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The Oakland Renaissance: A Roundtable of Afro-Futurist Luminaries


Black creativity dances by way of Oakland, California, like daylight by means of stained glass. Everyone knows Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther movie was half Wakanda, half Oakland. And we’re not Sorry to Hassle You—rap artist and filmmaker Boots Riley’s movie was one of probably the most acclaimed movies of 2018. However in a metropolis (or ought to we are saying the City) the place the homeless inhabitants is 68 % black, and gentrification and a rich tech business have made reasonably priced dwelling area exhausting to seek out, then how can we maintain our most revolutionary minds right here? If Oakland is within the midst of a Black Inventive Renaissance, one fueled by native artists’ curiosity in know-how, science, and science fiction (two Afro-futuristic legends, Ishmael Reed and Jewelle Gomez, stay inside 25 miles of Oakland), then how can we discover the longer term whereas preserving a historic legacy that features the Black Panthers and social activism?

On Nov. 9, eight artists and writers whose work resounds all through the town met on the Joyce Gordon Gallery for a dialog concerning the creativeness, tradition, and methods for permitting speculative texts to interact real-world issues.


Roundtable members included graphic novelist Alan Clark, writer of In Search of the Black Panthers (Phantom Electrik, 2017); Jeneé Darden, journalist and writer of When a Purple Rose Blooms (Nomadic Press, 2018); Michael James and Hally Bellah-Guther, AfroComicCon co-creators; Vernon Keeve, writer of Southern Migrant Mixtape (Nomadic Press, 2018); Raina J. León, writer of 4 books of poetry, together with the award-winning Canticle of Idols (2008) and Boogeyman Daybreak (Salmon Poetry, 2013); Dera R. Williams, co-author of Mom Wit: Tales of Moms and Daughters (Mamm Productions, 2010) ; and Yodassa Williams, a author and producer of the Black Woman Magic Information Storytelling podcast. Ishmael Reed, writer of greater than 20 books and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant, and Dr. Lonny Brooks, an assistant professor at California State East Bay and Co-Principal Investigator for the Lengthy Time period and Futures Considering in Schooling Undertaking, joined us by way of e mail.

The Hundreds of thousands: Do you assume Oakland is within the center of a renaissance?


Ishmael Reed: I feel that the development amongst younger Afro-futurist writers is thrilling. In fact, I knew lots of these people who find themselves now icons, like Solar Ra. George Clinton purchased the choice to make a film of my novel Mumbo Jumbo.


Dera Williams: I had this dialog with LaRhonda Crosby-Johnson [author and publisher of Where’s My Tiara]. We got here to that conclusion—that there’s a renaissance. A lot is occurring artwork clever/literary sensible with publishing, studying. That is our time. Again within the 1980s Oakland, there have been Black writers and nonprofits, and a few of these writers are nonetheless round. I all the time took as a right that there have been so much of artistic individuals in Oakland.

Jeneé Darden: I do. I’m considering of surrealism. I used to be born and raised right here. It feels surreal as a result of of gentrification. There’s additionally homelessness… Oakland is experiencing half artwork renaissance, half dystopian Octavia Butler novel. So many new individuals moved right here and are discovering a voice right here in Oakland. And it’s not good however that’s why individuals got here to the Bay. There’s an actual artwork growth. I’m a journalist. I cowl these things. I cowl change—I cowl this surreal Octavia Butler science fiction novel.

TM: Ishmael, Dera, and Jeneé are long-term Oakland residents. Do individuals new to Oakland—who extra lately began dwelling or working right here—really feel the identical means?

Raina León: I spend rather a lot of time strolling across the Bay and considering: the place we
will discover refuge? How can we acknowledge we’re dwelling in tumultuous occasions?

Butler was a prophet in so some ways. I’ve been within the Bay space for eight years and have organized readings and workshops all through Oakland. I’ve undoubtedly felt myself deeply related for transformation. What does liberty appear to be for our communities? We’re half of an thrilling however not unchallenging wrestle for change—we acknowledge that dialogue isn’t all the time current. There’s this energy of renaissance, of inventive awakening. I lately talked with [poet] Tongo Eisen-Martin about constructing an artwork faculty for individuals of colour. Within the Bay, there are such a lot of intersections and I’m actually excited concerning the risk of concepts and futures that may be realized.

Yodassa Williams: I moved right here 5 years in the past. My household is Jamaican. I grew up in Ohio and was alienated from my tradition. I felt actually set aside. I keep in mind rising up and seeing Star Wars’s Lando and Oprah Winfrey and feeling just like the love youngster of Lando and Oprah. [Joyous laughter.] I used to be raised in a wealthy storytelling tradition. I wasn’t seeing that on the earth round me… Shifting right here 5 years in the past, I felt prefer it was a homecoming for one thing I had been taking a look at for a very long time—creativity and entrepreneurialism and upfront conversations about race and discrimination. Oakland has all the time been a spot for individuals to seek out alternatives to boost their voice. If I weren’t right here, I wouldn’t have discovered my voice creatively… If there’s a Renaissance, I got here on the proper time.

TM: Michael and Hally began the AfroComic Con, and Alan, you’re a
graphic novelist.

Do you consider graphic arts and new media are
half of the Oakland’s Renaissance?

Hally Bellah-Guther: We’ve had two AfroComic Cons, and we’re excited to be half of these
endeavors. I used to be raised principally within the space, and Oakland appeared desolate
in comparison with now. However with the Artwork Murmur Motion, Sorry to Hassle You—issues are exploding with artwork and social
actions. We began engaged on AfroComic Con and our mission is to assist hold
alive the gorgeous issues which are occurring.

Michael James: I’m a long-time Oaklander, born and raised. I lived in East Oakland and went to high school in Berkeley. It’s good to see the Renaissance sort of explode with Artwork Murmur [which showcases Oakland’s arts galleries]. I hear individuals say, “I came here to express myself through art.” For me, it’s necessary to see Oakland’s images, the storytelling, books, and films made right here about Oakland tradition. My mother went to high school with Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton and different Black Panthers, so I feel it’s all the time been right here—individuals have been telling their tales. With comedian ebook festivals, youngsters didn’t see photographs of themselves and felt ignored… Rising up, I additionally didn’t see pictures of myself. As creators, we do so much on our personal, and quite a bit has occurred in 15 years.

Alan Clark: I’ve been taking a look at different renaissances up to now and got here to those conclusions: Inside our tradition, we see previous eras the place a specific character has been expressed: with Atlanta, it was the “Black Mecca,” D.C. has been referred to as the “Chocolate City.” Every metropolis has a special character trait, and for Oakland, that character trait is revolt… I’m not from right here (I lived in Atlanta) however I’ve been learning the Black Panthers and Black migration patterns. So I’m eager about this time period “renaissance”—what particular qualities made the Harlem Renaissance vibrant? The renaissance could also be short-lived within the Bay Space as a result of Proposition 10 was defeated and artists can’t afford to stay right here. Should you can’t make one thing of market worth, you can’t exist. And other people will make you poor should you determine to problem this. That is the query: How can we as a Black artistic entity survive?

Vernon Keeve: I assume what I really feel is hopeful we’re nonetheless within the Bay, although lease protections have been voted down. I’m nervous a few renaissance—it’s going to take much more activism, with artists going to the streets preventing like we’ve by no means fought earlier than… I’m additionally learning Nice Migrations and the migrations of Black individuals. How can we inform tales and hold tales alive? I see the methods Black and brown college students get tales from mother and father and residential tradition. There are lots of tales that must be heard.

TM: Individuals in Oakland appear notably involved in Afro-futurism. Is it half of our renaissance?

Lonny Brooks: I and this renaissance mirror and share a dream—to make sure that lengthy oppressed racial minority and numerous voices can articulate themselves within the futures imagined… It’s not the colour of our pores and skin that issues as a lot because the articulation and content material of the varieties of cultural imaginations, together with the rainbow hues of our queer allies included.

Williams: Most of my artwork is devoted to liberating and empowering the thoughts… For me, Afro-futurism is the hope for African tradition to thrive and survive and be half of the longer term. We have now to have the ability to be brokers of change.

Bellah-Guther: Every little thing you simply stated is one of our tasks with Afro-futurism. I contemplate myself as a supporter and an ally. We’re making an attempt to make a group the place everyone seems to be stronger and never aggressive towards one another.

James: We need to be certain that everybody has a voice. We need to share and make
that occur. That is the one place the place you will get this type of variety
and inclusion. Individuals have been asking us to take AfroComic Con right here, to take
it there, and other people have been welcoming and creating new alternatives. We
want the help of everybody. You are feeling help whenever you give help.

Darden: With Black Panther, there’s a ache when the film ends. With Wakanda, I
needed to be there. That film can
encourage individuals. You may even see extra Black scientists as a result of of that movie—that’s
what occurred with Star Trek. You possibly can
see the hope and the longer term and this will create change. It’s creating change.

Keeve: My dad was in a single of the primary audiences for the Star Trek present. My father advised me, “I went from watching Star Trek to seeing it actually happen.”
You convey up what might occur as a result of of Black
Panther—if we maintain writing the Afro-future, we maintain having it.

Reed: I feel that superstar Afro-futurists ought to tour the nation with Black astrophysicists and different scientists. The Jim Crow media would have you ever consider that the one careers open to Black youngsters are pimping and athletics.

León: We now have to create in defiance of our
disappearance. What does it seem like for us to thrive? To be marvelous? It’s a
variety of science, a sort of magic—a mixing of the 2. Our our bodies are vessels
for power. Once we write, we attain towards actualization.

Clark: Science fiction author Octavia Butler doesn’t get her recognition; we gave her dues and recognition too late. However her concepts have been from a black lady’s perspective. And most of what we recognize of Afro-futurism is a white label of a black presence in sci-fi. If the characters we applaud and who grow to be half of the black canon are the creations of white individuals, then Afro-futurism turns into an appropriation of white-extended thought. So we have now nothing. Not even our personal imaginations. And we will’t afford the place we reside… There are extra individuals now than ever who assume of themselves as artistic. We have to make our personal imaginative arts. And we will do higher about connecting the Black artwork group.

TM: Do we’ve group right here?

Keeve: We all know some of the identical individuals. I’ve been within the Oakland literary
scene for years, with a studying collection, and other people actively take part. I
assume we should always provide you with a listserv that connects artists and writers of
shade. I need to tear down partitions.

Williams: We will do extra to
join black artists, to put in writing and study one another’s occasions.

Brooks: My colleague Ian Pollock and I created the Minority Stories as a mannequin for forecasting Afro-futures. In our forecasting pedagogy, we ask college students from marginalized working-class communities to reimagine their social, media and digital areas into the yr 2054—the imagined yr for the movie Minority Report.

TM: Any remaining ideas about Oakland?

Darden: Oakland just isn’t new! It has all the time been “in.” This place has been right here since Stein stated “there is no there there” within the 1930s.

Oakland Artwork Murmur Picture: Flickr/Cathrine Lindblom Gunasekara

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