Eve Ewing: When I was first handed the autobiography of Assata Shakur I knew who she was politically. I knew the history. I knew what had happened with her, but I didn’t expect to see a poem in the front of the book. The book has this poem, “Affirmation,” at the front, and it was interesting to me that I hadn’t heard her talked about as a poet. In the last couple of years, I’ve become really obsessed. I have this tattoo that says, “Poetry is not a luxury,” which comes from Audre Lorde, and I’ve been obsessed with how black women have been doing this intellectual production. Black scholars in general have been doing this intellectual production that has elided boundaries of creation and genre for so long, and it fascinates me that I live in a world where that is not normalized. Where I’m a sociologist and a poet and I make visual art and I make these essays, and 90 percent of the interviews I do I have to sit there politely while somebody awkwardly asks me about that, about the fact that I do multiple things.
The reason that happens is because that is not considered orthodoxy even though Du Bois, a hundred years ago, was doing all of these things. I don’t know if you saw this, but there were these viral images going around of these infographics that Du Bois drew. He did all this sociological analysis and then he made these incredibly beautiful infographics, by hand, because there wasn’t digital design. He made these, and he wrote fiction. We have all these intellectual ancestors, like Zora Neale Hurston, and the majority of the people who read Their Eyes Were Watching God don’t know that she was an anthropologist. As a person who lives in the social sciences and who also lives in the arts, I’ve just been really fascinated with how many models we have of people doing that. Of course, it begs the question of why it’s considered unorthodox and what it would look like if it was accepted as a given—that people move organically between the forms of intellectual and creative production that best suit them at the moment, or best suit the ideas they’re trying to put forth at the moment.
Another thing that frames my relationship to Assata is seeing her as a proxy for the importance of multiple histories and the understanding that the history we’re given in the United States is but one history. I think that she is an important figure because she also calls to the fore how we think about histories and how we think about heroes, how we think about who matters, whose story matters, and who is to be believed. And the poem “Arrival Day” is based on this quote from her that I saw: “Black Revolutionaries do not drop from the moon. We are created by our conditions.” And I was like, “Oh, but what if we did?” More here.