Seven Questions for Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Happy Pub Week!

In Seven Questions, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. Today, we interview Alexis Pauline Gumbs, whose work, Map of Anguilla, BWI. Handed to Alexis Pauline Gumbs by Jeremiah Gumbs. appears in Ecotone 23. She is the granddaughter of Anguillian revolutionaries Jeremiah and Lydia Gumbs, and the author of Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity, the coeditor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines, and the founder of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind, based in Durham, North Carolina. Her book M Archive: After the End of the World —the second book in a planned experimental triptych—is a series of poetic artifacts that speculatively documents the persistence of Black life following a worldwide cataclysm. It comes out this week from Duke University Press.

If you could spend a year writing anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I would spend the year in Anguilla. There is something about being able to hear the ocean twenty-four hours a day that helps me write from a deeper place. Anguilla specifically is a place where I can hear the guidance of my ancestors more loudly and clearly than anywhere I’ve been because of my own ancestral and family connection to the island. Once I spent a month writing in Anguilla and it was profound. The whole time, I wrote thank-you poems to Black feminist thinkers who have contributed to my life with their work and their living. That wasn’t the plan, and each of those poems was really for an audience of one person, but it is some of the most necessary writing I have ever done.

What books are open on your desk right now?
Interdependence: Biology and Beyond by Kriti Sharma (a brilliant North Carolina writer, scientist, and beloved friend) an issue of “Artists and Influence” (a serial publication by Camille Billops and James Hatch) “Who Set You Flowin’?”: The African American Migration Narrative by Farah Jasmine Griffin…(My beloved teacher and intellectual mother, I read her books on perpetual rotation.) Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief (edited by Cindy Milstien). The Gift is in the Making by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. And The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemison and A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle are on my bed; my partner and I are reading those two aloud.

What emerging author or first book are you most excited about?
Oh goodness. So many! The first person who comes to mind is Desiree Evans, a brilliant writer from New Orleans who is working on her MFA right now. I am so excited about her work!

You have a superpower: you can immediately give every person on earth one piece of information. What is it?
You are loved.

When do you feel most confident as a writer?
When I am actually writing. (In contrast to the moment right before I start writing when I feel panic, fear and complete confusion about who I am.)

Which fictional character would you choose to go on a road trip with, and where would you go?
Oh, I read this question too quickly and thought it was which AUTHOR I would choose to go on a roadtrip with. Zora Neale Hurston! To Haiti! But since it’s actually about a fictional character…that’s harder. Danielle Valore Evans writes the best road trip stories, but that’s partly because her characters are exactly who I should NOT go on a road trip with… Hmm. I guess I’d get my affairs in order, just in case, and go to Alaska with Sula. (By the way, I am actually preparing to go on a road trip in a couple of weeks. With my mom.)

Where did you get the idea for “Map of Anguilla, BWI. Handed to Alexis Pauline Gumbs by Jeremiah Gumbs.” in Ecotone 23 and the inspiration for your most recent work, M Archive: After the End of the World?
Actually the inspiration is similar for two reasons. First, because they are part of the same writing process. A few years ago I decided to write daily with short phrases, questions, or words from the theoretical work of Hortense Spillers, M. Jacqui Alexander and Sylvia Wynter, in that order. Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity came out of writing with words from Spillers. M Archive: After the End of the World came out of writing with Alexander’s work, mostly her questions, and the words in the Anguilla Map piece are excerpts from the third work, still in process, that is part of my writing with Sylvia Wynter’s essays. Writing with Sylvia Wynter’s work brought a flood of ancestral messages to me and those are what make up the words in the Map piece.

At the same time, I made the map itself out of maps that my grandfather Jeremiah Gumbs had used when he was executing my grandmother Lydia Gumbs’s great idea to create the first beach hotel in Anguilla (the same place I had that writing retreat I was talking about before). I used his maps of the island, some of their stamps, the water tables, some architectual sketches, part of a picture of a sail boat with the back of my father’s head in it towards the horizon to make the image…which makes sense to me because M Archive: After the End of the World is from the perspective of a researcher piecing together an archive of experiences before her time. I don’t know the Anguilla my grandparents and great grandparents and middle passage surviving and Awawak ancestors once knew. I am constantly trying to piece it together.

Also, the buildings themselves that came out of that process were destroyed by Hurricane Irma. My grandparents graves and my father’s graves were submerged underwater by the storm. So that piece became prophetic in ways I would not have guessed or consciously wanted.

It’s after the end of the world.

Lightning Round:
Coffee or tea? Tea.
Morning or night? Morning.
Typing or longhand? Both. I’m ambidextrous.
Earthquakes or hurricanes? I have already survived multiple hurricanes.
Music or quiet? The sound of the ocean.
Highlight or underline? Underline.
Bookmark or dog-ear? I really need to make some Black Feminist Bookmobile bookmarks.

Thank you to Ecotone staffer Ashley Monique Lee for her contributions to this interview.