Years ago I decided I would not never become a teacher. I envisioned it as confinement. I am a creature of routine BUT I do not want one imposed on me. I always saw being an educator as someone who was doomed with routine and rewarded with low pay. That was not the life I wanted to live.
As time and the ancestors would have it, my poetry created a platform for me to engage my art at colleges and universities. Not just as the “entertainment” but additionally as an educator to young writers on the importance of preserving the black vernacular. My art eventually evolved to focusing on the feminine narrative. Encouraging the black feminine voice expressed and written from a holistic perspective and not just as a presence to move a plot forward. These discussions exposed two things, (1) I had more questions than answers and needed to do more research to educate myself (2) I was pretty good at this teaching thing.
My community knows me primarily as a performance poet and from the theatre. Both of these creative platforms allowed me to express undivided and intellectually intact. I had the company to be beautiful and the security to laugh at myself and others. As I immersed myself more with the writing community, plays and novels, I felt absent- invisible even. I was stifled with this feeling once before when I studied film at Howard University for my M.A. In screenplay writing, I didn’t have the company of voice, meaning the character written or represented on film, was not a bridged visualization of my existence as a woman. A black woman, a woman of color living in this country. My questions about the presence or the acceptance of what was represented as the black feminine narrative, now became a plaque of concerns. That was until I got my hands on Toni Morrison’s “Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination”.
The resonation of her message in this book enveloped cavernous inquisition on how the world develops my character. Morrison wrote in the book,
“Race has become metaphorical. I remain convinced that the metaphorical and metaphysical uses of race occupy definitive places in American literature, in the “national” character, and ought to be a major concern of the literary scholarship that tries to know it.”
I found myself re-reading sentences as these were the conversations that had been abiding in my mind. Morrison elaborated with specifics that the existence of people of color in this country’s “classic” literature were both surrogate and menacing. And at this point in time, the character had successfully developed as rhetorical “dread and desire” with the purpose to establish hierarchic difference.
This feeling of being absent and invisible might not be understood because “She” is in the book or the play. “She” has a name, a family and a house. This Morrison book gave permit on my thoughts of feminine characters simply placed to drive plots and twists in literature. Now I needed a space to focus on this new scholarship I wanted to present to young writers. I knew my questions would be answered back in a learning environment. I needed time to re-establish my personal rooting in the literature world as an artist and an educator of the art form. I decided to go back to school and push through for my PhD in Africana Women’s Studies program.
I have been out of school for almost 20 years! But I am confident in the two things that I have determined for my life (1) I will remain a student and commit my art to an evolving journey instead of some destination I make up in my head and (2) I am indeed a teacher.