The last event of CAAPP’s Wit(h)ness series featured Elizabeth Acevedo, an Afro-Dominican poet and novelist with a knack for performing.
By Alayna Powell, CAAPP Intern
It was my first time being introduced to Elizabeth Acevedo’s work, and her choice of content was a pleasant surprise. She kicked off her performance with an ode about rats, using juxtaposition to morph the rodent into a symbol of resilience and survival despite its notorious reputation. It was a bold beginning that properly set the stage for the rest of the night.
Next, Acevedo shared an unpolished excerpt from her novel-in-progress. She prefaced by saying she was apprehensive, worried the audience wouldn’t understand the excerpt without context, before cutting herself off — “But isn’t that what this is? It’s giving you as much as I can and then seeing how we connect, yeah?"
That single comment summed up Acevedo’s performance on Black intimacy. She dove into the reading, telling the story of a school-aged girl who experienced a string of stomach aches after coming to the Dominican Republic. Weaving in themes of community and family, Acevedo described how the lack of boundaries present between family members in her culture can stem from a place of love and interdependence — and sometimes that means your mom insists on checking your poop everytime you go to the bathroom. Acevedo talked about the awkward topic with grace, balancing the surprise and discomfort of the crowd with humor. She finished the excerpt in beautiful evocation, stating the chapter's final line, “This is loving, the shit you are willing to wade through.”
Afterwards, novelist and CAAPP Faculty Affiliate Angie Cruz moderated a discussion with Acevedo. They talked about the theme of collective mourning present throughout Acevedo’s work, and the role that joy can play in the grieving process. This idea, once again, highlighted the complexity of Black intimacy. It caused me to reflect on my own ideas about intimacy — ideas which suddenly existed outside the realm of love. Intimacy is daring to speak about things that society deems too gross. Intimacy is discomfort. Is sharing that discomfort with others. Intimacy is being nervous, and performing anyways. Is telling the audience about your nervousness, and basking in it, instead of swallowing it. Intimacy is wearing a mask because you value the lives of strangers. Is gathering in public for the first time in years to hear a poet read unfinished drafts. It’s the person in the crowd who claps first, because the poem felt like it was written specifically for them. In my case, it was waiting in line to get my newly purchased books signed by Acevedo and seeing her smile and earnestly state, “good luck with your writing.”