I started Letters at an impossible time, which means the kind of time in which everything felt possible. That year, I had picked up Nora Zeale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. A book that carried within it an indomitable declaration: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” If 2015 had been the year in which I learned to ask questions (or at least the right ones, finally), 2016 was the year that dared to answer them.
It was also the year I took on the Letters project; an attempt at finding belonging in what felt like an increasingly fragmenting existence in Black America. Letters would be one long love letter to home. A home that, for me, manifested in the thriving Blackness that has sprung from the continent I call home for millenia. Letters was also my first funded “serious artist” project (read: one summer, some generous folks paid for me to basically do whatever I wanted as a writer); an affirmation I had badly needed as I went from room to room declaring that I was, “a writer.” Sadly, I lost the project along the way in the way you lose the things that you know matter; begrudgingly.
Worlds have opened and closed in the time since I began Letters, but I never stopped writing letters. I’ve just been writing different kinds lately. Letters to the things I am finding in the places I am learning to be in. Homages to the freedom of an unexpected homecoming, and a rediscovery of the frivolity of Black existence outside constraint; outside America; outside the West. Furiously, I have spent the last three years scribbling notes across buses and restaurants, on tightly packed planes and busy beaches. Trying to capture illusive moments in humid Airbnb’s teeming with ghosts of tenants passed, and from the back of moving cars, resisting the sickness of motion rising in me. Furious thumbs finding words on screens and paper as I tried to tell of the delicate trellises of humanity I found sown across the cities of the world; from Accra to Havana. From Petra to Cape Town.
In these letters are notes about chickens, and calls to prayers that bring out noisy footed, shy eyed boys. In them, are ruminations on airports as meeting points of loneliness, and how memoirs can be born on dusty desert roads in the heart of the lands of the Old Testament. There are confessions of the shocking kind; mine and those of strangers, and encounters with humility. Packed with the incredulity of finding oneself in unexpected places, I realized that these were the Letters I now found myself wanting to share. The stories of cities and people, who I’ve found are much like the best of fruits; rich, colorful, and grown from the earth.
Coming soon, “Letters: A Homecoming,” August 2019.