6 min read

Bibliophilia and Other Romances...

“Lissen - it’s election year in Hell, so I’m getting my good feelings wherever I possibly can!…”
Bibliophilia and Other Romances...
Image description: Atena’s tired face Image description: Collage of Atena’s tired face surrounded by various book covers.

My teaspoons on the tire fire of fascism include an UNRWA fundraiser; please join me in sharing to raise relief aid funds for Gaza.

Welcome to The New Same Better Thing! Since this is my first newsletter since moving over to the Ghost platform, I just want to remind you, gentle readers, that I moved my newsletter to Ghost from $ubstack because the unapologetic promotion of Nazis on their platform was unacceptable. So, welcome to blog.atenadannercreative.com!

Paul Robeson and Free Palestine: Recent Appearances - It’s been a busy couple of months. At the end of December I had the opportunity to visit Third Unitarian Church of Chicago as the guest speaker for the Kwanzaa service. I talked about Paul Robeson as a radical activist and how he held to his convictions while being blacklisted and enduring loss of income and his passport. Like so many justice-seekers, Robeson was branded as a communist: code for upsetting the status quo and challenging the power structure. These days I am seeing people lose jobs, opportunities, and relationships over their refusal to adhere to the status quo that demands complicity in genocide. The community at TUC was extremely warm and hospitable and I’m so grateful to have been invited to celebrate Kwanzaa with them.

Y’all – sometimes it feels like life is just wrapped up too tight… Allow me to tell you about a moment that was really great! I was invited to open a Racial Healing Week event at YWCA Evanston/NorthShore with a poem, which I did (actually I started off singing). I opted to share a song written and performed at an Evanston protest in Support of a cease-fire in Gaza. (Winter weather conditions are not ideal for singing, so it was not my finest QUALITY of voice, but I got my point across: solidarity! Co-struggle!) I thought it would be nice to perform the song in a less cold environment, paired with my poem 'I Know It When I See It.' Of course I was concerned that the words of message would not be welcomed since plenty of people in nonprofits and academic settings are losing their jobs for much less than what I said. In spite of that anxiety, I spoke the words and sang the words anyway and have only gotten extremely positive and supportive feedback, including from the event organizers.

"...and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.

from Audre Lorde‘s ‘A Litany for Survival’

Community, Craft and Transformation - I spent the second week of January immersed in a community of language and love during the Roots. Wounds. Words. Winter Writers Retreat - what a glorious time! We gave each other deep feedback on poems from our manuscripts, as well as personalized feedback letters. I learned so much about poetry and form - Paul Tran was our teacher and had me seriously considering a low-residency MFA! Our class named ourselves ‘The Paulines: The Transformed.’ The vibes were powerful and bursting with affirmation! (The MFA impulse has since cooled, but it’s not entirely off the table.) In the meantime, I have finally begun my year-long publishing program via Anaphora Arts. Anaphora’s Publishing Program is modeled after an MFA program, so this will scratch that itch to enroll for now. I have submitted my first packet to my mentor and while I wait for feedback, I am reading and writing SO MUCH for research and craft development.

One of the BEST, BEST, BEST results of the writing intensives that I’ve taken part in is that every one of them has resulted in lasting connections with other writers of color. Since finishing RWW, I’ve got 2 new Discord servers and a new What’s App thread that are POPPIN with support, advice, resources, and joyful cheerleading. Since RWW I have submitted at least seven applications for publications and residencies, largely because of the support found in the various groups I’m a part of. Find your people, y’all. Roll deep.

What I’ve Been reading… I have been getting reacquainted with actual physical books from the library! Chris and I have had 2 library trips this week, and it's my new favorite hot date! Here’s some of what I’ve been reading to keep me grounded in my manuscript:

A Map to the Door of No Return by Dionne Brand

the black maria by Aracelis Girmay

Blank: Essays by M. NourbeSe Philip

A Fine Romance… Lissen - it’s election year in Hell, so I’m getting my good feelings wherever I possibly can! When I started reading romance novels, it was an experiment. Now: this is a full-blown strategy for cultivating joy! I learned about Black romance author Jasmine Guillory from a podcast that I love called ‘The Nod’ and devoured each one of her books so fast that I surprised myself. I was so eager for my next romance fix that I immediately found Alyssa Cole on Jasmine Guillory’s Instagram and then dove face-first into the Reluctant Royals series which I enjoyed more and more with each book. After tearing through those, I stopped pretending that this was a “guilty pleasure.” I am ALL. IN. After that, I found Rebekah Weatherspoon, who has given me some of the most interesting and.. ahem… liberated characters and storylines I’ve encountered so far, and Denise Williams gave me some real bravery and loving-through-mistakes realness with my Happily Ever Afters. I continue to be delighted by these stories that dare to let Black women characters be smart (and fat and queer and successful) and enjoy good sex without dying or getting pregnant or contracting an illness. I just finished an anthology called, ‘Even If the Sky Falls' about how a bunch of couples deal with getting caught together in a potentially apocalyptic emergency, and that brought me to the work of Taj McCoy; I’m currently enjoying her novel, ‘Zora Books Her Happy Ever After.’ I make no apologies for fortifying myself with happiness.

AWP, HERE I COME! Flight booked, room secured, panels and backup sessions selected! I am headed to Kansas City at the end of this week for the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Professionals) conference. In addition to potential learning opportunities from the conference sessions, I am excited to connect with folks from the aforementioned network of writers of color and I have a goal of connecting with folks from small presses to get a sense of what they are looking for and where I might find a good fit for my next project. I’ll also try to sell a few books if I can.

Keep an eye out for updates - I’ll definitely be sharing about my AWP experience and whatever I can do to resist fascism and genocide. Until then…

In gratitude and solidarity,

❤️ Atena