On a recent frosty Friday night, visitors to the East Side Freedom Library came together to explore Alexis Pauline Gumb’s forthcoming book, M Archive: After the End of the World, which will be published by Duke University Press in March.
Gumbs is a self-described Queer Black troublemaker and Black Feminist Love evangelist, whose joy is irresistible and whose wisdom runs deep. M Archive is Gumb’s second book in an experimental series that shares the brilliance of generations of Black Feminisms. Gumbs describes the first book in the series, Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity, as voyages into the lives of Black women of the past, glimpses into their struggle toward liberation. Where Spill opens a portal to the past, M Archive, the newest installment, forays into a future world. It is written from the vantage point of a future researcher and follows her unearthing of the conditions of late capitalism, anti-blackness, and environmental collapse. By positioning the present as history, Gumbs unlatches time from linear logic and opens a space to newly imagine liberation. In this way, Gumbs shows that the archive is more than evidence and index of worlds long gone. The archive is also a wormhole, a portal across history and futurity to imagine and create freedom now. In fact, she describes her experimental vignettes of Black feminists in Spill and M Archive as a practice of speculative documentary to access the prophetic wisdom of Black Feminism. The archive is not a calcified artifact of the past, but it is alive, rippling, and ripe with wisdom for the present moment and for futures yet unknown. For Gumbs, the archive is oracle.
The event at East Side Freedom Library started off with each participant taking part in a ‘dedication,’ sharing the name of a meanginful friend, mentor relative, to invite their spirit into the space and open a portal to other places and times. After the initial dedications, Gumbs facilitated an exercise to create a collective ‘Baskets of Yes,’ inspired by a vignette of a basket-weaver in M-Archive. To weave this Basket of Yes, each participant paired with a partner and engaged in the radical act of pure listening, listening to their partner share the thoughts or questions that occupied their mind. From each listening session, we wrote haikus that captured, in a mere seventeen syllables, the hopes and questions our partners had confided. For me, these haikus were like in a basket in themselves, vessels of receptive listening. All the haikus were placed together in a basket at the circle’s center, comprising the Basket of Yes. These haikus of so many different hopes and questions mingled together, cradled by the basket’s woven fibers, and created a diverse assemblage of collective affirmation. At this point, Gumbs invited us to select a book from the collection of Black Feminist texts neatly arranged at our feet. Amid so many compelling titles, I chose Zora Neale Hurston’s Tell My Horse, which explores Haitian vodou practices. We exchanged these books with our partners (I was truthfully sad to see mine go!) and paged through to a random line of text. It was quite uncanny, the relevance that these randomly-selected sentences held for the conversations of the evening, elucidating the oracle-like aspect of the archive.
For Gumbs, a great muse in the Black Feminist tradition is the scholar Hortense Spillers, who writes in her book Black, White, and In Color that “old love of the collective for the collective is lost.” But after that evening in conversation at the East Side Freedom Library, I believe that Alexis Pauline Gumb’s work in sharing and celebrating the Black Feminist archive is truly creating and spreading that collective love anew.
I was so moved by the evening, and grateful for the space of the East Side Freedom Library to engage these types of events. Moreover, the themes that Gumb’s discusses are truly embodied at the East Side Freedom Library. As we explored the living, futuristic wisdom of the archive, we were aptly surrounded by more than 18,000 books that make up the library’s collection. The possibilities of the archive are indeed alive and well at the East Side Freedom Library, where any one text, even any one sentence, can teach us not only about the past, but also foment the future.
For those curious to delve deeper, Gumb’s collection is dubbed the ‘Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind Lending and Reference Library,’ and includes more that 1,000 titles donated by friends and supporters. Luckily, the collection is also available online too for perusal and inspiration.
More about Alexis here: http://alexispauline.com/
Her first book in the series, Spill: https://www.dukeupress.edu/spill
And the forthcoming M Archive: https://www.dukeupress.edu/m-archive