Najya Williams Believes Language Is a Place of Struggle and Resistance
In this interview, Catapult’s head instructor, Gabrielle Bellot, talks with instructor Najya Williams about Black resistance, her literary inspirations, and exploring nontraditional forms.
Gabrielle Bellot: At the beginning of your course description, you include a great quote from bell hooks. “The oppressed struggle in language to recover ourselves, to reconcile, to reunite, to renew,” hooks writes. “Our words are not without meaning, they are an action, a resistance. Language is also a place of struggle.” Could you unpack this a bit? What, to you, does it mean to envision language as a site of struggle, a place where resistance can take place? What does it mean, in your view, to resist as a Black writer in America today?
Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness
GB: How do you see bell hooks’s ideas here more broadly informing what you’re hoping to share with your students in this course, as well as your own writing practices?
GB: What other writers, critics, or artists have influenced your views on what it means to take action and resist as a Black writer in America? Have you found your views on resistance shifting over time thanks to any particular thinker or artist’s work?
for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf
GB: Your course will also include a number of exercises that, in your words, “push against traditional writing conventions, which will include audio journaling, story sketching, and breaking form.” Refusing to stick to just one form or genre can be its own kind of resistance, and so I’d love to hear a bit more about why you’ve chosen these nontraditional forms to have your students work with and explore.
GB: In your course takeaways, you note that your students will have the opportunity to complete a first draft that “tackles the participants’ ‘margins,’” a phrasing I find really interesting as a trans woman of color myself who is often thinking about what it means to live in more than one set of margins at the same time. Could you expand on what it means to explore and tackle one’s own margins as a writer, particularly if a writer is marginalized in multiple ways?
GB: What do you hope students will ultimately take away from your class?
Gabrielle Bellot is a staff writer for Literary Hub and the Head Instructor at Catapult. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Cut, Gay Magazine, Tin House, Guernica, The Paris Review Daily, them, and many other places. Her essays have been anthologized in Indelible in the Hippocampus (2019), Can We All Be Feminists? (2018), and elsewhere. She holds both an MFA and PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University. She lives in Queens.
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