A Place of Mutual Support: A Q&A with Kimbilio [FICTION]

Article by annalia

If 2015 has taught me anything, it is this: safety as much about freedom as it is about protection. Safety is about being seen, heard, and recognized as worthy. That affirmation should be a given, but there are thousands—millions—of Americans every day that spend extra time thinking about their choices in order to “earn” the right to simply be. Turn on the news, and you will see it everywhere.

Prejudice is not easy to combat, but there are ways to come together and learn from each other. Kimbilio, founded four years ago by David Haynes, is such a place. In addition to being Swahili for “safe haven,” Haynes envisioned Kimbilio as “a community of writers and scholars committed to Extending, Nurturing, and Sustaining a community of writers from the African diaspora.”

In 2014, poet, writer, and publicist Kima Jones created the Kimbilio Fellow Reading Series, a national semi-monthly reading series. Recently, I was able to correspond with Haynes, Jones, and Houston’s own Adrienne Perry, in anticipation of our Kimbilio event with Perry and University of Houston’s Mat Johnson on Saturday, November 7.

Brazos Bookstore: How has Kimbilio made an impact on your writing and/or how you move through the world?

Kima Jones: ZZ Packer gave a craft talk that absolutely changed the way I look at fiction and at the world. I left her talk with a list of fifty books I hadn't even heard of, and I consider myself well-read. I think more than impacting your writing, good teaching and good mentorship change your life by helping you to shape things anew.

Adrienne Perry: Kimbilio has given me a community of writers, mentors, and friends that I would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. If the other Kimbilio fellows were like me, then they had been eager for years to find a place where they could learn from and grow alongside other black fiction writers honing their craft. A number of Kimbilio fellows are also Cave Canem fellows, and for those of us who aren't, I think we'd looked longingly at the Cave Canem family for years, wishing for a similar home for fiction writers. Well, here we are.

At our Kimbilio reading at AWP in Minneapolis last spring, someone asked the question: "How many full time, black and African-American fiction faculty are teaching in MFA and PhD programs across the country?" I can't remember the number, but you could count it on two hands. That's sad and Kimbilio is in a position to change that. So, how does it impact my writing? It's made me realize I do—yes, I do!—have an audience, eager readers. (As a writer of color, it can be hard to remember that sometimes, particularly in predominantly white MFA and PhD programs.) So, I hope I write a little more boldly now.

How has it changed how I move through the world? It's made me aware that I and my writing are connected to writers, trends, and a history that is larger than any one thing I could write. I am part of an organization that has a say-so about those trends, those writers, and history, which is a cool place of power and also a good way of walking in the world.

BB: Why is it important to have a retreat in addition to fellowships?

David Haynes: The retreat is our "safe space" where writers can come together to share our work, learn from each other, concentrate on our work, and do so in an environment free from many of the tensions present in mainstream conferences or retreats.

AP: On a basic level, so many of us just need time away from our daily lives to write, or to write differently. Being in a completely different setting, having a chance to share our work with new readers, to see our work anew—all of that is necessary for returning to our lives and our writing with renewed energy. Besides, it's also just a lot of fun. Taos is gorgeous, the fellows are wonderful, warmhearted souls, and there's almost always a good storyteller or jester in the bunch. If I lived in the same town as these fellows, we'd be over at each others' houses kiki-ing all the time.

BB: Who are some Kimbilio fellows that have inspired or influenced you?

DH: Speaking as the director of the project, each of our fellows inspires me in his or her own unique way. It is a genuinely talented and powerful community, each committed in their own way to extending this opportunity so that others will grow and help build our literary culture.

KJ: Brian Gilmore and Jamel Brinkley are two fellows that I met during my summer who I love very much. Perhaps we would've met otherwise but we met at Kimbilio. They are both extremely kind and supportive and very important to me.

The same for LaToya Watkins: I knew of her through Twitter but we really got a chance to grow close during our fellowship.

I am always inspired by fellows and instructors, folks winning and doing the awesome work: Angela Flournoy, Rion Amilcar Scott, Cole Lavalais, Desiree Cooper, Tope Folarin, Lesley Arimah, Mat Johnson.

AP: Every Kimbilio fellow has inspired me. I'm inspired by folks putting out their first or second books, so folks like Cole Lavalais, Rion Amilcar, Sanderia Smith. I'm also incredibly inspired by the poet/fiction writers like Brian Gilmore and Desiree Cooper. Kima Jones for her writing and her ability to round up and organize anything! Julia Brown and Selena Anderson, my UH-Htown homies, who are both gorgeous, inspiring writers and people. David Haynes is a huge inspiration to me. Like I said, everyone.

BB: What does community mean to you?

DH: Speaking as the director, a community is a place of mutual support. It's a home where those who share the values and ideals are welcome to come and be nurtured. It needn't be a physical place.

AP: Love, kindness, intention, challenging each other to grow, safe space, fun, taking care, doing good things together, looking out for one another.

BB: Finish this sentence: to be heard and seen is to…

DH: be affirmed.

KJ: be reckoned with.

AP: have one of our basic human needs fulfilled.

BB: Are safe spaces made or found? (Both?)

DH: Both—if they don't exist, you create them!

KJ: Both. Always both.

AP: Both (!) but to be sustained, they're usually made.

In addition to his revolutionary work in building the first ever retreat and community for African American fiction writers, David Haynes is the author of seven novels for adults and five for younger readers. His most recent novel is the critically-acclaimed A STAR IN THE FACE OF THE SKY. Haynes was named one of America’s best young novelists by Granta Magazine, has received a fellowship from the Minnesota State Arts Board, and is currently a director of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). He is also an Associate Professor of English at Southern Methodist University where he directs the creative writing program. He teaches regularly in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and has taught in the MFA Programs at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Hamline University, the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, and at the Writers’ Garret in Dallas. Haynes, and several of his short stories have been read and recorded for the National Public Radio series “Selected Shorts.”

Kima Jones has received fellowships from PEN Center USA Emerging Voices, Kimbilio Fiction and The MacDowell Colony. She has been published at Guernica, NPR, PANK and The Rumpus among others. Her short story “Nine” was named Best American Science Fiction 2014-Honorable Mention. She is the founder of Jack Jones Literary Arts, a book publicity company. Kima lives in Los Angeles and is writing her first poetry collection, THE ANATOMY OF FORGIVENESS.

Adrienne Perry grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the daughter of a rolling stone from Southern California and a mother whose family homesteaded outside of Gillette, Wyoming. Adrienne serves as the current Editor of Gulf Coast and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tidal Basin Review, Indiana Review, Copper Nickel, and Siecle 21. While Adrienne finishes her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston, she is at work on a novel and a collection of short stories.

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