Kiini Ibura Salaam writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana 2019-06-28T01:19:49Z WordPress kiini <![CDATA[Vol. 110, Is This It?]]> 2019-06-28T01:19:49Z 2019-06-28T01:17:34Z »]]> Life is full of contradictions. Or, the way we view life is full of contradictions. We spend a lot of time labeling and deciding who we are and what we are going to achieve. However, the irony is that we rarely know exactly what those labels mean and what those achievements will require. When you set out to become a writer—you don’t actually know what it’s going to take to develop your work and grow your voice. You never know what marriage or raising a child, or becoming a force in business, or scaling a mountain will be like until you do it. And without fail, what it takes to complete an undertaking is never quite what we think it is.


Some of this is due the difference between an image, a moment, a product, and its reality. We are introduced to things in fragments. The child you interact with at a birthday party, the couple you meet at lunch, the book signing you attend and the subsequent novel you read—all those things are but one facet of the fullness of the thing. Parenting is made up of millions of moments—conversations, meltdowns, bath times, meal times, laundry, laughter and curses. The same for a couple—a relationship is made up of uncountable conversations and interactions and disappointments and surprises. You can never fathom the contours (and relentlessness) (and brutality) of a thing without actually experiencing it.


The conflict between what a thing seems like and what it really is can often leave us with a sensation of bewilderment and disappointment. You commit to a big undertaking and in the middle of it, you look up and ask, “Is this it?” And there are so many nuances to that question. “Is this really what this is about?” “Is this all there is?” “Is this really how it feels?” Maybe the undertaking is just as gratifying as you thought it would be, but it’s so much harder than you anticipated. Maybe you were ready for the hard work but it isn’t as gratifying as you thought it would be. Maybe it’s a mix of challenge and gratification, and the whiplash between sensations is hard to balance. Whatever the pursuit, rarely is reaching or living your goals exactly what you expected.


Over the course of two decades of wrestling with a novel, I have found myself in many “Is this it?” moments. At this point, I can unequivocally say the process of writing a novel is nothing like I expected it to be. It’s been a long journey (which I wrote about here, here, here, and here). Along the way I’ve had to make a lot of mental adjustments in how I think about myself and my writing. In the first few years, I told myself to keep going. After I had a draft written, I convinced myself to do the first rewrite and forced myself to do the second. After I sent the third draft out to agents and didn’t get a bite, I decided I needed an objective eye. After I had it reviewed by an editor, I had to accept that I had more work to do, longer to travel on the journey.


The funny thing about failure (or things not going to plan) is that it breaks down the reward—snatches your perceived glory out of your hands and forces you to look at yourself, empty-handed, in the mirror. Without that drive to make money, or become a famous author, or dazzle the world with your brilliance, what do you have left? If you never get the prize, is this pursuit still worth it? What is your internal motivation for doing what you do?

Over time, life’s biggest challenges stop being about the achievement. When draft after draft of the novel failed to be “the right draft” or “the final draft,” I had to let go of my aspirations. At that point, when your efforts get you nothing but disappointment, the work stops being about the outcome. At multiple points on this novel journey, I was forced to ask myself why. Why am I doing this? Am I doing this to get somewhere? Am I doing this to enjoy it? Is it gratifying? Is it aligned with my soul? Am I honoring it? Am I honoring me?

When a task comes easily, even if you don’t “win,” the success of completing the task can be a reward. But when you’re struggling, circling the drain and not meeting your goals, you have to uncover a deeper meaning if you want to keep going.


This is what I discovered: Although I want external validation for my writing, I don’t write for fame and fortune. If those things are never achieved, if the possibility of profit and accolades are stripped away, I still have a need to wrestle with words. Deep within me is an unshakeable soul contract to write. The way I am coded, I can only live an authentic life by honoring my impulse to flex my imagination by building characters and worlds. When I ignore that impulse, I become misaligned and off-kilter.


Trust me, I didn’t give up the vision of fame easily, but now that I have, my attitude about my novel has changed. The need to write no longer feels like a burden, it’s a path of discovery. Now, giving myself time to write feels like a sacred act. I no longer think about it as a means to an end. I’m not doing it for the editor who’s waiting on the manuscript or the agent I hope can get me a great advance. I’m doing it for me. I’m doing it to live out the best version of me.


I have admitted to myself that this novel may never see the light of day. I may never succeed at making it publishable—but that’s no longer my goal. My goal is to make it whole and complete. Somehow, over the course of shifting my perspective, I’ve shifted my relationship to myself as a writer. I no longer see myself as someone who has failed to write a novel, I see myself as a hero for continuing to walk the path. When I sit down with my writing partners—procrastination and resistance—I don’t criticize or berate myself. I acknowledge that the aversion to the page is human, and I gently nudge myself along. I say to myself—let’s see what you can do. Open the file, honey, just give it a go. Here, I’ve given you plenty of time to procrastinate, let’s try to write something now, okay?


It sounds sappy, but at this stage of the game, I am honored to be able to be there for myself. I am grateful to have discovered the hardcore, unwavering writing coach inside me who can—without tearing my writer-self down—give me the gentle and consistent encouragement I need to stay in action. In a field where the big splashy successes are not promised anyone, it is a measure of sanity and a gift to myself to put process first. To take myself off the hamster wheel of searching for some mystical way “it” is supposed to feel, or look, or be, and embrace the nowness of writing. To give myself the gift of measuring success by the number of times I return to the page, develop a new draft, uncover a new angle, discover more of what this journey of writing is about. Onward.


Be well. Be love[d].


K. Ibura

kiini <![CDATA[Vol. 109: What Are You Privileging?]]> 2019-04-13T00:44:34Z 2019-03-30T20:51:30Z »]]> I’m hesitant to write this post because I don’t want to be a dream killer. For anyone who is still waking up full of creative energy and possibility, who skips over to the page or the canvas full of ideas and fascination, thrilled to spend hours playing with your new visions, this post is not for you. That’s how it all starts—this artist path. At least that’s how it started for me. Hours of writing and painting just because I had an idea. Just because it felt good. Well, spoiler alert, this all changed.


Like parenting, life is not static, therefore neither is an artist’s relationship to artmaking. Humans have this special way of deciding if something is good for them, it should feel good (like exercising and eating right, ha). If making art is the dream, we feel like we should be able to make it easily in great amounts and the art we make should be instantly masterful. A huge part of me becoming an adult is learning that the experience of something rarely feels like the fantasy of it. Everything takes effort. So often we take that effort as proof that we aren’t good at something. This mindset creates a dissonance that leads to internal unrest. It doesn’t help us grow, learn, and produce art, either.


Just because making art is your dream, it doesn’t mean making the art will actually feel like a dream. When there is an ease and play to artmaking, it is a deeply intoxicating and satisfying experience, but that magic doesn’t last forever. So what do you do? What do you do when the magic runs out?


When my magic ran out, I tried to give art back to God. I really did. I went through so many existential contortions. If the artist does not make art, are they still an artist? If I’m not writing, why does the desire to write still plague me? God, if you take away this desire to write, I promise I’ll be happy living a regular life. Ha. But the desire to write and paint didn’t disappear. Even after I was plagued with lack of productivity and no motivation for years, the need to make art kept hounding me, pushing me, sometimes whispering, sometimes yelling, that I wasn’t attending to my creativity.


It felt like life was telling me to grow up. Oh, it’s not fun anymore? You don’t have that magic? Tough titties (as we used to say when I was growing up). Deal with it. And there it was. Unadorned by glitter and fantasy, stripped of magic and glow, the need to write stripped down and laid bare. So I decided to figure it out.


As I tried approach after approach after approach, I realized I had been asking the wrong questions. I had been asking where the magic went? I had been asking why didn’t a feel like writing? I had been asking why haven’t I done more, why wasn’t I doing more? But all of that was my situation based on the current conditions of work and parenting and shifts in my community. By focusing on loss and circling the drain on what I couldn’t do anymore and how I didn’t feel, I was privileging the past. The writer I used to be. I was focusing on my condition and on my feelings about my condition. As I tried to work a way back to writing, I realized that all those years I had applied none of my brain power to creating a solution.


It is always good to reflect on the situations you find yourself in and there are certain conditions that require a deep dive into the source of the problem. However at some point, you—as the steerer of the ship—have to decide what to privilege in your daily life. Am I going to privilege this problem? Or am I going to privilege the solution?


I had spent so long asking why, what I needed to be asking was how. So you have this new life condition, you have this set of circumstances that makes it harder to write. How will you write under these conditions? What strategies can get you productive? How can you embrace being a writer with your life and your self just as they are today? So I dove in. I tried different strategies, I wrote about my struggles, I tested out writing in different places, at different times. I collected my stories into a collection, I wrote new stories. And that’s how I dug myself out, but guess what? I still haven’t made it back to that excited artists who wrote like a maniac every time an idea struck her; who painted for hours at all hours covering canvas after canvas. That’s because the barriers in my life haven’t change. Making art still feels like effort. It still IS an effort, but I have so much more to show for it.


Life conditions don’t go away. Dissatisfaction doesn’t dissolve on your word. Rather than fight with my fluctuating conditions, I acknowledge them and work around them to meet my goals. As written in the Freedom Puzzle, the daily choices I make and each of my actions are an answer to the question “How do I get to where I want to be?” It’s as simple and as difficult as that. Let’s say all your complaints are valid. Can you have them and still do the thing that you most want to do? Can you decide that your goals are more important than your complaints? That’s what walking the path is—it’s privileging the solution over the condition. It’s a question that we have to answer every single day. In my life, what am I privileging? What am I giving in to? Between my complaints, my goals, and desires, which is the most important urge? Which urges do you follow up on? Lack of energy is just an urge to rest. Procrastination is just an urge to avoid. Confusion is just an urge to not see. None of those urges ever disappear or fade into the sunset. Their role in your life is determined by how you relate to them. Do they stop you from doing what you want to do? Or do you pack them up, take them with you, and carry on?


Be well. Be love[d].


K. Ibura

kiini <![CDATA[Vol. 108: Embracing Vulnerability]]> 2019-03-27T22:15:56Z 2019-02-28T13:07:28Z »]]> Collage by K. Ibura featuring porcelain art by Sandra Byers

Last month, I wrote about a panel on vulnerability and how the conversation made me reflect on the power of community as a healing force. There’s another valuable bit of information I got from the panel. In discussing how people behave when vulnerable and why we shy away from the sensation of vulnerability, I found a new word for that squirmy sensation that happens at the start of many, many writing sessions.


I find it unfailingly fascinating that even extremely seasoned writers can have a moment of panic when coming to the page. I’ve called it many things: procrastination, fear, self-doubt, irrationality, but now I have a new term: vulnerability.


Coming to the page (or the canvas or the stage or the instrument or any other artmaking medium) is a moment of great vulnerability. I don’t exactly know why such huge wells of vulnerability is tapped at the beginning of a creative session, but I do know that how a writer manages that vulnerability has everything to do with how successful she is at producing work.


Just think what it would be like if you froze up every time you were about to walk through the door. (Well, it’s very much like this for people who suffer with anxiety issues.) The thought process goes something like this:

  • What if I don’t really know how to walk?
  • What if I start walking but I forget how to walk?
  • What if I forget where I am walking to?
  • What if I walk really badly?
  • What if I stumble and fall?
  • What if I walk myself into a corner?
  • What if I walk myself into a wall and hurt myself?
  • What if me walking is the most boring thing ever?
  • What if I’m just not that exciting a walker?

And so on.


Panic does not need to be based in reality to be powerful. There are parts of us that are hardwired to keep us safe—and for most of us, walking out onto a ledge (even when that ledge is a plot that you don’t know the next stages of) is considered far too dangerous for your body to allow you to follow through with. So it throws up obstacles.


A Journey Through My Writing Obstacles

The sleep obstacle is the earliest writing obstacle I remember. I succeeded in neutralizing it about five or six years ago. For many years, without fail, every time I started to write, after a few paragraphs, I got really, really sleepy. For a while, I let this sleepiness thwart me. I actually believed I was sleepy, so I’d give in and take a nap and decide I’d write another time. Of course, the writing never got done. After a few years of this, I got wise to my body and I said—you go ahead and make me sleepy, I’m just going to write through it. And that’s exactly what I did. When I dozed off, I let myself sleep for a little while, then I gently woke myself up and started again. I did this as many times as I needed to in order to get a good writing session in. I did this for a year or two before my body realized sleep wasn’t going to deter me and that symptom went away.


The next obstacle was disinterest. After years of being flooded with ideas and inspiration, I suddenly couldn’t find an idea I was interested enough in to stick with all the way through the arc of a story. I just didn’t care about any of my ideas enough to see them through. I love puzzles and I’d had success in pushing my creativity through limitations in the past, so I started picking out six random words to be the seed of my stories. Confronted with these six completely unconnected words, my mind would go into overdrive to build some plot that could weave these words together. The novelty of the challenge distracted me from my disinterest and guided me to storylines that I found interesting enough to hold my attention.


Throughout all my years, I had the perfection monster—which had never stopped me in my foundational years of writing, but after I developed a voice and identity as a writer, perfectionism became my next vulnerability obstacle. I lost all ability to accept the misshapen beginnings of storytelling. As I started to write, I would literally be cringing because I hated what I was putting on the page. In this phase, the only way I could move through a draft was by reminding myself over and over, paragraph by paragraph, that a rough draft is called rough for a reason. I’m a strong believer in messy drafts and copious edits, yet I had to convince myself that getting the story on the page—no matter how lumpy and ill-formed—was the most important goal of the moment. The more horrible the rough draft seemed, the more drafts I saw looming up in my future. The only way through this stage of vulnerability was to dig deep into the present moment and tell myself the polishing stage is later—be in the now and get these words on the page.


Now that I’ve gotten through all those phases, my new reaction to the vulnerability of writing is sheer panic and childlike breakdowns. Unlike the decades when I first started writing, we now have cell phones—which means I do not have to spiral into despair alone. I spend the first hour of my writing sessions texting my friends and moaning. Oh no, it’s time to write again. Oh no, I’m tired. Oh no, I can’t focus. Oh no, I’ve been procrastinating for hours. I call in witnesses to walk with me and acknowledge the momentous undertaking of shifting my emotions and moving through my deep desire to turn away. Then, and only then, when my difficulties have been seen (and I am sufficiently ashamed of how long it’s taking me to start writing), am I able to get down to business and continue the work of storytelling.


Calling those first messy moments of a writing session vulnerability helps me have more compassion for myself. There are so many potential pitfalls in the process of writing, so feeling vulnerable when undertaking the task just makes sense. We like to focus on the word discipline, like it’s all about effort—but the true discipline is being steadfast in facing your emotions, being willing and able to accept any curveball your vulnerability throws at you and staying the course. There is no guarantee of how long it will take to write a project, there is no guarantee that the course you have set to plot your story is the right one, there is no guarantee that the characters you have developed will be the ones to see the story through—in short, there are no guarantees. Your body and your brain know this—and they wish fervently to keep you away from devoting yourself to such a daunting mission. Understanding the resistance as a manifestation of vulnerability makes it a tiny bit more manageable, makes it a hair more likely that you will not drown under the weight of your woes, that you will resist your deep desire to flee and instead embrace vulnerability. Acknowledge the terror, then put your hands on the keyboard, tighten your grip upon the pen, and begin.


Be well. Be love[d].


K. Ibura

kiini <![CDATA[Vol. 107: The Power of Community]]> 2019-03-05T13:17:05Z 2019-01-28T16:33:03Z »]]> This month I attended a panel on vulnerability at HealHaus yoga studio and healing center. The conversation was multi-layered and wide-ranging. On the topic of why we aren’t more vulnerable, panelist Liana Naima talked about the patriarchal orientation of our society, and how it influences how we communicate and connect with others. She went on to say that we need more community spaces where we can be vulnerable with each other and hold each other safe.

It’s interesting how naming and defining something changes your relationship to it. I firmly believe in the power of community and for most of my life, have been a member of one (informal) group or another. From writing groups to cultural groups and book clubs to goal setting duos, I’m almost always seeking to partner with others to bring something new to light.

I have a community of cheerleaders as I get through the fifth draft of my novel. They receive my chapters and say things like “Go, Kiini, Go.” “You’re awesome.” “You can do it.” One of them gives me copy edits, another discusses plot, and a third tells me what she thinks when we hang out. I’m not relying on them for critiques, just support. I have another community that I collage with, we sit together, talk, drink, and make collages on a theme. After six months of this, I started doing more art on my own. I am over the moon to be creating work again and did not expect to find this new space for creativity as a result of connecting around art on a regular basis.

During the panel discussion, I realized that vulnerability is what I value about both my cheerleading group and my collage group. It is an honor and a gift to have a group of people I can share my ups and downs with, as well as be vulnerable with as I move forward on my path. My achievements are fueled by my ability to gain energy, share struggles, and collect inspiration from a group of people also on a path of growth. An audience member shared about a book he was reading (I wish I remembered the title) that argued that community is a space of healing and equalizing—where we can help address oppression, exclusion, and lack. So lets let 2019 be a wave of community building (micro and macro).

I ran into two examples of community building after the panel the echoed the ideas we’d been discussing. N.K. Jemisin hosted a gathering of spec pic writers of color so we could connect and network with each other. I got an email about Marriage Trumps All—a movement to spark love marriages between U.S. citizens and immigrants through communal dining. Both of these events were extremely inspiring to me because they are movements that are not Movements. They are movements that go directly to the source: people. They are examples of people using their passion and their sphere of influence to build bridges between others. In community is how we grow. In community is how we test our boundaries and possibilities. In community is how we secure opportunities and learn essential life hacks. It’s how we’re built to operate.

I hope you’ll consider starting some type of regular community event in your circle. Anything you’re passionate about can be fodder for a group. Here are some ideas:

Journaling group: get together and pick prompts that forward things you’re interest in addressing, growing, or healing. Set a timer and free write on the topic while the timer is going. Afterward share reflections from the experience (no need to share what you actually wrote.)

Goal setting group: Discuss your life goals and your current goals. Map out a thing you’d like to achieve, break it down in baby steps, then each meeting commit to two or three baby steps, report back at the next meeting. Support each other when there are breakdowns, push each other when there is hiding out, celebrate each other’s successes.

Writing group: Bring writing, read each other’s work and offer critiques. Two notes: 1. if the critiques are not helpful, as a group, do some research around how to critique. Perhaps by discussing and determining categories for critique (character, plot, tone, description), feedback can be focused and meaningful. 2. READ ALL SUBMITTED WORK ALOUD. This is how I learned how to read in front of people. I was a HORRIBLE reader at the outset, but reading my work aloud repeatedly in front of my workshop group helped me master the art of representing my work.

Collage group: What’s great about collage is that you don’t need a particular skill to do it. Some images, some scissors, some glue, and some paper, and you’re done. My group discusses our collages afterward and each person presents their work and shares a reflection on the topic. That portion is always rich. It’s healing to provide and receive a listening ear.

Creative group: You can have a sewing group or a quilting group or a knitting group. You can have a group of artists that work together to mount shows. You can have a group of creatives that work together to create an inspirational newsletter or a series of performance art pieces or parties or panels.

On a practical level, when you’re working with a group of people, logistics and obstacles will rear their head. I find it’s helpful to do three things:

Choose a minimum number of people you’ll proceed with (for my collage group it’s three—if at least three of us are available, we will hold the session)

Make it sustainable (what are the obstacles people face—time, location, access? Do your best to address or balance out these obstacles so that the barriers are minimal [or at least spread out among members])

Pick a focus that resonates and don’t be afraid to shift it as needed (my collage group started out as a book club. We were passionate, we were fierce, it was my medicine and my church! Then we started having issues with the book choices, then we started having issues with the timing, then people stopped reading the books. The next year, I tried to turn it into a culture group—where we go see art, which worked fine, when there was something we were all interested in seeing, but other than that, a logistical nightmare and difficult to get agreement on what we would do that month. Finally, we turned to collage and it has stuck. Why? No prep is needed, just show up with your supplies, we don’t need a large number of people, so fluctuations in attendance doesn’t matter, we always have rich conversations and the collage themes provide much needed opportunities for reflection.)

I would also caution you to avoid looking for quantity. Healing ripples outward from one individual. So if it’s two consistent members, the work you are doing will touch thousands just through the shifts you achieve as you move through the world.

Let’s make little power cells in our communities—places where people can gather and lick wounds and recharge, gear up to go out in the world more bravely and more brilliantly than they ever have before.

I will leave you with this lighthearted example of how being in community can inspire. (Scroll through the pictures and a story will unfold.)

Be well. Be love(d).

K. Ibura

kiini <![CDATA[Vol. 106: Hair in the Gate]]> 2018-12-22T17:52:35Z 2018-12-22T17:36:06Z »]]> Some time ago I saw a documentary called “Everything Which Is… Yes.” In 2008, David Hoffman suffered a catastrophic fire that burned down his home. He discusses it in this Ted talk. Hoffman is a collector—of documents, photographs, research files, magazines, and his own films. The master for a Cannes-winning film was destroyed. Through the process, he said he kept thinking, I have to make good from the bad, good from the bad. He galvanized friends and family members to work with him to sift through the wreckage and salvage what they could. He thought some of the photographs looked a bit more special singed around the edges—it showed they had survived something.

Ultimately, he made the documentary “Everything Which Is…Yes” to commemorate that loss, and also to give voice to the value of going on. Going on when everything around you has burned down is a good metaphor for artists who have to keep going despite whatever landscape they face around them. It’s a good metaphor for me—a writer who has to make major shifts to clear the way to create. There are the logistical hurdles: how many days a week, where, how many hours can you grab on a day during the work week, how many hours can you commit on the weekend and still have a functioning life and a well-nurtured child? There are the emotional and mental hurdles: what do I do with this exhaustion, how can I convince myself that the fifth draft of this novel will finally be something, how do I know what project to work on, how can I put away the preoccupations of middle age and devote myself to the story on the page?

That’s the beauty of artmaking. Like parenting, its demands change over time. You change, your work changes, your motivation for artmaking changes and yet there is still this need to create. Hoffman said he believes the instinct to make good from bad is hard-wired in him. It is hardwired in me too. Yeah, being an adult can be miserable—are you just gonna sit there being miserable, or you gonna find/make/conjure up a pocket of good to help you carry on. I come from a people who have built an entire culture—physically, musically, culinary—on the belief that life is to be celebrated and the human spirit can supersede any trauma the body is subject to. So the dirt is tough and the rain is a long time a coming and the sun ain’t shone on your skin in ages, you better flower anyway and be that shining miracle God made you.

One of the things Hoffman remembered from his early filmmaking days was making a way out of no way and creating work that wasn’t perfect—prioritizing the making of the thing rather than the perfection of the thing, prioritizing the making of the thing over waiting for the conditions to be right. He referenced the cinematography term: hair in the gate—the term for hair and other specs on camera as you’re shooting. In a professional setting, you’ll stop shooting, clean the lens and start over if you get a hair in the gate. Hoffman remembers a time when “Even if you had a hair in the gate, we all had hairs in the gate, that didn’t stop you.”

This has been my guiding principle over the past few years of art making (and must remain my principle moving forward.) Until I have those perfect conditions (if I ever get them), I must continue to work with a hair in the gate. Those frustrations, imperfections and irritations are a part of life—especially if you’re juggling multiple priorities. Whether it’s learning to dance around the logistic hurdles, or learning to relate to the art differently, committing to keeping shooting—keeping going—even when there’s a hair in the gate is the only way to continue to make art.

I’ve been circling around surrender for a long time. For me, surrender is allowing things to be flawed and still carrying them through. It is understanding that the roughness of a thing does not destroy its value—so I must discipline myself to value even the roughest of my efforts. It is believing that there is a path beneath my feet—whether or not I can see it, whether or not it is covered in brambles, whether or not it appears to veer away from my goals—I have to believe that my actions count for something. I am fiercely committed to believe that my repeated attempts aren’t repeated failures, but an ever-ascending climb to knowing my voice, honing my strategies, and strengthening my craft. As Hoffman says, “That’s what I’m beginning realize now. Always. I seem to make decisions that were like accidents, and I realize now they weren’t accidents. They all went in the right direction. Maybe the situation was not so good, but I lived it. I didn’t just pass through it.”

I plan to still be here and working when this all starts to make sense. I’m brave enough not to cut off my attempts because they didn’t meet my imagined achievement timeline. I choose to accept that growth is the journey and the flowering is natural and does not need to be forced. This road—long and hilly as it may be—is always, always, always leading back to me.

Happy 2019.

Be well. Be love[d].

Kiini Ibura Salaam.

kiini <![CDATA[6 Books with Sabrina Vourvoulias]]> 2018-10-21T13:31:39Z 2018-10-21T13:31:39Z »]]> Kiini Ibura Salaam is one of the finest stylists in speculative fiction and her book of stories, When the World Wounds, is quite spectacular. I’m really haunted by two of the stories in the book, “Because of the Bone Man” and “Hemmie’s Calenture,” and think I might need to reread them as a master class in how art can confront our deepest societal wounds.

kiini <![CDATA[Vol. 105: On Fearing the Answers]]> 2018-05-22T20:05:11Z 2018-05-22T16:33:35Z »]]> One of my favorite scenes in the recent film A Wrinkle in Time, was in the cave of the Happy Medium. The visuals were stunning and the idea of a place with constantly shifting ground, where your state of mind could keep you in balance is a great metaphor for life. Especially for me right now where I find myself courting anxiety as the tasks pile high around me. Sometimes even as I’m succeeding at completing them at a healthy reasonable pace, I’m still looping anxious thoughts through my mind. (Serenity now.)

What made this scene even more memorable is that before Meg is able to successfully focus on (and find) her father, she has to release her anxiety and fear. She whispers to the medium, What if my father doesn’t want to be found? And he replies: “It’s okay to fear the answers, Meg. But you can’t avoid them.”

It’s okay to fear the answers, but you can’t avoid them.

This speaks to me on so many levels. One thing that fascinates me about writing is that writers have the ability to fear their own work. Especially when writing into the unknown (which is, like, always). Being seasoned as a writer does nothing to prevent a writer from freezing up, pausing the process, or procrastinating. Knowing how to write doesn’t stop it. Knowing what to write doesn’t stop it. Even when I have enough ideas to take me to the next step, I can be overtaken by a stubborn unwillingness to write. Writing can be very much like moving through the happy medium’s cave. The ground beneath you is the next sentence your write, and the next. When confronted with moving ground, it’s natural to think, what if my next step leads me to a sheer drop? What if my next step leads me to the back of a blocked cave?

Depending on what follows the question, “what if” can be the language of imagination or of fear. When I calm my mind and leave aside the “what ifs” that lead me to catastrophe, I move forward. When I court the “what ifs” that lead me to dead ends, I am paralyzed with hesitation. It’s my job to manage those fears so that I am always skating ahead when I face the page.

It’s a very human instinct—I fear the answer, so I won’t ask the question. Head in the sand, thoughts on lock-down, avoid, avoid, avoid. The problem with avoiding the answer is that the questions don’t die. They don’t dissolve. They just keep circling the drain, building up anxiety and blockages, holding back progress when it’s time to break through.

So, yes, we writers may stop writing to avoid the answer to what’s next in the story—but there’s a larger fear looming behind the fears focused on the plot. The larger fear is a soul fear. It persists, even after you write something you love. The larger “what if” is about our very identity as writers. What if I succeed at writing this story, this novel, this essay; what if I complete the task that I put my hand to and I’m no good? Writing is one of those acts that requires ongoing and constant validation. Whatever focus and determination that is required to successfully complete one project has to be gathered all over again for the next piece of writing. Writing requires a double consciousness—your ability to complete whatever you’re working on validates your ability to write. What happens next in any project you’re working on literally determines your identity and value as a writer. The answer we fear at the other side of any work is that we’re not good writers, in fact, we’re not supposed to be writers at all.

A bold and hysterical statement to make over a stalled story, but that’s exactly what we do. While we’re meant to be grappling with our stories, we’re grappling with our entire identities—our right to call ourselves writers.

What’s comical about this is no one can discover their strength in one paragraph, in one moment, or even in one story. Who we are as artists grows over time. We answer the question of our identity with each new piece we write. That’s what makes it impossible to use any single piece of work to answer the question of whether or not you’re a writer. A writer’s worth, talent, and body of work is cumulative and it takes time to build it.

No matter how long you’ve been writing, the questions linger. Are you a writer? What kind of writer are you? Are you any good? Well, here’s the great cosmic joke: You have to write to find out.


Be well. Be love[d].

Kiini Ibura Salaam.

kiini <![CDATA[100th Anniversary of the Silent Parade]]> 2017-08-19T14:15:44Z 2017-08-18T12:12:33Z »]]> On July 28, 1917, nearly 10,000 African Americans marched in silence to protest lynchings and anti-black violence to appeal to then president Woodrow Wilson to protect their civil rights. The parade occurred after the East St. Louis Riots of 1917, during which white mobs rioted, killing between 40 and 250 Black people and displacing thousands more. This year, the centennial of the march was celebrated by artists and technology giants, noting that their silence “resonates a century later.” The resonance is due to the moral strength, vision, and presence of the marchers, but also due to our nation’s failure to move beyond anti-black violence, which is enacted through legislation, inequality, discrimination, civilian shootings, and police brutality and murder.

Artist/activist Shalewa Mackall called for artists and activists to commemorate the centennial of the march. A group of participants took direct action, with a public commemoration. I paid tribute through word and image on social media. Here is a compilation of my posts and tweets.

20 Words on the 100th Anniversary of the Silent Parade

1. WITNESS: I don’t need words to stand witness

2. ACQUIESCENCE: If I bow to this system, it is not acquiescence; it is a negotiation to stay alive, a bid to carry on.

3. SANITY: I march to hold on to my sanity, to peel back the lies of civility that cloak each murder… each murderous act.

4. CIVILITY: Can you imagine the strength required to hold on to civility in the face of continuous state-sanctioned murder?

5. DISSONANCE: This is the dissonance. To live life knowing that murder is breathing down your back, that your country approves of your death.

6. PRETENSE: We speak our dissent even as our protests fall on deaf ears. We march in the face of pretense and disinterest

7. DISSENT: There will always be dissent. Even if you manage to exterminate us. There will be dissent down to the last breath.

8. BREATH: Breath is part of the contract of being alive. And I lose it repeatedly with each murder; hold it with each encounter. 

It’s a cracking sensation with each death. A collapse in the chest. Whip. Lash.

Sometimes it feels like a cosmic joke. Sometimes I feel like a cosmic weapon. Only by ferocity and determination are we still here.

The protests are exhausting. So is the death.

This is the position we’re in. To argue our humanity. To argue our right to breath.

The roots of our resistance are as deep as the roots of our existence in this country

It is a call too strong to ignore

Built on beauty. Built on culture. Built on pain. The survivor in me salutes the survivor in you.

Keeping the core protected, whispering healing songs within, giving the self approval the world withholds.

When we gather we feel our humanity resonate as our voices cry out and echo. We are not alone. 

When you vibrate with the truth you vibrate with divinity. When we protest we are in alignment with the divine

Despite decades of degradation, our potency still asserts itself.

Our ancestors walked many miles. We will walk many more.

kiini <![CDATA[Year in Review: 2017]]> 2018-01-15T00:48:36Z 2017-07-09T13:55:42Z »]]> This weekend, I’ve used the KIS.list to provide information to people three times. Links to art, links to writing, and details about a past event were all documented in my blog posts. Life is so multidimensional–you can think you’re doing something for one purpose, and discover it has an altogether real-life application in your life. Combing through past posts, I realize, in a way, I’ve kept a journal of my writer’s life here. My emotional states, my triumphs, my blockages–they’ve all been captured in this blog series going back a decade+.

This is even more valuable to me now that I feel as if my memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be. What happened a few years ago, can come back into focus, just by reading a post. I forgot some of my topics, and go back and read them and inspire myself with the thoughts recorded within. I decided to quickly make sure all my records of my posts were up-to-date, and to leave behind a record of 2017.

I started the year at Arisia Sci Fi Conference in Boston. I go every year because it’s so close to New York. I got to connect with the community and sat on a panel that explored N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and discussed role of literature in witnessing, addressing, and resolving trauma. Apropos because When the World Wounds is all about trauma. The conversation was fantastic and it was a real treat to sit on the panel with these intelligent, reflective, honest writers.Arisia panel

January also brought a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

In February I went down to AWP to participate in a reading and author signing my publisher Third Man Books was organizing. It was great fun to hang out with the poets published by Third Man and to participate in a raucous bar reading with them all. I was especially thrilled to see in the flesh the new special edition of my book.


The special edition features a map and this beauty—she’s the magical being that unleashes the main character’s rage in Volcano Woman. I absolutely love her. (There are only 100 editions of the special edition, so if she calls to you, get a special edition of your own!)


Also, in February, my publisher’s parent company Third Man Records opened a pressing plant in Detroit. I went and had the honor of the first performer ever to publicly grace the stage in the plant (it’s a wonderland of yellow and black with all kinds of gadgets and gizmos).


February also brought a review from The Future Fire.

In March I returned to the KGB for their monthly reading series. I read with Nova Ren Suma and our stories intertwined deliciously. Debris and disaster ruled both our readings. If you’d never heard me read, you can hear both our readings here.


In March, I also participated in the launch of the new anthology Sycorax’s Daughters. My story in the anthology–The Malady of Need–exists in two different versions. In When the World Wounds, the subject of the main character’s desire is male, in Sycorax’s Daughters, the subject of the main character’s desire is female. I literally only changed pronouns and a few biological details, the rest of the story is exactly the same. I met someone at KGB who had read both and commented on her experience of the differences, so that was a thrill.


March brought a review from the Los Angeles Review of Books.

In March, I also answered a bunch of either/or questions that were maddening. You can read my answers here.

In April I took a train up to Westchester, NY, for Lunacon. I sat on two or three panels where we delved into interesting discussions about writing and feminisms and presence. I also read my story “The Taming”–which was challenging to read for a few reasons. One, because I hadn’t read it before, so I wasn’t intimate with the rhythms of the story. And two, because it’s from an animal’s POV so the flow of the story is unique. And three, because every time I read my work aloud, I discover things I’d like to change. An early version of “The Taming” is here. The final version is in When the World Wounds. (The characters of the Taming are the inspiration for the book cover art.)


Also in April, Sheree Renee Thomas, pulled together a group of women (including herself) with whom I share history to participation in the Black Speculative Arts Movement Convention in the Bronx. We had many links between us. Sheree published me in Dark Matter and told me about the Clarion West Writers Workshop. Ibi Zoboi was a member of my Clarion class. Sheree, knowing how much it cost to be at the workship for six weeks, asked Jennifer Marie Brissett to throw us a fundraising event at her Fort Greene bookstore Indigo Books. Fifteen years later, we all have books published and we’re sharing a reading—roots branching out into beautiful trees.


In May, I finally returned to the Wiscon Feminist Sci Fi Conference after many years away. It was great fun connecting with old friends and colleagues. A delayed plane (they “over-fueled” and then we had to wait to “de-fuel”) made me miss my connection–and the first two of my panels. But I still had a rousing panel conversation about identity as well as an inspiring and luscious reading with my fellow conjure women of the word.

Wiscon Reading

Earlier in May, Third Man Books visited me in NYC and pulled together a group of poets to read alongside the empty McCarren Park Pool. Their words were dark, ruthless, and devastating. Always a treat to gather with wordsmiths.

McCarren Pool

Also, in May, I was included on a reading list inspired by American Gods.

I didn’t travel for book promoting in June, but a jaunt up to MassMOCA helped push me to start podcasting again. (Short lived as it was). But you can check out some of them here.

In July, I headed up to Readercon in Quincy, Massachusetts. It was a treat to briefly connect with Nnedi Okorafor in between her Guest of Honor duties and nighttime writing to keep up with her deadlines. And it was a thrill to site on a panel with Samuel Delany. We even had a surprise audience member—Junot Diaz. On another panel, I delved into N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series for the second time of the year—such reach themes, imagery, and character packed into those novels!

In July, I also participated in the inaugural BlerdCity Conference here in Brooklyn. As always, it was a treat to hear all the different interpretations of the word. It’s invigorating to hear creativity roam through others’ imaginations!

August was another quiet month. I took the time to compile the digital commemoration of the Silent Parade I posted on social media.

In September, I participated in the Escape Velocity Conference in DC. It was another great opportunity to connect with the writing community and share thoughts on topics both literary and theoretical.

In October, I flew to Colorado and took a ride up the mountain to ski town of Beaver Creek to participate in the Sirens Fantasy Conference. I taught a workshop on Writing What Scares you, sat on a panel about beauty and led a discussion and listening session featuring Octavia Butler’s quotes. It was wonderful connecting with readers, and so many people said they still had the little books from my Guest of Honor speech the year before.

October also found me flying down to Nashville for the first time for a reading at the Third Man Books recording studios. My co-readers were riveting and it was a thrill to be reading in a music space before an attentive and appreciative audience.

After When the World Wounds was released in November 2017, I promised I’d spend a year promoting the book, and that’s just what I did. Now 2018 will be a year of minimal traveling and writing, writing, writing.

Wishing everyone a productive year ahead!

Be well. Be love[d].


kiini <![CDATA[An American Gods Reading List: 9 Stories of Deities & Men Mingling in the World]]> 2017-05-13T19:46:03Z 2017-05-13T19:46:03Z »]]> Not all of the stories in Kiini Ibura Salaam’s recent collection of short fiction examine the paths of deities and humans converging, but two of the longest do–and juxtapose those meetings with wrenching moments in history. In “Hemmie’s Calenture,” a woman escaping slavery during the War of 1812 is pulled into the conflict between two ageless supernatural beings, while “Because of the Bone Man” features personifications of aspects of New Orleans navigating their city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.