When I set out to apply for the Literary Cleveland Internship, I was interested in building career experience in preparation for a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. My experience with Literary Cleveland has not only furthered my interest in creative graduate study, but also midwifed a project I had long been nursing. My Amplify Project, Constellations, is a hybrid literary arts and storytelling container intentionally crafted to create space for Black, Indigenous, and otherwise marginalized People of Color who are queer, trans, gender nonconforming, intersex, and otherwise gender expansive.
I created Constellations because I desired a communal space to create some of my passion projects—playlists curated with sound magic; a bibliography to archive my research into trans and queer Black religio-spiritual embodiment; prayers and incantations for myself and to share with my beloveds; and a love letter to be read at the end of the world. Prior to Literary Cleveland, these desires were musings that spun round and round in my mind, but without tangible output. The team of Literary Cleveland graciously sat with me to whittle and carve my ideas into a shape which could be held within the 10-week container provided by the internship. They contributed stories and artists and techniques and structure and leadership and critique to the fabric of Constellations that made the tapestry increasingly vibrant, durable, and longstanding. I am grateful for the good hands that found Constellations and I.
The community that came out to support Constellations was intimate and consistent. I did not know how many people to expect, and honestly was not concerned with the number who showed. I was simply excited to be creating this space for meaning-making projects and community stories to meet. Admittedly, I also did not do much personal advertisement to friends, ultimately because I was afraid of failing. What if Constellations wasn’t good? What if there was already some doing it, and doing it better? Still, in the midst of my insecurity, and with the help of Literary Cleveland, I maintained an audience throughout the project. Folks who attended Constellations noted that this was their first experience in a BIPOC-exclusive writing environment, and they were grateful. Others were inspired by the introduction to new materials and intriguing writing prompts that urged them to investigate their stories differently. I gained a greater sense of confidence in my ability to create and hold space for creative instruction, and the baby blueprint for what will ultimately become an expanded project.
My hopes for Constellations are to (re)discover modes and methods of storytelling that are congruent with indigenous storytelling practices. In a very basic way, I understand that writing and literacy and storytelling operate through rhetoric and composition as employed by the dominant colonial force of the English language. However, these modes of storytelling are largely incongruent with the lived reality of Black people affected by the legacy of anti-literacy laws which made it illegal for enslaved Black-American people to read and write. My next steps are identifying a graduate program (either for creative or critical research) which allows me to explore literacy, pedagogy, rhetoric and composition, and Black queer and trans embodiment. In future Constellation spaces, I hope to expand the framework of created works to transcend the written language and explore other mediums of translation and expression.
Willow (she/her, they/them) is a Black trans femme poet, narrativist, and creative hailing from the Black Midwest via unceded Mississauga, Kaskaskia, and Erie territory (Cleveland, OH). Her work explores post-apocalyptic intimacies, grief, and networks of kinship and belonging. Prior to Literary Cleveland, Willow served as the Programs Manager for Roots. Wounds. Words. where she curated literary arts programs led by renown BIPOC faculty such as Jesmyn Ward, Ryka Aoki, Deesha Philyaw, Xan Phillips, Nisi Shawl, Daniel Jose Older, Elisabet Velasquez and others. You can find Willow in your local vintage/antique shop or used bookstore searching for an adventure in the cherished belongings of others, as well as IG: @qwahniemae.