On Thursday May 2nd, I have the honor of hosting the New York book launch of Saltwater Healing by Angelique V. Nixon. This myth memoir and poetry collection is an intimate articulation of self, family herstories, and personal reflections. I am ecstatic to share this brief interview ( there were so many more questions I wanted to ask) where Angelique discusses the book and her creation process. I could go on and on here but I’ll let you read Angelique’s words for yourself. If you’re your in NYC, come out and join us Thursday at Bluestockings Boookstore! You’ll want to get a copy of this amazing piece of literary artwork.
Jess: What is a myth memoir and why did you choose this genre form to negotiate with/and present your story?
Angelique V. Nixon: I call my literary artwork “A Myth Memoir” because this describes the blending of stories, experiences, memories, dreams, and mystical elements of the narrative and poetry in the artwork. Also, I am working in the tradition of Black women writers who insist upon our need to create our own stories out of what we know and what we don’t know — because so much of our histories and herstories are unknown. I am particularly inspired by the great Black feminist poet and activist Audre Lorde’s biomythography Zami where she defies literary boundaries by creating a new genre using storytelling, dreams, myths, and histories/herstories to tell her story.
Jess: Did you make a deliberate decision to handcraft the memoir? Does the physical form of the book become an extension of the reckoning process for you as it pertains to healing? If so, how?
AVN: I started the art pieces in a creative writing workshop as an assignment to tell our story using a graphic novel style. And so in some ways it was deliberate, but it grew organically and in ways I didn’t envision when I started the project. The entire process was very tactile and physical – creating each of the 18 pages and transforming them into art pieces and then putting it all together for an art exhibit. And then creating the book was another part of this very tactile process. The first few pages started with an adult me telling stories and then the later pages transformed into a childhood persona re-telling and re-imagining my childhood through the land/seascape and my grandmother’s mythic voice. Some pages started with the stories, while others started with photographs and scraps of materials.
I went back and forth with inspiration from the materials (cotton, fabric, seeds, dried plants and seeds, straw plaits, and sand) and with the stories that emerged as I wrote and created each page – interplay between visual and text. I used Androsia fabric and plaited straw specifically because of how these materials are used in Bahamian cultural production and for tourism. This vision expanded as I worked with the fabric and straw as a reflection of the obvious to tell what is not so obvious – the hidden from view, the unspoken, the silenced. The creation process was an incredible healing journey and the pieces transformed each day I was at home in March 2012 to do the installation for Transforming Spaces in the Bahamas. I was fortunate to be home during Woman Tongue season – trees being ripe with pods and the beautiful sounds they make during our Bahamian spring time. This took my project to the healing and mythic space I had envisioned through the stories, and working with the woman tongue seeds and pods captivated my poet self.
And so the pieces grow from distance and longing in photographs of the first few pages to a more physical closeness with tactile offerings of the last pages and the frame of woman tongue pods and coconut tree branches. I ended the memoir with a kind of opening and circular movement that I hope pulls readers/viewers back into the piece to share in my vision of Saltwater Healing. The book grew out of my original idea for this project, which blossomed into a visual art piece. I see the book as an extension and movement of the piece that includes the myth memoir and several of my poems that brought me to this creative journey of self love and survival.
Jess: You write in your memoir: I rememory the stories of my birth with fire tongue. Can you talk more about the act of rememory- your act of rememory?
AVN: I am inspired by and work in the tradition of other women writers of color who insist upon our need to create and re-create our stories. We must do this because so many of our stories have been marginalized, lost, stolen, misnamed, undervalued, and invisible. The act of rememory for me is acknowledging that these memories are with us always through shared experiences, ancestors, and the land/sea/environment. And its using these memories to tell, create, recreate, transform, and make new stories.
Jess: Your writing, in many ways, speaks of crossing boundaries be them emotional, familial, geographic, social, or sexual. I’m thinking here of the line from the poem ” I am, we are, silent no more” which reads : and the in/betweens trouble boundaries/these must be spoken. What does it mean for black women to cross these boundaries? How have you crossed boundaries in your own life?
AVN: Black women writers have long taken up this work of exploring and exploding boundaries because as Black feminists have argued since the 1960s, we exist within the boundaries, at the intersections, and therefore have unique insights into the commonalities of oppression – and we have a right to theorize, study, explain, and write about our own experiences. The writings of Black women like Audre Lorde, Sylvia Wynter, June Jordan, Angela Davis, Erna Brodber, M. Nourbese Philip, Alice Walker, Jacqui Alexander, Michelle Cliff, and Dionne Brand, among others, have blessed me with tools, language, and inspiration to understand and explicitly trouble boundaries. I am a Black mixed-race queer migrant woman with poor working class roots, living abroad yet deeply tied to home and the Caribbean as homeplace. And so I feel as if I exist in the “in-between” all the time.
I rarely fit easily into any one particular space and so I have had to cross boundaries, but I do so with consciousness of my gender, race, color, class, sexuality, nationality, histories/herstories, etc. I am also keenly aware of where I come from and the politics of mobility and access. So I have had to stay grounded, and I keep my work and myself honest and true to my politics and my communities. As a person of African descent and a person of color, I feel deeply a sense of responsibility to my ancestors and the shared oppression marginalized peoples have experienced and continue to experience. Yet I am female, same-sex loving, light-skinned, immigrant, raised in poverty, etc. with my own stories but these are connected. And so the personal stories I share in my work reflect these larger stories that must be told.
Jess: In recent years, we’ve seen more black women writers being published by major houses. In your opinion, is this indicative of a wider climate change about the importance of black women’s stories?
AVN: There has certainly been an impressive and growing body of Black women writers across the diaspora getting published by major publishing houses. And perhaps this does indicate that Black women’s stories are finally getting more attention. But I think there is still so much work we have to do. Our stories and our lives continue to be either hypervisible or invisible. I believe that Blackness continues to be denigrated and devalued, and we must constantly be wary of how our bodies and our stories are used – in mass media especially.
Jess: On the opposite end of the spectrum, I personally have been invigorated by the number of black women story tellers using small presses and even self publishing their novels, memoirs, poetry collections etc. Why did you choose to publish via a small press?
AVN: I chose to publish with Poinciana Paper Press because I believe in small independent publishing, and I want to support local businesses in the Caribbean. Also for me, its an honor to be published, recognized, and supported by a local Bahamian press because my work is about home – and no matter how long I have lived away – The Bahamas is always my home.
Jess: How does your literary artwork inform your academic and activist work?
AVN: I would have to say that my poetry has long inspired me to stay rooted in community in my academic work, and that my activist work has been fed by and feeds my poetry. The visual and mixed media art is a new creative exploration for me over the last year, and its been a welcome and needed escape from the rigidity of academic work. My creative work is vital to my very existence and so is my community work.
Jess: How can Zora and our readers continue to support you?
AVN: Please come out the New York launch and reading of Saltwater Healing on Thursday, May 2nd at Bluestockings at 7pm! And if you want to know more about my work, check out my blog conscious vibration, which is part archive of my writing life and part monthly musings/updates about what I’m working on at that particular time. Follow my blog at consciousvibration.blogspot.com. Follow me on instagram at “sistellablack.”
Angelique V. Nixon is a Caribbean writer, scholar, teacher, community worker, artist, and poet – born and raised in The Bahamas. She earned her Ph.D. in English specializing in Caribbean literature and culture at the University of Florida. She teaches in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. Her work as a scholar and poet has been published widely in academic and literary journals, namely Anthurium, Black Renaissance Noire, Journal of Caribbean Literatures, MaComere, small axe salon, tongues of the ocean, and WomanSpeak. Angelique is deeply invested in grassroots activism and is involved with a number of community-based organizations, including Ayiti Resurrect, Caribbean IRN, and Critical Resistance, among others. She works through her writing and activism to disrupt silences, challenge systems of oppression, and carve spaces for resistance and desire.