Blackgirl Songs for Summer Writing.

Me, when someone asks when I'm gonna write a novel.
Me, when someone asks when I’m gonna write a novel.

Summer is always when I sacrifice words to the genre-volcano of fiction. If you check the fiction tag here, you’ll find that two-thirds of the entries were posted during the summer months. One summer I even blogged half a novel draft. The only reason I can figure for that pattern is that during the traditional academic school year, I’m not often in “fiction headspace.” I typically spend those months talking about current events, creative nonfiction/personal essays, or field-specific research and citation.

I alluded to this recently here when I wrote about my writing process, but fiction is very difficult for me to write. I find it incredibly daunting. This was part of the reason I chose it as a concentration for graduate study. I wanted to get a firmer grasp on how to write it. But what I found was that my peers tended to be more structurally advanced than I was (many of them had either majored in creative writing in undergrad or participated in other formal writing instruction before attempting our degree). Because I’d never studied creative writing, aside from one poetry class in my first year of grad school. I found a lot of classroom discussion overwhelming. I remember actually crying in one craft class during my first year because I felt so underwater. Everyone sounded like they were speaking a language I not only hadn’t ever heard but didn’t know existed. I spent all of grad school being drawn out by instructors, hardly ever offering feedback without being prompted. And I always felt like I was guessing.

Wow. That entire last paragraph was a tangent I hadn’t intended to draw. But the point was: I find fiction elusive — and there always seem to be new impediments for me as I try to grasp it. The most recent has been motherhood. It requires me to be more practical in thought and economical with time and resources. For me, fiction requires a great deal of time for contemplation and invention. You may be drawing on personal truths and lived experience but you’re constructing it on untilled terrain, drawing on blood memory and pure imagination.

It is hard for me to do that. I always feel like I should be doing something else: working, trying to find work, actively parenting.

But recently, I found out that, as is the case with many of my summers, one of my work contracts is ending and it won’t be renewed, which means that, while I search for other work, I’m affording that long stretch of summer-waiting time I knew so well as an adjunct. And I’ve opted not to return to adjuncting this fall, so the world feels just terrifying and wide-open enough for me to be daring again. Truly daring. And right now, to be “truly daring” is to fit fiction into the current structure of my life the way I’ve managed to fit in blogging and essay-writing.

The groove I hope to get into while writing this summer.
The groove I hope to get into while writing this summer.

At this point, you’re probably looking for the playlist the title of this post promises. The wait’s over; I’m totally shutting up now, except to say: these are the songs I’m listening to and performances I’m watching as I try to be truly daring as a writer-of-fiction this summer. They aren’t new, and if you follow me on social media, you’ve probably already seen some of them. But enjoy:

1. Lianne La Havas – “Twice”

La Havas’ voice is without flaw on this cover, but I’m just as entranced by the barnyard motif. Generally, I love how intentional she is about creating synergy between her performance space and her performances.

2. Liv Warfield – “Why Do You Lie?”

Warfield is the definition of “truly daring” as a stage performer. She sings with her entire body the way I aspire to write with the whole of mine.

3. Emily King – “Distance”

I’ve a thing for rooftops. I always have. I’ve romanticized them, written them into stories as a girl, all that. But when I’ve actually been on them, it’s almost always been overwhelming. Watching King perform this gorgeous track on one reasserts the rooftop as a place of romance and creativity and possibility.

4.  Valerie June – “Workin’ Woman Blues”/”Rain Dance”/”Somebody To Love”

This NPR Tiny Desk Concert was my first introduction to Valerie June. She’ll be a summer staple, sounding as she does of wraparound porches with swings, stallions circling, swekerchiefs and sun tea.

5. Georgia Anne Muldrow – “More and More” (featuring Bilal)

So, so much love in this song, in all Georgia’s songs. Black love, black pride, black togetherness. “We, we are a tribe. Don’t go on thinkin’ no one’s on your side.” Word.

6. Lianne La Havas – “No Room for Doubt”

Another example of gorgeous scene and lovely singing.

7. Alice Smith – “So Bad”

Full disclosure: I’m only including Alice Smith here because of some very dear friends. It’s a highly coincidental, uncanny story.  On February 20, my girl @dopegirlfresh tweeted that she’d decided the day before that Alice Smith sings like I write. On February 19, my friend Alisa sent me a Facebook message with a link to this magazine spread and wrote, “Somewhat random, but Alice Smith did a spread for InStyle for her new album and she reminded me so much of you.” Those were completely unrelated musings. Then, my dear friend Joshunda saw Alice Smith perform at the Howard Theatre last weekend and when I asked her how it went, she said she loved it and Smith reminded her of me. So clearly, Alice Smith and I are soul sisters or something. I’m not in the regular practice of listening to her work, but I loved the performance above and this one at Grand Street Bakery is moving, too. There’s a lot of aching in her face when she sings. She can conjure the feeling of being lovelorn fairly easily. I can, too, whether I’m actually feeling it or not. That’s something I’ve recently learned and I suspect it’ll serve me well writing fiction.

That’s it for now, but I’ll check back in later this summer with a progress report. Hopefully, this project will stick and whatever words I offer to the volcano this year will finally appease it. For a while. 🙂

Feel free to add your own summer writing playlist below. I’m always interested in what artists serve as writers’ muses or background noise.


One response to “Blackgirl Songs for Summer Writing.”

  1. One day in April, Valerie June walked into one of the boutiques I work at here in Charleston. She was playing a concert in tine that night, which I would miss due to having a new baby. Instead, I downloaded her music and danced with my baby after her 2am feeding. My 8 year old daughter, Indigo jams to VJ also! Will have to listen to your other recommendations as well! I like to write to Bebel Gilberto, Ceu, and Meshell Ndegeocello also.

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