#52essays2017, BLF Press, Writing

#9 Serendipity, or the Evolution of an Anthology

This week, I found out that BLF Press’s first title, Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction, was named a 2016 Forward INDIES finalist for LGBT Adult Fiction. I am thrilled about this, and want to share an updated version of the essay I wrote last year for Women and Words about how the book came to be in existence. 

Serendipity, or a series of fortunate events; this what always comes to mind when I think about the evolution of my first anthology, Lez Talk, A Collection of Black Lesbian Fiction. The project had been stewing inside of me for several months, possibly years, but I had not yet been able to bring it to fruition. In 2014, I had already founded BLF Press to publish this as yet unwritten title, but the manuscript itself remained elusive. At the time, I was working on my doctorate in American Studies, so all of my energies were spent on academic writing and teaching; there was time for little else.

I was elated then, and a bit surprised, when Lauren Cherelle reached out on my Sista Outsider blog to say that yes, she would be interested in listening to a podcast on Black lesbian writing. Months earlier I had asked my readers if they’d be interested in such a thing, and hadn’t gotten much of a response. As a matter of fact, I had found Lauren’s email in my spam folder. Not only was she interested in listening to the podcast; she was also open to co-hosting. That I found her email at all was a stroke of luck, and the fact that the email has evolved into collaboration on a podcast that we decided to call Lez Talk Books Radio, and an edited collection of Black lesbian writing, is indeed serendipitous. We released our second collaboration, Solace: Writing, Refuge, and LGBTQ Women of Color, on January 31, 2017.

While it may seem that the writing fairies dropped these opportunities into our laps, I believe that Lauren and I had already created the spaces that would allow these seemingly random acts of good fortune to occur. In 2010, I had started the Sista Outsider blog as a bit of an outlet for my non-academic writing, and as I mentioned earlier, I had already created the small press with which to publish the work. Lauren was already a writer and indie publisher. We both believed in the spirit of collaboration, so after several hours-long phone conversations, we both realized that we were the ones we had been looking for. We had similar ideas about what constituted Black lesbian literature, as well as ideas about how we might expand the playing field for Black lesbian writers who needed publishers and editors who would truly support their work. We decided to parlay some of these ideas into an anthology, and Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction was born.

The back cover describes the collection this way:

A necessary and relevant addition to the Black LGBTQ literary canon, which oftentimes over looks Black lesbian writing, Lez Talk is a collection of short stories that embraces the fullness of Black lesbian experiences. The contributors operate under the assumption that “lesbian” is not a dirty word, and have written stories that amplify the diversity of Black lesbian lives. At once provocative, emotional, adventurous, and celebratory, Lez Talk crosses a range of fictional genres, including romance, speculative, and humor. The writers explore new subjects and aspects of their experiences, and affirm their gifts as writers and lesbian women.

I believe that Lez Talk delivers on its promise to embrace the fullness of Black lesbian experiences, and the stories in this collection reveal an array of talented writers who are contributing to the Black lesbian literary canon in a variety of ways. For example, Sheree L. Greer’s “I Can’t Turn it Off” is a salient reminder of our socio-political moment, that Black Lives Matter, and that as Black women writers, our work must accurately represent the myriad intersections of our lives. K. A. Smith’s contributions build upon and expand the canon of Black speculative fiction, of course with a lesbian twist. My stories focus on self-empowerment and the notion that Black women must learn to put their own mental and emotional well being ahead of their romantic relationships. Lauren Cherelle’s “Missing” reminds us that love between Black women is nothing new, and neither are the often violent and tragic reactions to it.

I am still excited about Lez Talk’s journey and I hope that you enjoyed reading the stories as much as Lauren and I enjoyed editing them. We are already working on Lez Talk II and look forward to sharing it with you next year.  Last year Lauren and I also launched a non-profit, the Black Lesbian Literary Collective, and aptly named our new journal Serendipity.  I truly believe that the universe sends us exactly what we need, and we just have to be ready to receive it. Serendipity, indeed.

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