It’s for us. It’s for every Black girl that walked into the room and didn’t feel like she belonged. It’s for every Black girl who didn’t think she was Black enough. It is for every Black girl that thought she was too Black.
Poet, educator and author Mahogany L. Browne’s poem “Black Girl Magic” was featured as a brief, but spectacular take on Black Girl Magic during PBS Newshour in March of 2016 in advance of the Women of the World Poetry Slam co-organized by Browne in Brooklyn, NY. Browne’s performance would be the mustard seed that grew to spawn a garden of Black women’s stories so abundant; it has been lovingly harvested into an anthology that invites its reader to experience the vastness of Black womanhood by deconstructing stereotypical narratives one prudently selected poem at a time. Breakbeat Poets: Vol. 2 Black Girl Magic is set for release by Haymarket Books on April 17, 2018, and has been lauded by Latino Rebels as “one of the most diverse and important poetry anthologies of the last 25 years.” Edited by a divine trinity of prolific Black women poets comprised of Mahogany L. Browne, Jamilah Woods, and Idrissa Simmons; the second volume of Breakbeat Poets is a mindfully curated sirens song in three-part harmony. The collection “creates safe spaces within sisterhood that give us the opportunity to speak our truths and not be judged, said Browne, regarding the necessity of trust in creative collaboration. The hundreds of women who submitted works, the 60 whose poems were selected, and the three who were responsible for the selections all trusted one another implicitly with their truths. What was born from the process is this utterly impeccable gift of Black Girl Magic bestowed upon the masses so that we might all shine!
Browne is no stranger to the necessity of identifying safe spaces to speak one’s truth. Her beginnings as a professional poet coming up through the male-dominated ranks of the National Poetry Slam and Def Poetry era were largely devoid of sisterhood. Browne began to curate her own community as a sister within brotherhoods of male artists who were transitioning from poetry as a hobbyist activity to professional tracks. Throughout her career, Browne has become a champion for amplifying Black women’s voices. Her 2018 hardback release of Black Girl Magic illustrated by Jess X (Roaring Brook Press), has become a literary anthem for the limitless potential of Black girls worldwide. After experiencing the visceral impact her singular poem has on audiences, Browne suggested that Breakbeat Poets, Vol. 1 editor, Kevin Coval give her the opportunity to create an anthology which gives 60 contributors space in a tome Browne intended to become “a teaching module that is waiting to be put into the hands of the babes.”
During a phone interview with Mahogany L. Browne, she spoke with the candor of a good girlfriend who is sure about exactly who the collection is for and what effect it will have on the canon of American Literature.
What was your motivation for creating this anthology?
“What does it mean to have a woman rewrite the narrative and to only then be faced with the fact that there weren’t a lot of opportunities to work with other women? I found many spaces where the women who did look out for me had nothing to do with poetry. They were people who had love for poetry but, not poets themselves. When it came to someone giving guidance on how to be or, what it means when you’re the only woman on stage with 10 men; what does that mean when we can’t even have another woman’s voice in the fold? Not having the space to talk to others who were surviving what I was surviving at that point was really difficult. So I made my entire existence be about women empowerment, sisterhood, affirmation, and community amongst competition.”
What were you looking for when making your selections for the anthology?
“When we were building this anthology we asked, ‘what voices are constantly left out?’ and ‘how do we build a different model?’ We didn’t only want to put up the folks in the MFA programs. We didn’t only want to put up the folks that are celebrity writers. We want to have some type of symbol from each community. It was important to have trans Black women in this book. It was important to have disabled women in this book. It was important to have women from different regions, with different hair colors and different skin tones in this book. It was necessary that they did not come from the same socio-economic standing. They didn’t have the same lingo.”
Who is this book for?
“It’s for us. It’s for every Black girl that walked into the room and didn’t feel like she belonged. It’s for every Black girl who didn’t think she was Black enough. It is for every Black girl that thought she was too Black. It’s for every Black girl who has been told that she is too loud. It’s for teachers who know Black girls who are negotiating this line between who they are and who they want to become, and have been told they never will become. It is a great workbook for allyship. If you want to know why you can’t ask certain questions or touch hair, if you are so enthralled and you just want to ‘get it’ and understand it, or if you have come to the understanding that you are retraumatizing people; it is for you. Not everyone is ready to ‘learn you’ your experience in how to become an ally or an accomplice. But this is a great book to understand Black womanhood and Black femininity and understand the different ways in which our marginalized bodies are further marginalized. Even the joy. There’s so much joy in this book. I’m really thankful for it. It is also for me.”