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January 2022 Feature: Shayla Lawson

Updated: Jan 9

Called an "honest and authentic voice" by Tressie McMillan Cotton, Shayla Lawson kicks off Torch Literary Arts' relaunch as our inaugural monthly feature.


Photo by Nicholas Nichols


Shayla Lawson is the author of This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope (Harper Perennial, 2020) and three poetry collections: I Think I'm Ready To See Frank Ocean, A Speed Education in Human Being and PANTONE.


She has also recently appeared on OPB with Tiffany Camhi, NPR’s Live Wire Radio broadcast, The Special Report with Areva Martin, Salon Talks with D. Watkins, The True Romance Podcast, at The Center for Fiction with 2 Dope Queens’ Phoebe Robinson, Storybound by LitHub, at The Strand with Ashley C. Ford, Memoir Monday, and the Tanz Im August Art Festival in Berlin, Germany.


She is a regular columnist at Bustle magazine and has written for ESPN, Guernica, Vulture, New York, and The Cut. Shayla is a MacDowell and Yaddo Artist Colony Fellow and a 2020 National Book Critics Circle Finalist.


Still image of Shayla Lawson performing "Blond" on Instagram. Watch the video.


BLOND

by Shayla Lawson



Why do all

the boys we

love love

white boys


Why do all the joys

Not love ya back


why do all the boys

we love love

white boys


Like I’ve been living

in a dream no bigger

than a day dream

and damn that’s fucked up


I’ve been living in a fantasy

Of a boy who would notice me

All my long blonde ire

shining in the sun


I watch all the makeup tutorials

I go out and body corporeal

I watch Reels and Reels of girls

sayin:


I’M NOT A SNACK

I’M NOT A SANDWICH

I’M THE WHOLE DAMN MEAL


because not a single one of us really

believes that we’re enough


That’s why that all the joys

we love love white boys


Because we’ve been trying

to pave a wet dream out of milk

We’ve been trying to wheedle seduction

out our images for profits


& I’m a fancy lil slut

so if I’m sayin that’s what’s up

TikTok, we’re fucked


& Sometimes all I wanna do is fuck to frank ocean

& Sometimes all I wanna do is say fuck myself

& Some days I really wanna fuck up the system


But I’ve been living in a dream

no bigger than a day dream

and that’s what’s fucked up


and when i die

all they gonna do is

toss my skin care products


and when i die

all they gonna say is

that I was someone else


O Homer

O Bard

O Sweet Green Alien


God, i don’t wanna go out like that

all cards and surfaces and uncertains

i don’t wanna be an Instagram death


& sometimes all I wanna do is fuck to frank ocean

& Sometimes all I wanna do is say fuck myself


i say fuck the boys

kiss all the pretty joys

yes that’s for certain


cuz we’re living in a day

no bigger than a dream

and that’s what’s up.



THE INTERVIEW


Your latest book, This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope, takes us into your personal life, Black womanhood, and pop culture. What was your process like preparing this collection?


I spent a lot of time thinking about what I’d like the world to know about the inner worlds of Black women in America. Since, even in our best attempts, our stories are often told from the lens of being a minority I had to reframe my own conception of what it meant to center us within a narrative. It took a lot of listening to women’s stories and a lot of research into the women I wrote about but have yet to speak to.


Was it different from your previous collections of poetry?


Since my poetry collections have been projects, they were pretty extensively researched as well. And with I Think I’m Ready To See Frank Ocean, I was definitely interested in seeing what it would feel like to archive our love instead of our disenfranchisement in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement. I see it more as a continuation of my calling than a departure from it.


What didn’t make it into This Is Major?


Only one essay—about the time I ended up in an anti-American protest rally in Barcelona—but now I’m writing a book of travel essays, so it may have a renaissance.


You’ve spoken publicly about your recent diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. How has that impacted your creative work?


I’m still figuring out how greatly it’ll impact my work. I’ve been open about my struggles with a rare illness in order to get ahead of the narrative—what people don’t understand, they fear, and what they fear they often misinterpret. Having such a specific illness makes me acutely aware of my environment, deeply sensory, which has shown up in my work even before my diagnosis.


You often incorporate music into your poetry. Tell us about that connection for you.


Lol. Pretty simple. I like to sing and poetry is musical. So I play it in ways to partner my love of both.


If you could have a supergroup of writers and musicians, who would be in the band?


Moses Sumney, Minnie Ripperton, June Jordan


What projects are you currently working on?

It’s On, a collection of decolonized travel essays. I’m also hoping to get back to my romance novel this year…


What’s your current vibe - who are you reading, listening to, sitting with at the moment?

I’m not reading or listening to much at the moment—since I’m recovering from a few injuries related to my EDS, I’m giving my senses time to heal. What I’m sitting with is a lot of meditation. I guess I could say much of what I’m listening to is the G note on my singing bowl, music to my soul.


Who is another Black woman writer people should be reading?


Read Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires.



Learn more about Shayla on her website, ShaylaLawson.net, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Buy her books here. You can also support her fight against Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome by making a donation to her GoFundMe page: Help Shayla Lawson Fight for Her Life.




Torch Literary Arts is a nonprofit organization established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. TORCH has featured work by Colleen J. McElroy, Tayari Jones, Sharon Bridgforth, Crystal Wilkinson, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, and others. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.


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