Kiini Ibura Salaam writer, painter, and traveler from New Orleans, Louisiana 2018-12-07T16:41:47Z WordPress 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.

kiini <![CDATA[Word of the Week, Episode 8: Float]]> 2017-04-16T16:14:25Z 2017-04-16T12:10:40Z »]]> New podcast!!!

The word of the week is FLOAT. Listen to the podcast to find out what floating has to do with writing.

I mentioned “Achieving With Ease” in the podcast. Here’s the blog post I wrote when I was wrestling with writing and working to find a way for continue to work under difficult circumstances. You can read it here.

Be well. Be love[d].

kiini <![CDATA[L.A. Review of Books—What Art Does: When the World Wounds]]> 2017-05-24T18:28:08Z 2017-03-25T18:24:44Z »]]> When The World Wounds engages central SF&F questions with power and grace: In this vast universe, how can we (human, alien, animal, tree, insect, rock, microbe, water) survive each other? How can we heal from the trauma of our differences? How can we be different together? For Salaam, our imaginations, our rituals and festivals, our dances and fantasies offer spirit healing and an embodied understanding of life’s miraculous potential in the universe.

kiini <![CDATA[The Future Fire Reviews When the World Wounds]]> 2017-05-24T18:27:34Z 2017-02-13T19:22:02Z »]]> When the World Wounds is not an easy book to read, but it is one that is well worth the time spent both for the stories told and for the absorbing, poetic prose of Salaam. While the stories in this collection share certain themes and modes of writing, they are all singular experiences that can’t be repeated, something that can’t be said for several single-author collections. Most especially, despite the darkness of much of the stories’ content, there is the prospect of hope and healing to be found—traits that many readers will need right now.

kiini <![CDATA[Vol. 104: Surprising Measures of Growth]]> 2018-04-02T10:08:02Z 2017-01-28T16:30:17Z »]]> Much of the growth that really matters most is infinitesimal in degree. Change is happening but we can’t see it or measure it because it’s happening in such small increments.
All writers have their challenges. One of mine has been giving the main character forward action. My unexamined and undeveloped instinct is to talk more about a situation that a characters is in than show exactly how that character is grappling with it.
I wrote about discovering that here. While getting my MFA, after doing a review of the themes of my work, I discovered that I mostly wrote about women frustrated with the social and political structures that oppressed them. It was mostly complaint–creatively written, with lots of value and merit, for sure, but the stories didn’t necessarily arc.
In the class that guided us to review our story themes, the professor Eloise Klein Healy asserted that what we’re wrestling with as individuals will always be reflected in our writing. Conversely, I imagined at the time, personal growth will also be reflected in your writing.
All this to say, my second short story collection represents immense growth for me on multiple levels. I’ve written frequently about the dark phases of my writing production when I couldn’t will myself to write. For my first book, to validate and honor the work I had done (at a time when I spent a lot of time bitterly complaining about what I had *not* done), I collected old stories from the past decade, adding three new stories before publication. The collection was well-received and won an award. One critical review said it seemed like an MFA project, which I put down to the patchwork nature of so many stories written at disparate times for disparate purposes.
One thing that really struck my about one of my reviews at that time is that my Publishers Weekly review for Ancient, Ancient ended with the line: Salaam’s unusual settings and lonely characters will call to readers who hunger for sex, identity, or just a place to belong.

When I read that line, I thought back to the class that taught us to look at our themes and as I say in this video, I thought, are my characters lonely? Am I lonely? How does a character who’s *not* lonely behave? Obviously, just because someone wrote something in a review doesn’t make it true, but there was a ring of authenticity to the comment that made me say to myself–I look forward to the day that I develop my own personal preoccupations so that I’m writing about something different.
Well, about four years after Ancient, Ancient was published, I came out with my new collection, When the World Wounds. With the exception of one story, all the work was unpublished and the majority of it was newly written for the collection. This was a huge achievement in and of itself. That lost person, who needed to put together a collection of short stories to rebut her own self-criticisms was no longer calling the show. Ancient, Ancient had done what I needed it to do. It had affirmed my work as a writer and drowned out the doubt and criticisms I had been lobbing at myself. It pulled me out of hiding, as I doggedly sought reviews and publicity and set up social media pages for myself as a writer. And once all the activity for the book died down, I found the writer in me emboldened and awakened, certain that I had to keep going, using the momentum I had established.
It was a fantastic experience to write the stories as a unit and I think the collection has a cohesion to show for it. I’ve gotten great reviews for the book, which you can read here, but what inspired this post was my latest Publishers Weekly review. I was thrilled to get a starred review. And I was equally thrilled with the last sentence of the review: These passionate stories of personal revelation, rebellion, and discovery celebrate strong-minded, determined characters and the search for independence in worlds that offer no easy way forward.
Again, I’m not arguing that because it was written in a review it’s true (I have critical reviews as well), but it delighted me to hear my characters being called “strong-minded” and “determined.” Mostly because those adjectives describe me as a writer and what it has required to continue on. The work in Ancient, Ancient (with the exception of the three new stories, “Marie,” “Battle Royale,” and “Pod Rendezvous,” and I would include “Rosamojo” in there as well) were written at a time where I was just experimenting with words. I was young and traveling the world–I had time and space to explore. This was a wonderful way to discover myself as a writer, but when the responsibilities of life hit and youth faded, it couldn’t carry me through. For me to continue to develop myself as a writer, I had to become focused, strong-minded, and extremely determined. Everything I write now comes as a result of my determination to keep going, to invest in my craft, and to continue flowering as a writer.
In 2017, I celebrate the determination that has allowed me to continue writing, and I salute the determination in you. Whether publicly or privately, where we put our efforts leaves a mark on the world–be it spiritual, psychic, emotional, or physical. As always I am a bold stand for every person to be able to make their unique marks on the world. And also proud of myself, for struggling through the difficulties to continue to make my own unique markings.
Wishing you power, possibility, and staying power for all of our unique voices. May we sing healing songs and weave possibility that creates a stronger fabric for our family units, local communities, nations, and the world population.
Be well. Be love[d].
Kiini Ibura Salaam
kiini <![CDATA[Publishers Weekly: When the World Wounds]]> 2017-01-28T15:47:48Z 2017-01-28T15:47:48Z »]]> The second collection from Tiptree Award–winner Salaam (after Ancient, Ancient) assembles five speculative fiction short stories and a novella that explore themes of freedom and the challenge of coming to terms with foreign lives and alien worlds. The skillfully done second-person point of view of “The Malady of Need” emphasizes the protagonist’s double entrapment by prison and a very personal obsession. Salaam captures the intensity of alien perspectives and desires within the unfamiliar worlds of “The Taming.” “The Pull of the Wing,” a prequel to Salaam’s Of Wings, Nectar, and Ancestors trilogy, captures the ambition of youth even in the face of harsh punishment. The powerful “Hemmie’s Calenture” and “Volcano Woman” delineate a woman’s quest for freedom and exalt in the discovery of one’s personal strength and power. No less intense for its greater length, “Because of the Bone Man” finds supernatural forces gathering to save a city amid the chaos of post-Katrina New Orleans (Salaam’s home town). These passionate stories of personal revelation, rebellion, and discovery celebrate strong-minded, determined characters and the search for independence in worlds that offer no easy way forward. (Nov.)