Like most good art,Letters to the Future: Black WOMEN / Radical WRITING is difficult to place neatly into one category—it's easier to describe than it is to define. It's a collection of literature that's innovative in form, linguistics and use of space. It's essays, poems, conversations and visual works. All of the works it contains are written by black women from the United States, England, Canada and the Caribbean.
"I think that they're all really daring and innovative, and approach language in unconventional ways in order to come to some idea about what it means to be a person of African descent—a black woman—in this time frame," said Dawn Lundy Martin, one of the editors of the anthology—and also a writer, conceptual video artist, English professor and co-director of the Center of African American Poetry and Poetics.
Tucson's own feminist publishing house KORE Press is hosting two launch events for their latest anthology. Anthology editors Martin and Erica Hunt, and contributors Ruth Ellen Kocher and giovanni singleton will be doing readings at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11, at the Tucson Museum of Art. This is in combination with a multimedia exhibition of work from the book in the museum's community gallery, which will include elements like audio recordings of interviews with the contributors, larger versions of visual art from the book and video pieces.
"It's definitely meant to open a door into the work of the book and the voices in the book," says Lisa Bowden, publisher and co-founder of KORE Press. "This work doesn't exist in the absence of the person [who created it] and the particularities of identities and of the artists themselves, so it's important to me that their work is conveyed at sort of a human scale and experienced through the senses."
Once visitors have had a time to view and digest some of the works, they can return the next day for a salon. The four visiting writers will have a conversation with Stephanie Troutman, an assistant professor of English at the UA and a black feminist scholar, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the Dunbar Pavilion Auditorium.
The anthology is mostly made up of unpublished works, but there are a few previously published pieces. There's also variety across age and experience. Hunt writes in her introduction to the collection about what she and Martin asked for in submissions.
"The future is a slippery project," she writes. "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."
The result, says Martin, was many pieces that think outside of the idea of time, art that's about a search for truth. As someone who struggles to remember a time before she identified as a writer, words have a particular power.
"I still think language is a way toward understanding, toward figuring out something that we need to figure out," she said.
True to the idea of honoring the works making up the anthology, and the words making up the works, Martin and Hunt didn't create an outline for the book and then accept pieces which best filled the slots. It was much more time intensive, and much more a labor of love.
"We would get together at either her house or my house and we would just spend the weekend together, reading the work out loud, talking about it, recording ourselves talking about it," Martin says. "We did this for a couple years."
For a project that exists in many ways outside of time, it not only took plenty of time, but is making its debut in a more timely way than the people behind it could have imagined when they started working on it. Bowden says the culmination of the mammoth project isn't just significant because it's happening during KORE Press' 25th anniversary.
"It's a project a long time coming, and the timing is perfect at the same time," she says. "There can't be a better time considering what's happening in our country."