even awakened to the feel in my palm of Queenie’s oily, seal-like fur, a pet who has been dead for sixty years. I’ve tasted chocolate brownies, especially when I am on a diet.

One morning, I awoke to my husband’s voice, his breath, the genesis of my poem in Issue 20 of Typehouse, “Murmur,” which has a double meaning—his heart murmur and his murmuring. When I got over the shock that he wasn’t actually in our room, I wrote down what I heard him say, what I felt. And as the day progressed, I added reflections about the experience to the poem. 


“Murmur” means more to me over the last month. My husband had emergency open-heart surgery that left him so debilitated that he is in a nursing home. It is so hard for me to wake alone in our bedroom, but what helps me is to listen for him, and write.

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Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is the author of Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Her essays have appeared in New York Times (Lives), Newsweek, and more. The Iowa Review, Permafrost, MacGuffin, and others have published her poems and short stories. Currently, she teaches writing at UCLA Extension. @rjshapiro  https://rochellejshapiro.com/

Learning to Delight in Form

Jessi Fuller Author Photo

The following is a guest post by Jessi Fuller Fields, whose poetry appeared in issue 20 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Religiously homeschooled until college, I grew up a famished reader. Though I had a constant stream of books in hand, the content was often more instructive than literary. I consumed nearly every title on the shelves at home from courtship manuals and Creationism guides to decades-old encyclopedias and Atlas Shrugged. Whenever we went on our semi-regular trip to the public, I chose a Holocaust memoir or A Tale of Two Cities. I avoided short books and graphic novels, the YA section and magazines. In my head, I’d constructed a strict idea of which books merited my attention. Memoirs were always allowed, as were historical novels. Anything remotely contemporary was off the table, unless it was by a Christian author. These were not rules explicitly expressed by my parents, but I thought them best to avoid conflict.

As an English major in college, I began to read more broadly. For the first time, I had friends and faculty to recommend books. I began developing more defined preferences in what I read, no longer choosing something for its instructional merit, but for sound, imagery, and story. It was words, I decided, that made a text. Then Dr. Trakas, my contemporary literature professor, assigned Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Listening to the audiobook, I fell in love with the story, the interwoven narratives, and the precocity of the child narrator. I came to class with pages of notes, prepared to discuss heavy boots and the aftermath of global disasters. Instead, all my classmates could talk about was how the text appeared on the page, something that had never before seemed important to me (see figure 1)

Page from extremely loud and incredibly lose

A classmate lent me their physical copy of the book and I peered inside. What I saw flummoxed me. There were pictures. There was handwriting. There were empty pages and pages with text piled onto itself. Words were not all that made the book. It was a visual experience as well. The more I read, the more I noticed this visual aspect drawing me in. I had never considered literature a visual art. Though I had always presumed writers worried away at words and artists manipulated images, that no longer seemed true. There was meaning to be found in how a text appeared on the page and I found myself needing to pursue that artistry deeper. Five years after finishing undergrad, I completed an MFA in Creative Writing and Poetry, where I learned to delight in poet-artists like Rachel Zucker, Diana Khoi Nguyen, and Claudia Rankine. From these women, I began to see poetry as an approach to writing which encompasses more than word choice. Their attention to the entire composition of their work shows us that all writers must consider their own work as a sensorial experience that focuses not only on the sound of words, but on the visual appearance as well. 

Figure 1.
From Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,
by Jonathan Safran Foer. 

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Jessi Fuller Fields is a queer writer and poet from the US South currently based in São Paulo, Brazil.  She completed an MFA at Queens University of Charlotte in June 2020.  Her work explores silence, traumas, and the things best left unsaid. Twitter: @jfullerfields Instagram: @jessi.fullerfields

Issue 20 is coming!

Would you like to see the contributors? Of course you would! How about a cover peek? (Order is the order accepted, not the order in the magazine, we haven’t figured that out yet! (But we are working on it)

William Crawford
Gary Bloom
Allison Brice
Avra Margariti
Leanne Howard
Ifeanyi Ekpunobi
Peter O’Donovan
James Miller
David Romanda

Virginia Elizabeth Hayes
Michael Berton
Fabio Lastrucci
Tyrel Kessinger
Kristin Fouquet
Erin Yuan
Keith Cork
Emily Behnke
Jaq Evans

Deirdre Danklin
Kyle Heger
Blair Benjamin
Dawn Macdonald
Lee Melling
Christine- Sloan-Stoddard
Nathaniel Sverlow
Jim Still-Pepper
Danielle Keiko Eyer

Cristina Querrer
Jessi Fuller
Mounia Tamazight
Anesu Jahura
Finnegan Shepard
Benjamin Parzybok
Elana Gomel
Soraya Qahwaji
Rochelle Shapiro

Jackson Nash
Shadab Zeest Hashmi
Suzanne S. Rancourt
Mack Mani
Shawn R. Jones
Betsy Martin
Roger Camp
Robert Manaster
David Bassano

Wendy Thompson Taiwo
Mary Soon Lee
Sandra Kolankiewicz
De’areyes Bryant
Claudia Spiridon
Alexandre Nodopaka 
Christine Fair
Martins Deep

Excited? We are!

Updated Submission Information

Hi all Typehouse readers and submitters! Due to several internal factors, we need to change our open reading period for this issue. Through September 1, our reading period will look like this:

  • We are closing to regular submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction as of July 11th
  • Black creatives can send regular submissions through July 25th
  • All works submitted before these dates will be reviewed, no one will rejected because they were not reviewed by the closure date
  • Feedback and visual arts submissions will remain open
  • We are also looking for a Black creative to submit artwork for the cover
  • We will remain closed to regular submissions at least through September first. Issue 20 comes out that month, and we will evaluate at that time what date we will open to regular submissions.


Typehouse issue 8, artwork by A. Riding
and S. La Fe
y

We know this is somewhat short notice, so we appreciate all of your
understanding and support! This is going to be a great issue, and we can’t wait for you all to see it.

News on Issue 20

As you may know, Typehouse is based in Oregon, and Gorham Printing, who we use for our physical issues, is in Washington. The West Coast has pretty much been on stay-at-home orders of one sort or another for quite a bit, which is definitely having a very positive effect. However, there is uncertainly about when that will be lifted. As of right now they are saying May 4th in Washington, but I do not see that very likely, as opening up too soon will cause another spike.

So as an editorial team we have made the tough decision to publish both the May and September issues as a group super (20th!) issue. We considered a lot of options, but ultimately thought it was better to have a date that is probably safe to settle on rather than having to risk keep moving things around, and maybe having to cancel it anyway. We will remain open to submissions as we work virtually anyway, and will probably close to submissions the beginning of August to put the issue together and have it out on time. 


I know this might be frustrating, and it is for us to, but I’d rather things happen in a way that keeps the most people safe, so we will adapt.  (And hey! Super 20th jumbo issue? Might have to do something super special!)

We super appreciate all of our readers and submitters and supporters. I hope you all are well and safe, and that you are dealing with the stress as well as possible. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you for your participation in our magazine!


Val & Co.