BLACK IMAGINATION: BLACK VOICES ON BLACK FUTURES
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Recommended by Jason Reynolds on PBS News Hour
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What is your origin story?
How do you heal yourself?
Imagine a world where you are loved, safe, and valued.
“Witnessing is sacred work too. Seeing ourselves as whole and healthy is an act of pure rebellion in a world so titillated by our constant subjugation,” reflects viral curator Natasha Marin, on Black Imagination. This dynamic collection of Black voices works like an incantation of origin, healing, and imagination. Born from a series of conceptual art exhibitions, the perspectives gathered here are no where near monochromatic. “Craving nuance over stereotype, we sought out black children, black youth, LGBTQ+ black folks, unsheltered black folks, incarcerated black folks, neurodivergent black folks, as well as differently-abled black folks.” Each insists on their own variance and challenges every reader to witness for themselves that Black Lives (and Imaginations) Matter.
Cover art by Vanessa German.
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Praise for Black Imagination
“Black Imagination reads like a survival guide with a sense of humor as deep as its sense of history, a literary oasis for black people fed up with the white gaze.”
“Our bodies and actions are under external control, but the well-spring of rebellion is our own imagination. In Black Imagination, Natasha Marin shows us how to free our imagining — as a first step toward freeing ourselves.”
“Black Imagination is somehow as innovatively utopic as it is sincerely soulful. I’ve never felt the physical feeling of pages melting in my hands or chapters folding themselves into squadrons of black airplanes flying to freedom because I’ve never experienced an art object like Black Imagination. It is exquisite art in action.”
—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
“Have you ever read a book and realized you’re reading something you didn’t know you needed? This is not a book to simply read in total and digest—yes, do that—but it is also a work to return to in parts whenever necessary. It’s a book to ingest like medicine, because it is that. Lastly, it is a reminder that joy, too, is necessary and also a form of resistance.”
—Rion Amilcar Scott, author The World Doesn’t Require You
“In an age where spirituality has a price-tag and crystals, teas, and sage reign supreme, this book is a welcome rebuttal. Black Imagination shakes us out of our cultural trance and reminds us that so much of what we deem to be true is learned, and so much of what is actually true has to be remembered. With the storytelling talent of Grio tradition this book is required reading for the African diaspora.”
—Akilah Hughes, author of Obviously: Stories from My Timeline and host of Crooked Media’s What A Day
“If there is healing to be done it begins with a book like Black Imagination. It’s time to return to our beauty, step by step, word by word.”
—E. Ethelbert Miller, author of If God Invented Baseball
“Words create worlds. Black Imagination weaves lyrical narratives of being and becoming into a tapestry that shows us the beauty and power of unfettered imagination. From cosmic allegories on origin to piercing reckonings with race and family trauma, this book creates a doorway through which we can become reacquainted with our essential selves, and dream a whole new reality.”
—Keisha-Gaye Anderson, author of Everything Is Necessary
“(W)eaponize(s) a conceptual work of art in the asymmetrical war that is race in America… the words penetrate the defenses and break your heart.”
—Dr Jon Woodson, author of Summer Games and The Esoteric Mission of Zora Neale Hurston
“Moving, nuanced, and realer than real, Black Imagination is a necessary archive for these times. This unique project asks Black people to respond to three simple yet profound questions about one’s origin, self-healing rituals and alternate world visions in which Black people feel safe and are valued. The rawness of these pages, along with a versatility of voice and vision makes for an immersive read that galvanizes the imagination and massages the heart.”
—Samantha Thornhill author of A Card for My Father
“Authentic and empowered, wistful and insistent, the chorus of voices gathered in Black Imagination sings in defiance of patriarchal, heterosexist, white supremacist erasure. Drawing from the ether of pre-memory, the soulsoil of ancestral knowledge, and depths of individual and collective longing, this collection bears witness to the many ways Blackfolk have devised/unearthed to resist the chokeholds of violence on our subjectivity. A powerful testament to the richness and resilience of Black interiority, Black Imagination reminds each and every one of us of our truest story: ‘Despite and beyond time, I am.’”
—Lauren K. Alleyne, author of Honeyfish
“The agenda of Black Imagination is defiantly hopeful, and rests on a simple, but deeply complicated tenet of faith—faith in the proposition that empathy and hope are all functions of the imagination, or even the products of the imagination. To read Black Imagination is to witness writers wrestling with the abstraction of language to achieve the tangible and bodily effects of safety in a hostile world. Think Soul Train Line, think The Stroll, think the joyous striving with language for the possibilities of safety and hope.”
—Kwame Dawes, author of Nebraska
“Black Imagination reveals itself at times as a baptism, a confessional, a communion, and a coronation. This really isn’t a book. It’s more like a rosary or a mandala. Which is to say, this is a holy thing. Handle it with reverence. Read it out loud like a prayer.”
—Mike Gaston, CUT CEO
“What happens when the Black imagination thrives, unburdened by the white gaze? This collection reaches across time and generations, cities and continents, identities and experiences, to answer: We fill the unburdened space with rituals, remembrances, and discoveries, with our joys and vulnerabilities. The contributors’ poems, vignettes and smaller morsels of language come together to form a chorus, their voices recurring in multiple passages throughout the collection, to powerful effect. Black Imagination is a freedom song, deep-throated and resonant. The collection also answers the age-old Black question—Where your people from?—and builds on it: Where do you go to heal? And there is healing in the pages of this collection, medicine in the lines.”
—Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
“It’s fitting that this project began on the backend of Marin’s two reparations projects—the first for folks to reach out to each other; the second Marin’s healing of herself—cause this here is a catalogue and a map. One of the riffs begins “[l]egend says that I was born in the back seat of a Cadillac,” and you know Avery Young is telling you all that’s needed to know he survives. These pieces, together, are a kind of rent party, a reminder that Black folks can gather in a room and heal. “Coping is ever so awkward,” as Natasha herself says—but damn if it ain’t necessary. And damn if that coping itself, does turn into a beauty here, a Black imagination makes all of us better.”
—Reginald Dwayne Betts author of Bastards of the Reagan Era
“I challenge us to read this tremendous and tremendously important book, white friends. I challenge us to read it without inserting ourselves into the narrative and without rushing to interpret experiences that are not our own (a hint: none of these are). I challenge us to read it without revving into some look-at-me-ish version of empathy which, at best, only ever demonstrates the weakest, most facile form of allyship. And then I challenge us to read it again. And again. “We persist,” Natasha Marin writes. “We have persisted. We will continue to persist with or without acknowledgement.” Black Imagination does not need our justification. But it demands our attention. And it’s about damn time it gets it.”
—Jill Alexander Essbaum, author of Hausfrau
“Black Imagination required Natasha Marin to curate as a curate in the medieval sense—a spiritual guide that cares for souls. This assemblage—at once a book, an installation, a secret meeting and a waiting room—dares to sing an aria in white and violet with Brooks. We are challenged to move beyond the abject, beyond pure pessimism, on the wings of a different criticality—to walk with Hayden, with Douglass ‘visioning a world where none is lonely, none hunted, alien.’”
—Christian Campbell, author of Running the Dusk
“Like a goooood gris-gris sack comes this book. I looked inside and among the medicines found some warm balsam, some astringent drams in brilliant vials, even powerful seeds that tumbled me up into deep interiors. What Natasha Marin has curated via this anthology-as-curative she herself needed, is a multifarious and vibrant sociality of Black care; thus, a network entangling giving a damn with only one left to give. That generosity is Black Imagination’s principle ingredient pot-and-kettled into the poems, microessays, origin stories, spells, and rituals gathered for our collective dreaming and healing. How you feeling? That so? Black Imagination invites you to accept this good balm being given.”
—Douglas Kearney, author of Buck Studies