Writing While Black XIII: Destination, Detroit Michigan

Photo credit: Aja Salakastar Dier  Whitney French in Detroit reading Alice Walker

Photo credit: Aja Salakastar Dier Whitney French in Detroit reading Alice Walker


By Annelise Mampuya | June 23, 2016 | #WritingWhileBlackTour16

DETROIT—Kneeling down to unzip her black cabin carry on, she pauses, then opens it. Inside is her traveling library of Black literature and her very own From the Root Zines bundled up in various African print cloths. Whitney French is deep in thought.

For her second North American Writing While Black Tour, we are in Detroit for a few days at the Allied Media Conference, hosted at Wayne State University.

It is now officially day two in this hot and humid city, and although we are so close to home (about 6 hours away), we still feel like we have stepped into a very different world.

“I wonder how the workshop will be received…I would love to learn more about their Black American experiences and share some of our Black Canadian experiences.” She ponders.

We are shuffled from room to room in order to find a quiet space to facilitate the workshop. Filled with a bit of panic, we worry that no one knows we are here…in the basement, in America.

Promptly at 4:00 pm Whitney plugs in her iPhone into the conveniently placed speakers in the far end of the room. And we wait. Aja, our local photographer, decked out in a long African print jacket is fiddling with her camera. Can she sense the tension the air?

A few heads poke inside the door, but no one lingers. Finally, we get some traffic and the tension is slightly reduced.

“This is for writers right?” says a woman, her eyes looking around the room and finally settling on Whitney.  “Like, we’re actually gon’ be writing right?” she continues as she chooses a seat inside the writers circle. One by one people begin to enter the room, smiling at each other nervously and posing the same questions.

“Yes, we are definitely writing!” Whitney exclaims. Finally, the 13th edition of Writing While Black has begun.

We begin, as usual with a prompt. The book chosen by one of the writers is called A Poem Crawled Down My Arm by Alice Walker. She shuffles through the pages slowly, one page catching her attention. Out loud she reads, “Believe in no God that does not believe in you”.

We all catch one another’s excited expressions and pull out our writing apparatuses. We begin, and not too long after we get interrupted by the alarm, signaling us to drop our weapons and share (See mine attached below).

Now, usually in these workshops the first writing prompt is done to get our engines going, but in this session, it is where all of the magic happened. Each writer, eager to share their rendition of “believe in no God that does not believe in you”, inexcusably blew us away.

With intense faith challenging, dare-to-place-women-and-God-on-the-same-level spoken word pieces, to the one and only Mahogany Jones embellishing us with “Well my God put bets on black sheep…”, as well as a young prodigy Za’naya expressing in her piece “How does one follow something blindly other than air?”

Least to say the magic brewed in this workshop birthed a spell that will forever stay in our lives. One of the participants was able to finally accept her position as not only an actor, but a writer as well. Another –a mother, was able to find freedom to release her thoughts onto a sheet of paper and create a masterpiece of words.

The night ended with a quiet but comfortable silence as one by one the writers quietly exited the room, towards home, work, and other responsibilities.

Once again, Aja, Whitney and I were left in the room. When asked how she felt about the workshop, Aja couldn’t help but smile. “I felt…birth. My birth as a writer and also seeing people birth these pieces. Being comfortable in my blackness…Just being comfortable in my existence is just wonderful.”


Next Stop: Halifax, Nova Scotia

More Info: #WritingWhileBlackTour16


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