BRATTLEBORO — Epsilon Spires will host “A Celebration of Black Girlhood and Womanhood through Films, Poetry, Food, and Chocolate” on Friday, July 16 and Sunday, July 18 in the Backlot Cinema, the venue's outdoor theater.
The multidisciplinary event will feature four poets from around New England, two film screenings, and custom chocolates (complimentary on the 16th) created by Tavernier Chocolates in response to the poems of one participating poet, Shanta Lee Gander.
Antidote Books of Putney will have non-alcoholic specialty drinks for purchase. There will be a surprise food provider. The artists will all have books for sale.
On Friday, July 16, the doors open at 7 p.m. Beginning at 7:45 p.m., the poets who will read are Lady Abstract, LN Bethea, and Shanta Lee Gander. Films will begin screening around 8:45 p.m.
The recent publication of Gander's debut poetry collection, Ghettoclaustrophobia: Dreamin of Mama While Trying to Speak Woman in Woke Tongues (June 2021, Diode Editions full-length book contest winner), is the inspiration for this event. The Poetry Foundation and Seven Days have given her book positive reviews.
Gander was the 2020 recipient of the Vermont Arts Council's Arthur Williams Award for Meritorious Service to the Arts and, in 2021, was appointed to the board of directors of the Vermont Humanites Council.
“It is simply my hope to provide a multisensorial and multidisciplinary event that brings together arts and humanities through culinary art, poetry, film, and the event itself, which is a creative act of bringing together many communities within the Northeast region,” she said in a news release.
“All of the senses will be stimulated and engaged in terms of giving individuals something they can taste, touch, feel, listen to, think about, and/or connect with. In addition to this, I wanted to create an event that would have made the little girl version of me more comfortable in her skin.”
As a member of the speakers bureaus of both the Vermont and New Hampshire humanities councils, Gander gives lectures on the life of Lucy Terry Prince (c. 1730–1821).
Enslaved as a child, Prince, then a free woman, moved with her husband and family in the 1760s to Guilford, where she composed her poem “Bars Fight,” now recognized as the first known work of literature in English by an African American.
A graduate of Trinity College, Gander (Shantaleegander.com) has an MBA from the University of Hartford and recently received her MFA in creative nonfiction and poetry from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Other poets to read
In addition to Gander, Lady Abstract (Alycia D. Jenkins), also a graduate of Trinity College, and an emerging scholar/historian, freelance performing artist, and writer, will read.
Originally from the west side of Chicago, she has lived in Hartford, Conn., for 12 years. Jenkins has studied and uplifted the essays and poems of Ann Plato (c. 1823–unknown), the second woman of color to publish a book in the United States. (Phillis Wheatley is considered the first.)
LN Bethea has lived in Vermont for over 22 years. In an interview for the “I am a Vermont Artist” series of the Vermont Arts Council, she said moving to Vermont “not only changed the course of my art, it altered the trajectory of [her] life.”
According to the VAC website, Bethea is a co-founder of Poetry People and a workshop leader for Sundog's “Share Your Heart, Share The World,” which brings together students and professional poets for a day of collaboration. She has been a featured spoken-word artist at numerous events, including Burlington's Pride Festival.
Two films explore Black girlhood/womanhood
At approximately 8:45 p.m. on Friday, the first film to be shown is Hey Little Black Girl (13 minutes, 2017), produced, shot, and directed by Lyntoria Newton, who earned a B.A. from Hampshire College and an MFA in documentary film and video from Stanford University. This is her thesis film.
Using digital and archival material, Newton explores Black girlhood through the coming-of-age stories of four Black girls living in the San Francisco Bay area. The film has won multiple awards, most recently at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival 2019.
The second film is The Fits (72 minutes, 2016), directed by Anna Rose Holmer, co-written by Holmer, Saela Davis (film editor), and Lisa Kjerulff (producer). Set in Cincinnati, Ohio, the film follows Toni (Royalty Hightower), who at the age of 11 is on the cusp of adolescence. She is beginning to explore who she is.
Much of the action takes place in the Lincoln Community Center, where Toni spars with her brother, an aspiring boxer, in the practice ring. However, she is becoming fascinated by the all-girl dance team, the Lionesses, who practice in the gym, and she decides to try out.
Not long after Toni joins the team, a strange phenomenon takes hold: seemingly at random, a girl will experience trance-like shaking spasms that leave her exhausted and scared but ultimately unharmed. Fear begins to infect the group - who will be next? The “fit” becomes something both dreaded and desired, and serves as a metaphor for the journey of self-discovery.
Holmer has said that she was inspired both by the challenge of navigating her own adolescence and by stories over the past 500 years of towns that were afflicted by “dancing disease,” where people, most often women, danced spontaneously until they collapsed.
More poetry on Sunday
On Sunday, July 18, from 4 to 5:30 p.m., three poets will give readings, followed by discussion. The featured poets are Amina “Illypsis” Jordan-Mendez, Lady Abstract, and Gander.
Based in Holyoke, Mass., Jordan-Mendez, poet, performer, and educator, is the 2020 Straw Dog Writers Guild Emerging Writers Fellow.
The Guild's website offers the following biographical information. “Born and raised in a predominantly white college town [in] western Massachusetts, Amina grew up a rebel: Black, fat, queer, and existing. Inviting the challenge, she chose to live out loud - swim with her hair out, throw her weight around, question and confront.”
“Now a focused poet performer, their hands are busy rooting themselves in intergenerational healing of their lineage, embracing the pain, hostility, pleasure, and pride of blossoming into a poet she can look up to.”
The biography describes them as “tender, grateful, angry, loving, and growing.”
“They are currently attending workshops as they come and fitting art within their busy schedule of work and self-care, addressing mental health and traumas,” it continues.
“Born to a first-generation Panamanian mother, and an 'army brat' southern Black American father, she is exploring and defining 'home' in her body, in her life, and in this world.”