I cope with writer’s block by reading poetry. I had this book of black poems, and Finney’s poem was inside. The epigraph of the poem is “You write like a black woman that’s never been hit before.”
I was shook! (For those of y’all who don’t know what that means, I’m saying that I was stunned. I never knew that “writing like a black woman that’s never been hit before” was a way to write. I never considered what it might mean for black women writers to approach a piece of literature that doesn’t undo them.)
So, I read the poem and considered what it did for that woman, and I want all my work to do that for black women. I want my work to be a space that provides moments of tenderness and love and joy for black women.
Now I know this sounds like a very cute manifesto, but literature cannot happen without conflict. I told Finney when I met her that I’m forever trying to write like I’ve never been hit before, but that doesn’t mean all my stories will lack conflict or trauma.
It means that I am reflective and intentional about my black women characters and the unintended consequences of them being on the page.
So, what does it look like to write like I never been hit before? Well I created a checklist of seven things for me to be mindful of when I write:
o Being intentional about the trauma my characters experience
o Creating more moments of self-pleasure & intimacy that include sex
o Ensuring my characters have other women friends
o Characters stepping into vulnerability
o Continuing descriptions of nature
o Making room for joy that isn’t temporary
o Being honest about reasons why I exclude or include myself
Christiana McClain is a graduate of Spelman College and an MFA in creative writing at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She is a contributing writer for Cultural Front.
• A notebook on Nikky Finney for Spring 2020