Welcome back, Academic Feminists! In a departure from our usual format – featuring the work of early career scholars – this edition of the AF features one of the foremost scholars, poets, and “troublemakers” of our time, Cheryl Clarke. Clarke is the author of four books of poetry, Narratives: poems in the tradition of black women (1982), Living as a Lesbian (1986), Humid Pitch (1989), Experimental Love (1993), the critical study, After Mecca: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement (Rutgers Press, 2005), and The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry 1980-2005 (Carroll and Graf, 2006). She recently retired from Rutgers University-New Brunswick, and is currently raising money for the Festival of Women Writers in Hobart, New York. In this interview she discusses her introduction to feminism, her dedication to independent presses, and, of course, troublemaking.
1. I usually start out with a question about how you got interested in feminism. Posing this question to a person whose work is included in feminist anthologies and read in introductory women’s and gender studies courses is daunting! But tell us: What were you reading and who was inspiring you when you started writing?
This question is daunting for me as well. I really have to think. I didn’t really take feminism seriously as a practice until I started publishing my writing. I became interested in anti-sexist ideas in the same way I became interested in blackness when I was in college at Howard University from 1965-1969. During my black power days I considered “women’s liberation” (“wimmens lib”) a white fixation, a distraction from the “real struggle,” i.e., black liberation, until I learned some things from a close friend of mine who was married to a physically abusive man. She said, “I don’t know that black women can afford not to be concerned about sexism.” I was exposed to feminism later, in 1969, when I came to graduate school at Rutgers-New Brunswick. When I read Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation by Dennis Altman in 1972, I came to understand the relationships among systems of oppression, issues of power over and enforced powerlessness–like my friend in her abusive marriage; or like African-Americans living in Mississippi particularly prior to World War II; or gay people trying to avoid detection in a government job during the McCarthy fifties. I got more involved in feminist thinking when I first came out as a lesbian in 1973, when I met up with black lesbians in a group called Salsa Soul Sisters, and through white lesbian friends of mine in New Brunswick, N.J. Read More