AHP Managing Editor Amanda McLeod Talks Safety With Khalisa Rae

Wildlings, today we're talking about literary community safety and how we can lift each other up, with Featured Artist Khalisa Rae.

Amanda McLeod: Recently you had a negative experience in the literary community. I've seen the literary community be incredibly warm, welcoming and inclusive - but I've also seen some more unpleasant things happen, albeit mostly online. How should we, as a community, respond when we see something happening among us that we disagree with?

Khalisa Rae: I think the answer is always to respond from a place of restorative support and solidarity- with a spirit of learning and listening- otherwise more damage than good is done. Believing those that have been wronged and validating their experience is so key. Finding ways to hold space for marginalized folks, and practice active listening is always a way to show up for folks

For the most part, my experience in the literary community has been warm and welcoming. I am the co-founder and director of a feminist artist collective and I am apart of a huge poetry slam family that my husband and I have been apart of for 10 co-years and it is extremely welcoming. The interesting thing is, the more opportunities I seek and obtain, and the more I am on social media, the more I see behind the veil and am met with adversity as a person of color.  My experience with racial insensitivity and othering was at a literary retreat and residency, but learning more, I realized my experience was not uncommon, and had happened at that retreat and others before.  I think us as a community, we must rally behind marginalized groups, but also we must hold these institutions and organizations to higher standards. I, like many others, have been met with pushback when trying to hold the literary institutions to the light and place them under fire, but I think accountability is the way we grow and improve as a community.

AM: How can we create space where the most vulnerable and marginalized among us can feel confident enough to speak without fear of being silenced?

KR: I think first and foremost, we must listen. I think listening is the bravest thing we can do. In my activism and advocacy, as a woman of color I often feel like I must defend my actions. Some of that has to do with the lack of security and support in literary spaces. Folks of color want to know they will be listened to, validated, heard, seen, and known. Most importantly, representation is everything. In my recent experience and others, problems arose when I was the only person of color in the room, at the school, workshop, or retreat. We must be most diligent to prioritize diversity and inclusivity, but also messaging and branding. I think folks of color will feel safe to speak if inclusive, non harming language and messaging is used everywhere, from the website to the classroom. As admin and educators running literary spaces we must educate ourselves on how to best provide inclusive/diverse space before incidents occur. I also think diversity and sensitivity training should be required for leaders, admin, and directors to know how to respond when challenges arise.

AM: What tips would you give a newcomer to the literary community?

KR: The best advice I can offer is FIND YOUR PEOPLE. I have watched so many former slam poets, now successful writers in the literary scene and much of their success has attributed to having a family, a posse, a group that feeds them, nurtures them, and holds them down. Those folks will be your editors, your cheerleaders, your audience, your book buyers, social media campaigners, and really I think will make or break your literary experience. The most you can join a club, find a committee or board, get in a group or collective the better. Secondly, finding really great mentors in the lit community are key. I really find that networking and having experienced mentors in your camp will make all the difference, for anyone,  especially as a marginalized writer. Lastly, protect your mind and body, and find spaces of healing that prioritize writers of color, queer writers, and are serious about inclusion and the advancement of all writers.

AM: Your feminist arts collective has a goal of empowering the marginalized. What seems the be the main thing, in the current world climate, that gets in the way of your artists achieving their goals, and how can we combat that thing?

KR: I would say representation, access, and awareness seems to keep us from achieving that goal. So many artists and creatives what to be empowered and successful but there isn't enough access to resource as there should be. There also aren't enough folks of color in the seats making decisions and providing opportunities. Lastly, not only are a lot of entities not culturally aware, but also so many artists of color are not aware of ALL the resources and options at their disposal.

AM: Finally, as a reader of poetry, can you give us an example of something you've read recently that blew your mind - and tell us what made it great?

KR: I absolutely love Ocean Vuong's "One Day You'll Love". I am rereading it and Ocean's work speaks to me in such a personal way. Ocean is always as brave and brutally honest as they could be. I really want that gift to be honest, which is why i also really love Siarra Freeman and Morgan Jenkins, who is the poetic SZA to me. She is truthtelling, truth-seeking and relentless in her poetry. She also isn't afraid and one of the few poets that uses hood vernacular in her pieces and constantly gets it published and makes it apart of the canon- or makes her own canon. She redefines what the literary canon is.