Imagine Otherwise: Mecca Jamilah Sullivan on Cultivating Joy through Queer Black Feminist Art

May 13, 2021 | Podcast

Joy and Art in Social Change

Over the past few years, we’ve seen more and more vibrant intersectional and interdisciplinary cultural production get the attention it so richly deserves. This work builds on a long history of refusing to separate the personal from the political in Third World and women of color feminism, radical Black and queer activism, and movements for economic, disability, and environmental justice. All of these traditions have valued the role of art in sparking social change, as the creative and the revolutionary are never far apart.

In episode 133 of Imagine Otherwise, I interview creative writer, scholar, and professor Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, whose wide-ranging body of work demonstrates the political and ethical stakes of centering queer Black feminist pleasure in both literature and life.

In our conversation, Mecca and I chat about navigating intertwined affects of joy and trauma while moving across genres, the long and rich tradition of Black interdisciplinary writing, and why refusing to separate the body from the page is key to how Mecca imagines otherwise.

Mecca Jamilah Sullivan with this quote: In my version of freedom, our worlds are defined by our limitless imaginations—not by whiteness, straightness, ableness, thinness, or their delusions of gender. In my freedom, we have the language we need to name our pleasures precisely, the resources to plan for their creation, and the love, life, heart, and energy to share our pleasures with our people who we know—like breath—will still be here.
Mecca Jamilah Sullivan with this quote: Pleasure and joy are necessary resources for not only surviving trauma and violence but also imagining and then following paths out of trauma and violence to action.

Mecca Jamilah Sullivan

Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, PhD, is the author of the short story collection Blue Talk and Love, winner of the 2018 Judith Markowitz Award for LGBTQ Writers, and an assistant professor of English at Bryn Mawr College.

In her creative and scholarly work, she considers the links between language, imagination, and bodily life in black queer and feminist experience. Her stories and essays have appeared in Best New Writing, The Kenyon Review, Callaloo, Feminist Studies, American Fiction, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, TriQuarterly, GLQ: Lesbian and Gay Studies Quarterly, American Literary History, The Scholar and Feminist, American Quarterly, Public Books, Ebony.com, TheRoot.com, BET.com, and others.

Mecca’s book The Poetics of Difference: Queer Feminist Forms in the African Diaspora (University of Illinois Press, 2021) explores the politics of poetic experimentation in global black feminist art, literature, and hip-hop. Her novel, More of Everything, is forthcoming from W.W. Norton/Liveright in 2022.

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