Jellison also cited role models like reggae icon Bob Marley, celebrated African American authors Alice Walker and James Baldwin, and even Voltaire, a French Enlightenment writer who challenged the Catholic Church on its restrictions on civil liberties during the 18th century.
“There are so many people who get censored because they have the audacity to speak out,” she said.
Before writing poetry, Jellison was a reporter for newspapers in Pennsylvania and North Carolina — during the mid-’90s, she even had a brief stint as a freelancer with the Banner. But she grew tired of the profession, and now, as what she calls a “recovering journalist,” she has turned to poetry, publishing two collections to date.
Her second book, “Black Apple,” was released in the summer of 2008. It looks at the state of race, class and sexuality through the eyes of Michael, a gay black man who is married to a white woman.
“‘Black Apple’ is my discovery of my inner feminist,” Jellison said. “I use Michael to talk about my own feelings of being black and female in this world. My book goes more in-depth into discussing black womanhood than what you would see on [television shows like] ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Flavor of Love.’”
Enhancing such discussion is important to Jellison, who said she is very concerned about how black women are portrayed in popular culture. She specifically cited the troubling portrayals in “ghetto lit,” a genre of self-published chronicles of urban life written by young black authors who say they are — as Jellison advocates — speaking their own truth.
Despite the genre’s popularity among black readers, Jellison finds this new form of writing “trashy,” due to its explicit violent and sexist imagery. She also said the form sets back “legitimate” black literature.
“I don’t mean to sound elitist, but ghetto lit is crap,” she said. “Everyone says that at least ghetto lit gets black people reading. I say no. Black people used to read W.E.B. Du Bois, Richard Wright and others who could speak about what was going on during their times without being degrading to black people. What happened?”
Along the road to raising her own voice and empowering others, Jellison said, she recently came to a landmark: She met Sonia Sanchez, one of the heroes of her youth, at a book reading at Simmons College.
As Jellison recalls, she started crying — not because she was meeting one of her idols, but because Sanchez actually asked for her autograph.
“Women like Sonia are the reason I switched [to] writing poetry more regularly,” she said. “Black women need to communicate their feelings by putting it down on paper.”
For more information about Jellison and Write Out Loud, visit writeoutloud.synthasite.com.
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