Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Space Cadet From A Black Feminist Future

January 30, 2014

Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ bio immediately initiates you into her mysteries. So it begins: “Alexis is a self-identified queer black trouble maker, love evangelist and space cadet. So, that means time and space manifest in prolific and polyphonic ways.” And it’s a good place to start naming all her galactic variety–after all, some of her projects include the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind and Mobile Homecoming, respectively. Brilliance and beauty, always unspooling. Spilling. There is no end to this love.

She orchestrates experimental, ecstatic learning spaces–see these names for traces: Indigo Afterschool, School of Our Lorde, Juneteenth Freedom Academy, Lucille Clifton ShapeShifter Survival School. Alexis is a conductor of community as well; in fact, we have hosted monthly virtual hangouts for Quirky Black Girls and Genderqueers together. Entering here, Alexis: afro-astro-alchemist blazing doorways.

What called you to catalyze Quirky Black Girl community?

Short answer. The universe loves me in the form of Moya Bailey!

Longer Answer: I had the friendship windfall of meeting Moya Bailey in Chicago at an Ella’s Daughters gathering called together by historian Barbara Ransby for women who walk in the legacy of Ella Baker. Maybe Ella Baker as a quirky black ancestor was orchestrating everything, but when I met Moya I had a “where have you been all my life” whirlwind weekend and we ended up collaborating on several projects almost immediately. Moya mentioned that while a student at Spelman College she and her group of friends felt that their self-expression went beyond the narrow definition of blackness that was normative at their school and in the wider discourse, so they self-identified as Quirky Black Girls. When Moya shared that with me it resonated deeply with my own experience of being strange and expansive in my blackness and we decided to collaborate to create an online and offline community (and many sub-projects) to support self-identified Quirky Black Girls of all ages to affirm each other and be themselves.

For me, Quirky Black Girls has been one of the most rewarding projects that I have been able to engage in because it has given me permission to exuberantly express my love for other Quirky Black Girls and has resulted in so much love, friendship and support. At one point I was posting weekly updates about what was going on the QBG universe and they evolved into love letters where I was able to share challenges I was having and insights that I was gaining from my own Quirky Black life in a way that I had never been able to share with any community before. I was able to admit to my workaholism, my spiritual questions, and to bring black feminist tidbits that I was finding in my archival research and curriculum building directly to the visionary black beings that our black feminist ancestors were dreaming of with their actions. Those offerings of love were so impactful that people literally started stopping me in the street and in the airport to say thank you and to explain how those posts were healing in their own struggles.

Many of us QBGs are scattered all over the globe and even if we have other visible Quirky Black Girls in our geographic area we are more likely to have access to a “scene” of people who socialize but may not offer the depth of support we need to stay brilliant, priceless, and strange. Quirky Black Girls is about cultivating the depth of support that allows us to stay black and live fully.

Right now I am transforming those weekly updates into a book and I am in the final stages of the manuscript right now. It’s called Stay Black and Live: Love Letters to Quirky Black Girls.

We are also really excited about how to support that level of depth, sharing, and breakthrough in a more multi-directional way which is part of the purpose of the monthly QBG online hangouts that you and I co-host.

Short answer again: Moya called me to help catalyze the community, but unlike a chemical catalyst (which remains unchanged while it causes change), I have been completely transformed in the process and I am so grateful.

What is it like in the studio-lab of a digital alchemist?

Digital Alchemy is another project that Moya Bailey, my partner Julia Wallace/Sangodare Akinwale, and our beloved sister-comrades Adela Nieves and Deepali Gokhale conceived of together, which is about empowering magic-making women of color centered projects to amplify their awesomeness using multiple technologies, including digital technology and new media but also including older technologies like eating, quilting, and talking.

One of my favorite projects that we have supported is the Black Women Birthing Resistance: A Southern Cultural Justice Project. This project is an amazing project reclaiming practices of birth, healing, and community in the South. The Digital Alchemy Project was able to create a process through which Cara Page and Tamika Middleton, co-mothers of the project, were able create the first version of their website in a matter of hours in my mother’s living room in Atlanta!

So that is a long way of saying that the lab can be anywhere, but for me the key component is building a ritual through which a visionary is able to manifest and amplify the amazing work they are doing in an interconnected way that builds visibility and community beyond what they could have imagined. I remember how I felt when I realized that BrokenBeautiful Press was connecting me to folks in Kenya, India, South Africa, Germany, Lebanon, and Palestine in a rich way that allowed us to learn from each other and collaborate, and I know that would not have happened without the Internet component of the project.

Digital alchemy is a way of acting on the pre-existing truth that energy is not bound by space or time and that we are all deeply interconnected. The process of tapping into that interconnection with a specific project includes computers and files, but it also includes food, conversations about audience and priorities, activities designed to clarify our intentions and make our dreams into poetic love letters.

Right now I am offering Digital Alchemy one-on-one intensives for projects that I am completely in love with–which is really exciting for me because it allows me to create a customized process that helps visionaries create a sustainable multi-platform web presence in one day.

I know you’re helping fashion a black feminist future. How should we prepare? What should we pack, leave behind?

I am thrilled to be a partner with YOU in a time and space travel journey into a deep black transformative futuristic presence.

I think we prepare by gathering the practices that transport us into that reality. For me writing poems (especially love poems to people of color and the people who love us), dancing as prayer and dancing as praise (especially in praise of black queer elders), creating rituals based on black feminist sacred texts, and breathing as a participant in the bright black universe birthing herself are the practices that get me there. We gotta gather those practices and keep them so close that we internalize them and we are never afraid of losing them again.

And we can let go of scarcity, cruel competition and the self-destruction and community destruction it causes. We can pick up the daring truth that we are enough and wear it gracefully and gorgeously.

Anything else?

I have been thinking about safer space and fire recently. I have been thinking about how fire is necessary and scary and creative and potentially destructive and I am very present right now to the way that the technology of the circle, of turning towards each other creates safety, allows fire to create collective warmth. When I have the tendency to isolate, to turn away from community I often can be burned by my expectations of myself, my distrust of community and internalization of harmful individualistic narrative in our culture. So I believe in black queer space as a transformative fire, and I believe in practicing the rituals that allow us to turn towards each other in love.

For updates on Stay Black and Live: Love Letters to Quirky Black Girls, visit Alexis’ publications email list to sign up.

Note from Alexis:

The attached picture is of me last March at Boca De Nicqua, one of the first new world plantations that used slavery and the scene of multiple important rebellions by enslaved Africans. I am now witness to the beginning of slavery and I am a commitment to the end of slavery and all forms of domination.

Photo credit: Andrew Dowe