Today for our Final Black History Month Guest Posting Series, Zakia Haughton will be sharing her experiences and influences as a black writer. You can find Zakia writing on her blog at www.zakiahaughton.com
Influence… it’s something we all have and all have been affected by. It’s the friend who comes around whether we want it to or not. It’s the essence of life that moves us like a breeze or heavy wind, depending on the strength of the blow. What makes the difference is not merely how it’s delivered, but more so, how we use it.
As a Black Girl Writer, living in 21st Century America, it’s a beautiful time to be alive. Some may beg to differ, but the freedom we have to write without being jailed or imprisoned is definitely something to celebrate.
There was a time in our society, less than 100 years ago, where writing while black was revolutionary and even unlawful. Writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Amari Baraka, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, and many others paved the way for writers like me to have the opportunity to write freely and without apology.
To document our personal experiences of everyday life, our thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and stories of our ancestors. To give a voice to the characters that exist both in and out of our heads. To share with the world our creative expression through the literary form of words. To bring those innermost kept thoughts a life form no one could deny or take a way. Their courage, persistence, and collaborative effort gave Black Writers like me the freedom to read what you’re ready at this very moment.
One of my favorite writers in history will always be Zora Neale Hurston. She was heavily associated with the era known as The Harlem Renaissance, which gave birth to some of the most artistic influencers in Black History. This was a time where ‘black creatives’ found a way to express their everyday experiences in forms of arts, such as writing, singing, dancing, and drawing. The Harlem Renaissance sparked a creative explosion in many urban, black communities across the U.S., which shed light on the Black experience in America in such a beautiful, artistic way.
Among many of others, there is one quote from Zora Neale Hurston that empowered me to become the writer I am today, and has had a major impact on my life as my writing journey continues to unfold. It goes a little something like this…
“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” – Zora Neale Hurston, excerpt from Dust Tracks On A Dirt Road
This quote sings sweet melodies to my Soul when I hear it! I remember reading this novel late in middle school, shortly after discovering another amazing read of hers called “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and thinking to myself, “I want that kind of confidence… to be able to write with conviction, fearlessly in the face of opposition. To be able to express myself in the form of words without fear of judgment or rejection. To be able to share my experiences with the world and have a knowing deep down on the inside that my experience matters. Yeah, I want that.”
I remember saying this to myself as I sat in my bedroom, laying across my crisp, pink sheets, basking in the possibility that this experience I was reading, this feeling I was feeling, this thought I was thinking, could all be my reality.
Zora gave me the courage to write, unapologetically. She gave me the confidence to know that what I have to say matters and is worth getting out of my head onto paper. Her words showed me that I could be proud of my blackness and my creativity, and use it for good, regardless of the color of my skin. My ancestor, my not-so-distant mentor, my symbol strength and Black Girl Magic, my Zora… through reading her works of art, I became empowered. Not just empowered to write my experiences, but to live out the full expression of who I AM.
My prayer is that, through my creative expression of life, I continue Ms. Hurston’s legacy and empower other Black girls, and all girls really, to live the fullest expression of themselves through writing and many other art forms. To know that what you think, feel, and have to say all matter. To know that someone wants to hear your voice. To know that regardless of our skin color, we were born to be great and express ourselves in beautiful, artistic ways.
Writers, artists, and creatives alike, let’s do what Zora told us… let’s not live by this world’s standards. Instead, let’s create our own standard, hold our heads up high, stand strong, write with confidence, and continue to sharpen our knives and excel at our craft.
Be Courageously Creative,