The Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, in partnership with the UGA Graduate School, UGA Arts Council, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Flagpole magazine, has awarded 34 micro-fellowships in its Shelter Projects program. The $500 fellowships support graduate students and community-based artists and practitioners in the creation of shareable reflections on their experience of the current pandemic through the arts and humanities.
Artist Statement by Ashley Crooks-Allen: “Sheltered in Place” is a spoken word project that comes out of my experience of crisis. It attempts to capture isolation, grief, healing, etc. in a way that I hope people can connect to. I’ve always had an obsession with narratives, especially oral narratives (which is evident in the online iteration of my project). I think narratives are what connect us; in storytelling, we relate to one another and find common ground. I think my work sets out to humanize topics, to shrink things from macro to micro. There are two poems that appear in the project with an alternative title and I think this happened (not only because I’m indecisive) because there is a duality in these pieces that holds them in this liminal space of both the safety/danger of isolation or joy and grief. This project isn’t only about the pandemic, but also the ongoing struggle for the right to life and liberation for Black people, and also mental health, but ultimately it’s about continuing to exist, some way, somehow.
Flagpole: Can you tell us about your research as a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at UGA? How does your current research intersect with the Black Lives Matter movement?
Ashley Crooks-Allen: I am currently working on a qualitative study of how Afro-Latinx people use social media to make identity claims in relation to the Black Lives Matter Movement. I am analyzing the social media content as well as remotely interviewing social media users about the BLM movement and their identity.
Flagpole: What role has writing poetry served in your personal life during quarantine?
AC: Poetry was a necessary outlet for me during the quarantine. Most of it will probably never see the light of day again, but writing has always been very cathartic for me. I experienced overwhelming anxiety for a while during the quarantine, and writing was one of the ways I helped alleviate that.
Flagpole: I’m curious to know more of your feelings behind the poem “Home.” Has your relationship to your physical home or larger community changed since the pandemic began? How does your academic focus on Black immigrant identity influence your own ideas surrounding identity, sense of belonging or the concept of home?
AC: “Home” is a curious piece on its own that came out of my daily routine with my dog, Huey (named after Huey P. Newton). Our walks are a time I sometimes spend reflecting, and at some point the audible repetition of the word “Home” began to carry weight for me beyond my attempt to imbue this word with some vague significance for my dog. This poem makes sense when I consider a couple of my other poems which address the topic of home as well, “Questions for My Immigrant Mother” and “Sankofa.” Having immigrant parents from Costa Rica but living in Irvington, NJ made the idea of home a little complicated from the start. However, my parents’ brick house, often mistaken for a random church in the middle of our block, became less home as I moved into adulthood. For a while, I thought of home as the house my sister and her family own because that’s where I spent holidays. That’s where I felt the most love, but when I began to think more deeply about diaspora that changed again.
With the pandemic, safety became very salient for me. I am learning to think of home as a place of stability that I call my own. Home is where Huey sleeps on the couch. Home is where my Angela Davis gallery wall, portraits by photographer Keon Vines, and collage paintings by Amber Coleman inspire me. It’s where the Wi-Fi name is BlackLivesMatter. Thanks to the pandemic, home is where I work, but also more importantly, it’s where I rest. I took for granted the spaces and communities in which I could grieve and rest in the wakes of previous murders of Black people. I distinctly remember a time in undergrad where I dragged my numb body to the Emory Black Student Union just to hold space with people who could feel what I felt. Then the pandemic made grieving in isolation the new norm.
My academic focus influences my own ideas about identity and home because in using qualitative methods to study communities of which I am a member, I also get a sense of connection with and pride for those communities. I get to remind people the Afro-Latinx community is worthy of study. We’re important. We matter. I feel a sense of duty to redress the erasure of my communities.
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