Listen: DC2A-1 Loft Writers

MPR’s Marianne Combs profiles a group of six Black women Minnesota writers Carolyn Holbrook, Lori Young-Williams, Andrea Jenkins, Shannon Gibney, Tish Jones, and Mary Moore Easter. They gathered at the The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis for a reading series called “More Than a Single Story.” Series was created by Carolyn Holbrook.

This segment features excerpts read by Holbrook, Young-Williams, Jenkins, Gibney, and Jones. [Note: Moore Easter speaks at the event but is not in this audio.]


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MARIANNE COMBS: Good morning. You're listening to MPR News. I'm Marianne Combs. This hour, we're going to hear from six different writers reading some of their recent work. All are African-American, all are women, and all are based in the Twin Cities. They spoke at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis for a reading series called More Than A Single Story. That name will make sense as you listen to the variety of pieces they brought to read.

The series is the creation of writer and teacher, Carolyn Holbrook, who we'll hear from first. She's spent her career supporting the work of other authors through projects like SASE: The Write Place, and the group Twin Cities Black Women Writing. Her goal for more than a single story is to raise up the voices of other Minnesota writers. Here's Carolyn Holbrook.

CAROLYN HOLBROOK: So I'm going to read an excerpt from a piece that's going to be published next spring in Sun Yung Shin's anthology titled, A Good Time for the Truth. The title of my piece is, "Say What?"

For years, I have heard compliments about my voice. People who participate in my journaling workshops frequently describe my voice as soothing and tell me that it makes them feel safe enough to reveal things they hadn't shared before. My college students often say my voice makes them listen, even when I'm saying something that doesn't have much substance.

I laughed when, back in the '90s, my friend Carter called me EF Holbrook, comparing my voice to the popular commercials about the EF Hutton brokerage firm. When EF Hutton speaks, people listen. The voice proclaimed. My children hear my voice in ways others are not privy to. The gentle tones that convinced them that the silly songs I sang out of tune would heal their owies when they were little. The shrill, scratchy tone that came out nearly unbidden when my anger exploded when they were teenagers.

The authoritarian voice that left no doubt that I meant it when I said, if y'all don't get your nappy heads up in here, I'm going to fill in the blank. The icy tones that said that they had disappointed me and the calm, reassuring voice they hear now as adults when they're second-guessing themselves. I have often heard that-- I have often wondered if I could make extra income doing television and radio commercials or narrating videos and audio books. Maybe I could be one of the few women to voice a movie trailer.

In 2006, after I completed a merger that blended my literary arts organization, SASE, with intermediate arts, I decided to find out. A friend recommended her friend's father, who was a talent agent, so I decided to give him a call. I liked the way he described his workshops and the price was definitely right. He said he was about to offer a three-weekend workshop for beginners, so I told him to sign me up.

So I took the workshop. The instructor promised to keep us informed about opportunities and auditions whenever they came up, and true to his word, he started sending frequent emails. One of them, a commercial for a wet mop, caught my attention. I responded with an email expressing my interest. He said he was going to do phone auditions. And I could choose what I would read because at that point, the company was simply looking for the right voice.

We scheduled the phone audition and I intensified my bathroom mirror performances, happy with my new ability to breathe from my diaphragm like I had learned in the workshop and to allow my naturally soft voice to project and exude more power. I read print ads, poems, song lyrics until standing before the mirror projecting my voice fully, I decided that I would read the great Nikki Giovanni's "Ego Tripping", a poem that always makes me stand up straighter, confident in my own strength, power and beauty despite the way America portrays me and my sisters, daughters, and granddaughters.

Finally, it was 10 o'clock, the morning of the audition. The instructor greeted me warmly, and when he gave me the cue, I began. I was born in the Congo, I read, feeling pride and power building up in my voice. I walked the Fertile Crescent and built The Sphinx. I designed a pyramid so tough that a star that only glows every 100 years falls into the center, giving divine, perfect light. I am bad. I sat on the throne drinking nectar with Allah. I got hot and sent an ice age to Europe to cool my thirst. My oldest daughter is Nefertiti. The tears from my birth pains created the Nile.

I am a-- I thought I heard the man interrupt me, but-- and I thought I heard some urgency in his voice, but I ignored it and kept reading. I am-- I am a beautiful woman. Carolyn, he said a little louder and with authority. And I stopped reading then. Carolyn, he repeated a third time, take the black out of it. Did I hear him right? Take the black out of it, he exclaimed a third time. For real, y'all. This is a true story.

I stood in a heavy silence, my heart turning to stone from the weight of his words. I pictured the tall, skinny man sitting at his work station, wearing the wrinkled white shirt, unbuttoned at the neck that he had worn to all three of the workshop sessions. And in my mind, I repeated the encouraging words he had uttered while critiquing me in his basement studio. I wondered what his response would have been if I had asked him some of the questions that ran through my mind.

What if I had asked him to give me a reason why I should take the black out of my voice? There may be a reason, Nikki Giovanni said. I'm guessing he would have stammered a bit and then replied that the company he was represented wanted a traditional voice. Need I state the obvious? I wondered if he would have had the guts to tell me that the company didn't think the American public was ready for the multitude of voices that make up this nation today. I seriously doubt it. Instead, he uttered the first words that came to his mind, the words that meant what he truly intended, uncensored, not coated with the processed sugar known as Minnesota nice.

I wish I would have thought to ask him if he would be willing to take the Irish out of his voice to negate his identity. But when I finally was able to speak, I couldn't find the words. Truth is, I could have read a poem by any Black poet, past or present. Gwendolyn Brooks. Lucille Clifton. Audre Lorde. Maya Angelou. June Jordan. She could have been a contemporary poet. Maybe Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, Nikky Finney, or Rita Dove. She could have been a local poet.

Mary Moore Easter, Tish Jones, Kyra Crawford Calvert or Sherrie Fernandez-Williams or could have been a male poet. It didn't matter who the poet was, the man's reaction would have been the same. He probably would have seen any poem that spoke to strength and equality, one that offered a call for my people to rise up against the odds and be inspired to feel pride in who we are as a threat to his power.

While I stood searching for words, I remembered a signature scene from Roots, and I suddenly felt like I was being transported back in time. There, I stood in my mind's eye among a crowd of slaves, watching in horror as a young slave who had run away trying to find his way home was captured. He screamed words in a language we did not understand, but all of us in the crowd knew he was pleading for help from whatever gods he believed in.

A white man climbed down from his horse, handed a slave named James, a long leather whip, and ordered him to lash the young man until he gave in. Say your name. The overseer commanded in a thick Irish accent. Each command was followed by lashes from James' whip and screams that made me and the others in the crowd wonder how much life the boy had left in his bones.

My name-- my name is Kunta Kinte. The young man replied in broken English, desperation threading through every symbol. More lashes. Your name is Toby, the overseer insisted. The lashes continued until with no strength left in his being, the young man gave in. Say it louder so they can hear you, said the man, pointing dismissively at the onlooking crowd of slaves. My name-- my name is Toby, gasped the young man. Aye, said the overseer, that's a good nigger.

I looked around at the faces of the other slaves in the crowd. The women in their gunnysack dresses, their heads wrapped to hide their kinky hair, and the men in torn shirts and raggedy pants all staring at the young man, their faces full of the grief of knowing that another one of them had had the black beaten out of his voice. Carolyn? Carolyn, came the man's voice from the other end of the phone. Are you there. Carolyn? No, I whispered. I hung up the phone and called my son, who had offered to make a CD of my voice and told him to hold off for a while. I don't think I'm ready yet. Thank you.

MARIANNE COMBS: That was Twin Cities writer and teacher, Carolyn Holbrook, speaking at the Loft Literary Center a few weeks ago. The event featured local African-American women writers. We're listening to some of them this hour on MPR News. A side note, the AP is reporting that President Obama is going to reject the application for the Keystone XL Pipeline. That's according to three sources familiar with the decision, who the AP say spoke on condition of anonymity.

The president is planning to make a statement at 10:45 this morning. We will bring you that statement live when it starts. Next is Lori Young-Williams, who has taught creative writing courses around the region. She'll be followed by Andrea Jenkins, board chair at Intermediate Arts in Minneapolis and co-curator of the Queer Voices reading series there. Here's Lori Young-Williams.

LORI YOUNG-WILLIAMS: Journal entry August 22, 2015. The early morning hours, I spent ruminating over the job. The sun rose in a glorious gold. The leaves from the trees made moving shadows against the bedroom wall. With the coffee made, I sat at my desk and edited a blog for the Loft class, cut to edit, moved lines and sent it off to Sherrie for her final say.

I started reading her first few pages of Shannon's book, underline a line about keeping score. You have to keep score in order to win. The line struck me. Do we keep score in order to win in love? Do we keep score in order to win in life? I moved on to an interview with Nikky Finney in The Writer's Chronicle, where she says, instructs, to be taken with yourself is to say, I have come to do this. I am here to do this well.

I circle back to my desk, I sit back down and I write these words. I circle back to the thought that has been with me from my beginning. What am I here to do? What is my purpose? My God given creator. Bless core being purpose in this life. What have I come here to do and to do well?

I circle back to the mistakes and the corrections and I tally up my score. It doesn't add up. The pluses and minuses, the constant dividing of who I am. Yet it gives a true picture of the pain I've inflicted upon myself. I see the reality of life lived for the other. I see the score. I remember the dream of my dad telling me, you've got to live your life, Lori. No one else's. You've got to live your life. So I circle back to change the score. Thank you.

This last one is called "I am." I am a biracial woman, companion, daughter, sister, wife and friend, an anxiety-prone perfectionist, by god, a lover of books and of classical music. A lover of questions that lead to more questions that lead to a deeper meaning of who I am. A worker of ideas that may bring different people together as I try to live, not just in tolerance, but to love thy neighbor as thyself.

I am a watcher of seasons, the turn of life, death, life. A writer of stories, old forgotten ones about how brown-skinned women made life out of nothing, spun words into fabric, made daughters, sons, husbands, aunts, cousins, uncles and grandparents warm, pounded meal and fed nations, held bodies into wholeness. I am a keeper of dreams, not yet realized ones. My sister family keeps dreaming peace in our country's communities, homes within ourselves. Thank you.

ANDREA JENKINS: So my name is Andrea. Andrea Jenkins. The piece is called "Eighteen". It starts with a quote by Laverne Cox. "Loving a Trans woman of color is a revolutionary act." 18 hours since her last meal. Her head is spinning with desperation. Hyper-sexualized body looks good, but the 5 o'clock shadow is nine hours over the limit and her wig is beginning to look matted. She was 18 when she left home. College was life on the streets. The school day was long, seemed like it never ended.

Many nights spent on sticky tricks, sofas. Days spent as a social activist, marching, lobbying, organizing. 18 Trans women of color gathering for an outpouring of self love. Sistas doing it for themselves. Walking around the streets of Bangkok, Thailand, 18 hours before a life-altering surgery. Body didn't evolve the way she dreamed of in her tiny bed inside a shared bedroom that proved to be unsafe.

Her mind flashed back to that birth certificate. Assigned male at birth, socialized in a patriarchal world, yet unable to fully relate to the constant challenge of trying to live her truth in this upside down reality. 18 times she threw out all of her women's clothing. Known in the community as the purge, ridding oneself of all the reminders of the transgression she's contemplated by the day, annually, for as long as she could remember.

Doctors prescribe birth control pills for women for approximately 18 days a month. But some Trans women take estrogen every day. The desired effects never really come though, still she remains faithful to the goddess. 18 candles on Transgender Day of Remembrance. 18 Trans women of color murdered and not always by those who hate them, but by men who have made love and shared love but want to keep those secrets in the dark.

Shout out to 18 Trans sistas out there doing the damn thing. Cherno Biko, Lourdes Ashley Hunter, Arianna Lint, Cecilia Chung, Valerie Spencer, Ashley Love, Reina Gossett, Arykah Carter, Monica Roberts, Miss Major!, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Tracee McDaniel, Angelica Ross, Cece McDonald, Paradise Lashay, Rehema Mertinez, June Remus. It's been 18 years since this journey began. A long way from the days of fear and loathing. And although her life may seem charmed to outsiders, she knows that her Trans brothers and Trans sisters are struggling out there, so she tells their story.

Everywhere she is invited. The Mayo Clinic, The Program in Human Sexuality All Gender Health Seminars, The Women's Foundation, Ramsey County, The Human Rights Campaign Dinner, the Centers for Disease Control, Macalester College, The Arcus Foundation, The University of Minnesota Medical School, Hamline University, The Minnesota Transgender Health Coalition, Metropolitan State University, Trans Ohio, The Minneapolis Urban League, HRSA, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Taskforce on Creating Change Conference and everywhere else she goes.

She knows that visibility is the key to changing the narrative that shapes this poem. The tables are rapidly turning. Attention is being payed. Time Magazine put a trans woman of color on the cover and said The Transgender Movement was at the "Tipping Point: America's Next Civil Rights Frontier."

And while that is true, 18 Trans women of color will likely be arrested tonight, processed and locked up with the male population or placed in solitary for their own protection, becoming more victims to the prison industrial complex that thrives on poor black bodies to fuel the monetization of black labor. How does she get through this madness?

She remembers those 18 hours of hunger, those 18 years of struggle, the 18 Trans sistas showing each other love. She remembers the 18 hours strolling around Bangkok, the 18 times she purged, and the 18 lives honored on Trans Day of Remembrance, the 18 places where she shared their story of brilliance, resilience and beauty. Thank you.

MARIANNE COMBS: That's writer, performer, and activist, Andrea Jenkins reading a few weeks ago at the Loft Literary Center as part of the More Than A Single Story reading series. Before her was Lori Young-Williams. We'll hear from three more writers who read at the event. But first, a check of this hour's news with Phil Picardi. Good morning, Phil.

PHIL PICARDI: Marianne. President Obama is expected to announce he's rejecting the Keystone XL oil pipeline in a statement shortly at the White House. Obama and Secretary of State, John Kerry, met about the issue this morning. The decision comes after the administration rejected a request by Trans Canada to delay a decision on its application for the pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Minnesota DNR releases a key environmental report on the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine at 12:30 today. Opponents of the mine say the company and regulators have not included enough safeguards to protect Northeastern Minnesota's fragile environment. At the same time, the long proposed mine has fostered economic hopes for the Iron Range.

Stocks are mixed this morning after the government reported a surge in hiring last month and the lowest unemployment rate in seven years. The Labor Department says US employers hired 271,000 people in October and the unemployment rate was at 5%.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a halt to all Russian flights to Egypt and he's told authorities to bring home all of the Russians in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh pending an investigation into Saturday's plane crash in the Sinai. All 224 people aboard the MetroJet flight from Sharm El-Sheikh to Saint Petersburg were killed. US and British officials fear a bomb might have blown up on the plane in mid-air.

The NTSB is sending investigators to Arkansas to look into a fatal bus crash in North Little Rock that killed as many as six people. An NTSB spokesman says the agency is conducting an investigation separate from the police investigation. More news ahead on MPR News. The time is 10:28.

SPEAKER 1: Support comes from national cameras colossal camera event now through November 9, offering photography classes and a complete selection of digital cameras, camcorders, lenses, frames, binoculars and accessories. National Camera Exchange locally owned since 1914. Five Twin Cities locations. Programming is supported by CenterPoint Energy, working to improve natural gas, energy efficiency, and reducing costs for homes and businesses. Energy efficiency programs and information at CenterPoint Energy - Always There.

MARIANNE COMBS: You're listening to Minnesota Public Radio News. I'm Marianne Combs. Just a reminder, the president is planning to make a statement at 10:45 this morning about the Keystone XL pipeline. We will bring you that statement live when it starts. But this hour, first, we're listening to work by Minnesota writers. All are African-American. All are women. They spoke earlier this fall at the More Than A Single Story reading series at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Next up, we'll hear from Shannon Gibney. She's the author of the novel See No Color about a biracial girl adopted into a white family. It just came out this week.

SHANNON GIBNEY: I'm going to read an excerpt from my family memoir in progress. It's called Love Across the Middle Passage, making an African-American family. I did check with my husband, let him read this section right before we came to make sure I will have a home to come home to after this. It is late May. The weather in Minneapolis not too warm just yet, but moving beyond the mind numbing six months of winter.

Everything is green and growing. The air light and florid. We hear our neighbors through the windows, boisterous on the streets. The sun is taking longer and longer to fall at night, and when it warms you, your cool, pale face, you can feel yourself stretching out, opening up. Ballah stands in front of the sink in our tiny bathroom, brushing his teeth vigorously. While I brush twice a day for a maximum of 30 seconds, he brushes for at least five minutes, two or three times a day, and I swear he draws blood from his gums. He presses with such force.

But his teeth are the poorly whites of crest commercials while mine are fading yellow. So I suppose that the method really does produce the results. I'm taking a quick shower before work, while Boisey now two, sprawls across our beds, still sleeping. Our bathroom is the size of a small walk-in closet, but it still somehow ends up being the most trafficked room in the house with two, even sometimes three of us packed in at one time. This morning is no different.

Are you going to apply for that accountant job? I asked Ballah through the shower curtain, washing conditioner out of my hair. I think so, he replies, mouth full of toothpaste. I'm always on the lookout for possible prospective jobs for my husband, who has a bachelor's degree in business and finance from the University of Liberia, but who is currently making $8 an hour loading and stocking merchandise very early in the morning at Target.

We've accepted that Ballah has no job experience here and that he has to build his resume. But what is frustrating is that the job experience he does have working at an international construction company in Monrovia as well as his education, are not seem and don't seem to count at all with employers. It is one thing to have to start below your competency level and another to have to go back to zero. I mean, obviously it's not ideal, but it's a place to start, I say.

The job is listed as temporary and it is at my workplace. Yes, I will apply. Ballah has also been taking a few introductory level accounting classes at MCTC in order to brush up on his skills and learn computerized programs like Quicken and Peach Tree, which are staples in the industry here, but which he did not have access to in Liberia. In Africa, we study hard, but we study all the wrong things. He told me the other day. Here in the west, you do not study all that hard, but you study all the right things. I thought that was fairly profound.

I put this in the category of contemporary proverbs and have been turning it over in my mind ever since he said, I have this list in my mind of contemporary proverbs. You will take the boy to find some suitable clothes for church today, he asks. Every Sunday, we have been going to the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Saint Paul, a prominent Black church in the area. The building is beautiful, the people welcoming. But I blanch at many of the socially conservative messages conveyed through the service, even as I work hard to translate them. Into Buddhist terms, I can embrace.

I am not interested in hearing about obeying your husband or trusting that God will work everything out, when one may be dealing with abuse or financial hardship. And I feel my face turned red when the pastor requests that every family contribute $130 towards a fund for television monitors in various parts of the church. I am aware that there are families in the congregation who are reasonably well off, but I would guess that there are many more who are struggling to pay the light and gas bills every month.

To ask them to pay for something as frivolous as TV monitors seems inappropriate, to say the least. Still, I know that weekly visits to church are very important to my husband, being raised in a fiercely Baptist family, in a proudly Baptist community, in a predominantly Christian nation. So until he is comfortable driving on his own and carrying his son there on his own, I make the effort to get the whole family there, and I makes sure that all of us are dressed properly for the occasion.

Yes. Yes, after work, I say. I'll take him to target. I reached down to turn off the spigot, look for a nice coat, suit and pants, he says, and some Dexters, too. It has taken me a minute, but I now understand that coat suit in Liberian English means suit in American English, and that Dexters are what we would call loafers or dress shoes. Sounds good, I say, beginning to dry myself off with a towel.

There's a springtime children's celebration at the meditation center next Saturday. Nothing big, but I thought it would be nice to take him. And even better, if he has something nice to wear. Ballah has been lightly running a brush over his closely cropped hair, but he stops and brings the brush down to the sink. He looks pained, which makes me nervous. Babe, he says. Yes, I say, squeezing past him to grab my hair product.

Ballah clears his throat. I know Boisey is American. I accept that. He lives here even if we will spend some time in Africa. That is how it is. He will be mostly American and part African. Two things, though, mostly one. And I know that you are a Buddhist, but I don't want him to be. I want him to be Christian. I wrap my towel around my middle and cinch it hard. When we were dating long distance for a year, Ballah in Liberia, me here, the one thing that almost broke us up was this issue of religion. He wanted me to convert, and I knew that I couldn't.

Although I was raised Catholic, I've never been able to embrace the messages of sin as the predominant human condition. The father, son and Holy Spirit being male and white entities, nor the relative hypocrisy of various God-fearing relatives who constantly throw all the teachings of the Bible at everyone they know and stand in judgment of every perceived transgression, even though they themselves are far from perfect.

And to be fair, it was never just about Christianity or Catholicism for me. Organized religion of all kinds seemed dangerous to me. Catholicism just happened to be the particular flavor of organized religion to which I was exposed. I fell into Buddhism, not so much as a world religion as it is practiced in much of Asia, but more as a philosophy and meditative practice. I did not worship the Buddha any more than I worshipped Jesus. What I appreciate are the Buddha's insights about human suffering and the way to alleviate it.

I came to these teachings in my late 20s through my own suffering, as many people do. If at all possible, I want my son to have access to them so that he can develop positive tools to deal with suffering that will eventually come his way. I want to choose my words carefully because I know that this is a sensitive issue. Boisey is Christian, I say slowly. You, we are raising him to be. As far as him being Buddhist, I don't care if he identifies with that or not. As he gets older, I want him to try meditation because I think it could really help him calm down in difficult situations. But all religions has some form of meditation, including Christianity.

When we were figuring out if it was possible or realistic to try to build an interfaith relationship and family, what I kept on coming back to was the ecumenical nature of all spiritual systems. I told Ballah, who at that time had really only been exposed to Christianity and Islam in Liberia, that all religions had the same values and ideals at their core. Love, forgiveness, generosity. I said that, that was what we needed to focus on with respect to many differences between Buddhism and Christianity.

If we could do that rather than require the other partner to somehow change their spiritual community or system, I argued, that we could occupy a space between. I said that we can make a third way, one that was not binary black or white, but rather an abiding grayness. I said that it wouldn't be easy to rest in such a space of ambiguity and in-betweenness, but that I knew we could do it if we were committed to truly loving and respecting each other and to the tenets and values undergirding both Buddhism and Christianity.

He agreed. And now here we were, muddling through our desires for our son's religious community. Yes, yes, we have talked about all of that, Ballah says, waving his hand, with respect to us but I'm talking about him, my son. It will be very difficult for him to be two things like that. I want him to be one thing only.

My mother told me long ago that I would have a very difficult life since I can't control what happens to my face when I hear certain things. And she was right. She was right. I could feel my eyes bulging and my skin turning red, my whole face contorting and scrunching up into something ugly. But I am more than one thing. I'm African and I am Black-- I mean, sorry, I'm American, but I am Black American and I'm Black American, but I am mixed Black American. I am mixed Black American, but I'm adopted into a white family.

I'm a professor, but I'm also an artist. I'm already a million things at once you can't separate. It is impossible to keep the passion out of my voice. The longer I'm in this relationship, the more I come to believe that this is the central tension between us. I grew up in the most powerful culture in the world, but on the margins, in just about every way, while he grew up in a culture with comparably little power in the world, but he was centered as a male in a culture that centered males, Black in an all Black community and Christian in a Christian culture.

For him, being at home in his own body as well as his experience in the world is normal. The way it should be. For me, feeling outside the norm because I am too much of one thing but not enough of the other. Having some access to power but never really being part of it is how I've always moved through the world. Again, I'm talking about Boisey, not you or I, he says. I sigh. Babe, you can't talk about Boise without talking about you and I. Ballah's brow furrows. He is his own person. He is not you and I.

Exactly my point. His world will be even bigger, even more complicated than ours. He will probably have to go between even more communities and identities than we ever will. Myself, I think of how much easier it will be for him to do that if he is only one thing. I feel like this argument is getting at something so deep in our relationship that there might not even be words for it.

A slow burn of anger is bubbling up in my gut and I'm struggling mightily to contain it. For some reason, Ballah's words are assaulting me. Well, it might be easier, I say, but that doesn't mean it will be better. I don't know if I have succeeded in keeping the acid out of my tone. I'm sure my husband would say no. Ballah just looks tired. I take his hand.

He will continue to go with you to church and your time together as father and son, I agree, it's very important part of his heritage. But he also has other traditions in his line as well. Even if we don't teach them to him ourselves, he will find out about them from school, from friends, from everyone around him. Here, it's not uncommon to have more than one religion or spiritual tradition in your house. Really? Yes. Incredulous. I nod. Thanks.

MARIANNE COMBS: Shannon Gibney, reading from a new memoir in progress. She's the author of See No Color, which was published on Sunday. We're listening to excerpts from an event called More Than A Single Story, which took place at the Loft Literary Center earlier this fall. It features the work of Black women writers. Next up is spoken word artist Tish Jones. She's the executive director of TruArtSpeaks which helps youth to find their voices. Her poem is called "Unseen".

TISH JONES: Stepping lightly over the roots of trees, which will no longer be themselves planted in this community, but beneath the feet of it, feet feeling a pressing need to leave, crashing leaves wake people from their sleep. This morning the sky was sheepishly silent, painfully purple, a violent shade of orange, a humbling, hurting natural. Disaster is an understatement, says a student, half dressed and depressed, entirely uncertain and a graceful gangsta.

Hey, Yo, you good? Your peoples good? He's reaching out for a connection before cutting across the shards of glass to aid those who cut their eyes at him a day ago, particularly Mrs. Middle Class Illusion, who posed with her nose up each time he passed her prior to the present. Posturing now with her hand out, poverty looks like his hand pulling her up from the ground. Him hearing the call, she was too wounded to make. He is a gang member of this community. Still, tomorrow, horses will heal this displaced man and he will be condemned to weep for them from behind doors.

Half exposed. Home has holes in it now. This is rescue. It takes weeks. Giving off an aroma of distance, newfound proximity to self. Truth begin seeping in like sewage on the first level, filling lungs, surging through a city, blocked and guarded movement soon to occur, forced into a higher place of consciousness and the people pulling you up from the stench you were drenched in will be draped in blues. They will not be cops. [MUTED] will smell different.

You see a tornado hit North Minneapolis. Children ducked beneath decks to survive. Lives were shifted, forever became a fabled term. Time stop. Foreigner amongst friends who dwelled in its fantasy. So many week after, this city has been redecorated, sectioned off by vouchers and an elder on the porch in a chair rocking whispers. That tornado let so much light in, uprooting autumn trees like that. Don't look so dark around here no more now do it?

MARIANNE COMBS: That's spoken word artist, Tish Jones, and her poem "Unseen". It's published in a book called Blues Vision: African-American Writing from Minnesota, which came out in February. A few of the artists we've heard today are featured in that collection.


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