‘A Garden of Black Joy’: Local author explores the possibilities of Black utopia

Courtesy of Wise Ink

Friday, February 21 was the book release of “A Garden of Black Joy: Global Poetry from the Edges of Liberation and Living,” an anthology of contemporary written works from more than 50 Black artists from around the globe. This book was curated by Minneapolis’ own artist, educator and organizer Keno Evol.

A poet and essayist in his own right, Evol’s project was inspired by his ongoing intellectual journey that is forging the pathways for Black folk to find utopia within themselves and the world around them.

From this philosophy has sprouted the local organization Black Table Arts and its varied programming, including the annual Because Black Life Conference and various open mic events around the Twin Cities. Each of these spaces were created to celebrate and congregate Black joy, something we are in dire need of.

In the preface to “A Garden of Black Joy,” Evol dives deeply into why poetry, specifically, is a profoundly critical tool for guiding and finding joy, namely in the Black community. He eloquently exposes how beauty is a key ingredient of poetry—and how beauty is inextricably linked to joy.

But we do not traverse into utopia alone

“A Garden of Black Joy” uplifts the work of writers from around the world, including but not limited to the United States, England, Nigeria, Kenya and Germany. “This is a global collection… There is Black joy going on in the world,” said Evol.

The call for contributors went out in April 2018. Evol talked about the process of collecting works from the global collection of Black poetry that is ever being written. “We received 388 submissions from around the world in less than 30 days. This is important to say, only because there is a sense of eagerness in Black writing… It says something about what people are writing about and wanting to read about,” said Evol.

Black poets in many ways are the pioneers of the Black community—just like Evol, they create a joyful narrative that is yet to be fully embodied by the culture.

Maya Williams is one of the poetic contributors who currently resides in Portland, Maine. She is featured in numerous literary publications, including “glitterMOB,”Occulum, and “Portland Press Harold.” Williams heard about “A Garden of Black Joy” via Twitter. “I decided to participate because I wanted my work to be in an anthology celebrating Blackness and joy,” she explained.

Courtesy of Maya Clark Attendees at the “A Garden of Black Joy” book release event.

Joy is the move

Evol encouraged the Black community to “lean into your joy. Lean into the relationships that give you joy to see the future.” He went on to quote Alexis Pauline Gumps, “This is the lens that is required for everyone to live.”

Permission to be joyful remains unbelievably something elusive to Black people. “I think our imagination says, ‘There is no way we can be unbothered,’” said Evol. But “A Garden of Black Joy” shows that there is another way for Black people to think and to imagine both present and future. For what is Black imagination if it is not hope-filled?

“A Garden of Black Joy” was published by local publisher Wise Ink and can be purchased at all major book distributors.

“More conversation about Blackness and joy needs to be had, and this anthology does a great job of starting that conversation,” said Williams.

To purchase a copy of the book, go here.

About Tiffany Johnson

Tiffany Johnson is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at tjohnson@spokesman-recorder.com.

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