This week justArts spoke with LaShawn Simmons ’18 about Ebony Axis, a zine for Brandeis black women created with a grant from the Creativity, the Arts and Social Transformation program.
justArts: Can you give a background of Ebony Axis?
LaShawn Simmons: Ebony Axis, I call it a zine, because it’s not just poetry, we have some ilustrations, but it’s more an anthology of black women’s poetry here on campus. I tried to open it to anyone, any female, who identifies as black. … I wanted people who were Afro-Latina, Afro-American, to feel welcome to contribute to the Zine, ... [people who] identify themselves as black, so its our poetry. That’s including also graduate students, alumnae, and maybe next time we can include faculty, but I just wanted to have a broad range. In a nutshell, it’s black women’s poetry here on campus.
JA: What triggered the creation of Ebony Axis?
LS: I was very shy at first when I got to Brandeis about writing. ... I was always a poet, I always self-identified as a poet, but that was never visible in the mainstream or in the public sphere. However, I think the turning point for me was when I participated in the “For Colored Girls who consider suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf” production here at Brandeis last year, last semester. It came about during that time. What happened was that I was so excited about us as black women having a space, like an actual physical space to be able to freely express ourselves, and I basically wanted to keep the momentum going. It was during rehearsal, and “For Colored Girls” is a choreo-poem, so it kind of bounced of that. Long story short, I had this idea in practice, what if I have a book of some sort and put everybody’s poetry in it, ... being in For Colored girls with them, I was like, this could be a thing, we could put all this poetry together. … ,so when I participated in the CAST, Creativity, the Arts and Social Transformation, their new minor they had opened a grant for people to apply their any social justice project that deals with the arts, and I said what better way than that to do it, ... so words cannot describe how happy I am that it turned out.
JA: Are there certain poetry pieces that you look to include in the Zine?
LS: It’s more general, I feel like as a black woman, a lot of times we are emotionally censored in a way, we are kind of like told how to feel about things, it’s a fine line between being passionate and angry. So I think about those boundaries and emotional boundaries such as those, like giving black women the opportunity to say what they want and be human, like the poetry humanizes us and shows us that we are complex and that we deserve complexity. I feel like the poetry gave us a space to be complex and have mixed emotions, we don’t always have to be strong, there are times when we want to feel vulnerable and there’s also times when we feel like we cant connect with our community. ...I think the best part is that even people who weren’t poets, there were a lot of submissions where people were like ‘I don’t write, I’m not a poet,’ ... [and] they just submitted something and I was like this is beautiful. You never know whose story, you never know how your story may impact someone, ... I had no interest in policing their creativity, I wanted them to be as creative as possible and to let them know that their story matters. Even if you don’t like what you just wrote, you never know who may pick this up and be like ‘wow this resonated with me.’ Really, I just wanted to set that atmosphere and get rid of as many boundaries as possible.