Excerpts from Erica Hunt’s introduction to Letters to the Future: Black Women / Radical Writing.
Angle, Defy Gravity, Land Unpredictably
By Erica Hunt
The future is a slippery project. What can it hold? We asked writers to write about it, imagining the future as the present conjugated—conjoining the past, the present with some other time. Don’t writers write, intuitively, to the future all the time? It’s in the calculus of the literary trajectory to incline towards a future dialogic; the writer assumes a kind of blindfold, writing to be in dialog with a reader, a reader through whom a part of the meaning/effect is fulfilled. The project of writing to the future is linked to the question of audience, and reception, how we all together re-imagine language, self and community. Dawn and I anticipated writing that would suggest and provoke—acts of self possession, self characterization, and alternate ways of living out and through strictures of time, the long afterlife** of kidnap, captivity and enslavement, subjugation, modernity with its diffuse array of chutes and shackles through to some new space, altered.
The anthology is not intended to be exhaustive of Black women’s radical writing. In fact, we are suspicious of all canon-making, even as we assembled this collection, which may paradoxically, in the future, read mistakenly like a parchment-fragment of a canon. This collection consists of writers we turn to in order to read the radii of our contemporary fix, the magnitudes of disaster, who remind us that the thickets are made of individual trees, the copse and undergrowth.
We situate this collection in the continuum of many assertions of Black futures, most prominently seeded in the Black Arts movements’ paradigm shift that made new sense by identifying nation (without a state) and culture within the disaster of diaspora and insisted on an emancipatory impulse towards “freedom” in the ongoing process of material and psychic decolonization. We try to reflect some of the past imaginings of the future by including Black women writers who’ve led by their insistence that the pursuit of transformative poetics is crucial to the reimagining of a world in which Black people thrive as free people. Women like Coleman, Cortez, Kennedy, Piper, Clifton, Sanchez, among many others let us know that literary practice is agency and collective agency in a world in which collectivity is circumscribed. These Black women cultivated the habits of undoing and remaking old narratives, releasing us by stopping us in our tracks, locating us, readers/audience in connectedness, the truth of uncertainty and witness.
The time of this collection, 2015-2017, was marked by an inflexion in the world’s deteriorating economic and political relations. They extend and distend in body counts: yawning inequality, wars of surrogacy between states and between stateless nations, global migrations and climate change that challenge and multiply notions of interconnectedness. All these shifts and a conservative turn to authoritarianism are inscribed here, and at times they burn hot where futures forge. If writing and art are contingent practices, always carrying the imprint of context, social position, and a restlessness to know beyond the knowing (the as if, art’s impulse) that keeps Black people in their place, this collection is propelled by a contemporary urgency to upend that fixed place.
Here are the responses—from across generations—to the question of how poetics might lead—from lives contracted to object destinies, and subject to racial violence and forfeiture, to an as if place—works that “give life” mediated by language and imagination, to move at the “velocity of writing” and by the audacity to anticipate.
** I am indebted to Saidiya Hartman’s and Christina Sharpe’s use of the concept of the “afterlife of slavery,” which suggests to me a “wave” theory of Black ontology, energy and carried forward, in intensity, direction and frequency from an original and diffused violence.
Page 12-13, Letters to the Future: Black Women / Radical Writing.
Erica Hunt is a poet, essayist, and author of Local History (Roof Books, 1993) and Arcade (Kelsey St. Press, 1996), Piece Logic (Carolina Wren Press, 2002), Time Slips Right Before Your Eyes (Belladonna*, 2015), & A Day and Its Approximates (Chax Press, 2013). Her poems and non-fiction have appeared in BOMB, Boundary 2, Brooklyn Rail, Conjunctions, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Poetics Journal, Tripwire, Recluse, In the American Tree and Conjunctions. Essays on poetics, feminism, and politics have been collected in Moving Borders: Three Decades of Innovative Writing by Women and The Po
litics of Poetic Form, The World, and other anthologies. Hunt has received awards from the Foundation for Contemporary Art, the Fund for Poetry, and the Djerassi Foundation and is a past fellow of Duke University/University of Capetown Program in Public Policy.
Past writer in residence in the Contemporary Poetics/Creative Writing program at the University of Pennsylvania, and at Bard College’s MFA program, Hunt has taught at Wesleyan University and was a repeat faculty member at Cave Canem Retreat, a workshop for Black writers from 2004 to 2015.
Erica Hunt’s introduction is part of KPI’s small experiments of radical intent series: Postcards to the Future: Protest in Place, to uplift and celebrate Black women’s voices, July-Nov 2020. Navigate through this series by following the tag Postcards, at left.