Black Women, Creativity and Death: Rethinking My Old Ideas

A few years ago I wrote a post about Ms. Kathleen Collins, and how Black women who run from their genius may make themselves sick.

I don’t think that I agree with that anymore.

In fact I have become more invested in thinking about and working my way through how Black women create in the face of sickness, illness and death.

Right now, three Black women I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE are catching health hell. Like in the hospital, chemotherapy, in the house recovering from surgery, invitro hell.

And I am terrified because I know we die early.

Kathleen Collins.

June Jordan.

Audre Lorde.

Toni Cade Bambara.

Stephanie Camp.

Karyn Washington.

Titi Branch.

Thea St. Omer.

And on, and on and fucking on.

So everyday I am thinking about the best way to be a sister friend to them, to check on them, to see where their head is at, to see how they are functioning, to offer what I have the bandwidth to offer that day and be cool with it.

You see, if you know me afk, you know that I will talk over you and interrupt you 20 times in a conversation. But, I am also a healer, and maybe one of the best listeners you will ever meet. I pay attention to myself, which gives me space to pay attention to others.

With that being said, I am not sure if running from our genius makes us sick. I think that being Black, and girl, in a culture that is premised on the hatred of both Black people and women may be what makes us sick.

Now, do I think that there is a consequence for running away from that creative spark?

Always.

But power maps onto the bodies of Black women in very clear ways. In ways that kill us, and folks will be asking “Oh what happened to so and so, she just up and died?” As if it weren’t a pattern.

I think I am coming to the conclusion that in life,  death is always just right there, and it is the work to figure out HOW to do the work despite that dark lurker.

Do you think about the conditions under which Black women create art?

Who is your current favorite Black woman artist and why?

 

For Kathleen Collins With So Much Joy: A Syllabus for the Losing Ground Film Screening Saturday July 18th 2015 @AFI Silver Spring

On Saturday I along with some friends will be attending a screening of Losing Ground (1982) directed by Kathleen Collins and you are welcome to join us.

I LOVE this movie. I saw it earlier this year at Lincoln Center as a part of the “Tell it Like it Is” program featuring Black film in New York from 1968 – ’86. I also saw it in 2011. I wrote about it on my blog here and in my book.

I’ve befriended Collins’ daughter Nina Lorez Collins, and I sent her a copy of the book on some ZOMG I LOVE YOUR MOMMA BUT YOU KNOW YOUR MOMMA BETTER THAN ME SO YOU KNOW WHY I LOVE HER.

Girl. The movie features a Black woman philosophy professor searching for the ecstatic experience. A Black woman hunting for ecxasty in the passionate sense, in the religious sense, in the embodied sense.

The colors are rich, and luscious, the writing is funny, and we get to see two heterosexual Black married creatives sort the through the messiness of being Black, creative, quirky, and artistic.

I didn’t find Ms. Collins. She found me. I am so grateful this opportunity. Join us if you can on Saturday or try and catch the film before it leaves AFI.

Of course I have background reading because that is what I do. So here is a little syllabus for her screening.

The Kathleen Collins Syllabus:

I thank Carmen Coustat for making sure that a 16MM version of the film was available for me to find, had I not located it there, I would not have found this work when I did. (Ironically I sent her an e-mail thanking her for providing access to the film last week right before I learned about this screening. #WatchGod.)

In the spirit of my old posts, I’ll end with a few questions:

1.  If you like Black women filmmakers have you SEEN Beyond the Lights? Girl. Get up on that work. It will speak to you.

2. Haven’t you noticed the shift in terms of Black women being centered as both protagonists and directors in pop culture in a way that WAS NOT the case as recently as five years ago. So many sacrifices have been made for this historical moment. I am excited about this work! What have you seen lately that you like?

3. Is you rollin’ on Saturday?

Black Women Who Run from Their Genius (May) Make Themselves Sick. ~Kathleen Collins

Kathleen Collins on the set of her film Losing Ground

I have been obsessed and fascinated with Kathleen Collins for the last year. She is a Black woman filmmaker, a film professor, a momma, she attended Skidmore and the Sorbonne. She died in 1988 of cancer at 46.

First I learned about her from Jaqueline Bobo’s Black Women Film and Video Directors, and then I saw her film Losing Ground (1982) and lastly I just read an article about her by Black film scholar, L.H. Stallings.

Collins says several things in her Black Film Review Interview that you can read here, but I just want to summarize the parts that have been meaningful to me.

BLACK WOMEN WHO RUN FROM THEIR GENIUS MAY MAKE THEMSELVES SICK

My basic premise is ithat all illness is a psychic connection of some kind.. And I had a preiod of time when I was ill. I still have to struggle with it. The nature of illness and female succcess and the capacity of the female to acknowlege its own intelligence is a subject that interests me a lot . because I think that women– if there’s anyway that I am a feminist, because I don’t really think of myself as a feminist, because I don’t really think of myself as a feminist– but if there is any way in which women tend to be self destructive it is in that area of creaticity where they actually feel their own power and can’t aknowlege it or go into it with as much…

They can’t go to the end of it and they retreat into ilness or into having too many babies or into destructive love affairs with men who run them ragged. Somewhere or other, they detour out of a respect for their own creativity.

Let me say first off that I do not agree that all illness that Black women experience is a result of a psychic disconnection. However, I do think there is something to be said about what happens to our bodies when we ignore the genius in our hearts and our minds when it pertains to making art.

I read this a year ago. However it was reading it last month that I was floored by not only this idea but the following statement, which has to do with the fact that she felt like her own illness was connected to a fear of her own genius.

WHEN DID COLLINS BECOME ILL?

I think that it is very curious, curiously at a point and time when I had just finished a first movie, and knew that I had it, knew that I had the talent. Knew that my own creative power was finally surfacing, that all the years of working quietly , and quite alone, were beginning to pay off. It was basically  a long four year cycle.

Collins died in 1988 at 46 years old of cancer. It is interesting that she felt like she became ill right when she felt the power of her own creativity.

ON BEING AFRAID OF BEING ALONE AS AN ARTIST

I think I have been afraid of being alone too much,  I think that’s what was connected  to the illness. That fear that I was going to be considered nuts kind of frightened me.

This really resonated with me, not because of the fear of being seen as being eccentric; it is the fear that in order to take it to the next level I am going to have to be separated from the people that I Love. I now realize that in order to grow the voltron, I have to branch out into new spaces. I also have to have faith that my Love bears will be there when I return; that they will understand. I have also come to the conclusion this weekend, that I need to be able to be out, but I also need consistent environments so that I can hear my own ideas. Too much noise drowns out the thoughts.

ON THE INTERIOR LIVES OF BLACK WOMEN AND BLACK PEOPLE

There are real conflicts, but they are not necessarily conflicts with a capital C. All internal conflict is the only thing that is really real. Where you’re right is in saying that American culture tends to like conflict with a capital c.

This spoke to me for three reasons. One I have known that taking care of my interior life would be key to my survival for a few years now, and this crystallized for me, after re-reading Their Eyes Were Watching God. Two, Junot Diaz has been speaking in his interviews about writing the interior lives of women while on tour promoting his new book. Third, one of the reasons why I chose qualitative interviews as my method is because I am interested in the interior lives of Black women.

In Kathleen Collins I see myself and I am trying not to run. My homie Jonzey said, you need to start a binder, because you are probably going to end up writing a biography of her. She is probably right 🙂

What do you think of this idea of Black women running from their genius making them sick?

Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Kathleen Collins and the Redemptive Softness of Black Women

Still from the film “Losing Ground” directed by Kathleen Collins.

This post has been a long time coming.

I Love Black women filmmakers, because I believe that Black women filmmakers see us. Not just the uplifting “We shall overcome” versions of us, but they see us in all of our beauty, contradictions, nuanced, strength and fragility.

Last fall, while reading Jacqueline Bobo’s Black Women Film and Video Directors, I kept coming across the name Kathleen Collins.

Come to find out the reels for Collins’ film “Losing Ground” were at the library so I took an afternoon and I watched it. The film blew my mind.

The main protagonist in the film is a Black woman philosophy professor who is searching for the ecstatic experience. Yes, honey, she is searching for ecstasy.

In an interview in Black Film Review Collins stated that,

Actually, the only hope for any sort of feminine salvation in this country– and the sad thing is that Black women are giving it up  in favor of a quietly growing, kind of strident white feminism. But the only residual softness that is possible in this culture as far as I am concerned is in the hands of Black women.

When I read this I thought. Wait a minute, the people who have been historically represented as lewd, lascivious, unrapeable, gold diggers, rich and lonely,  hoochie mammas, are the ones who have the redemptive softness?????

Film scholar L.H. Stalling takes this idea of the residual softness of Black women and runs with it. She writes,

Kathleen Collins’s solution to the violence done to black women and their image insists that such redemption come from those who have been positioned as the most abnormal and dysfunctional in society, black women.

This idea of Black women being the site of redemption because they are some of the most maligned is interesting, and I believe that I have heard it before in Audre Lorde’s work.

For me it takes on a greater significance when I watch reality television shows featuring the narratives of Black women. Love and Hip Hop Atlanta in particular is what comes to mind.

Stallings goes on to underscore why I enjoy movies directed by Black women filmmakers when she states,

Collins produces a film that imagines a viewer or audience who can get turned on by seeing a black woman think, be conscious, and create consciousness on screen. Black independent filmmaking (be it documentary, cinematic fiction, or pornography) continues to be the only space in which black filmmakers can explore and represent various sexualities and subjectivities.

So, what do you think of this idea of the redemptive softness of Black women?