Faylita Hicks is the author of Hoodwitch, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Poetry, and is the recipient of fellowships and residencies from Black Mountain Institute, the Tony-Award winning Broadway Advocacy Coalition, Civil Rights Corps, and more.
Self-portrait by Faylita Hicks
Faylita Hicks (she/they) is a queer Afro-Latinx activist, writer, and interdisciplinary artist. Born in South Central California and raised in Central Texas, they use their intersectional experiences to advocate for the rights of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people. They are the author of HoodWitch (Acre Books, 2019), a finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Poetry. They are the Editor-in-Chief of Black Femme Collective and a new voting member of the Recording Academy. Hicks is the recipient of fellowships and residencies from Black Mountain Institute, the Tony-Award winning Broadway Advocacy Coalition, Civil Rights Corps, The Dots Between, Jack Jones Literary Arts, Lambda Literary, Texas After Violence Project, Tin House, and the Right of Return USA.
Their poetry, essays, and digital art have been published in or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Ecotone, Kenyon Review, Longreads, Poetry, Slate, Texas Observer, Yale Review, amongst others. Their personal account of their time in pretrial incarceration in Hays County is featured in the ITVS Independent Lens 2019 documentary, “45 Days in a Texas Jail,” and the Brave New Films 2021 documentary narrated by Mahershala Ali, “Racially Charged: America’s Misdemeanor Problem.” Hicks received a BA in English from Texas State University-San Marcos and an MFA in Creative Writing from Sierra Nevada University. Visit their website FaylitaHicks.com and follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and on Substack.
The Literal Context for the Phrase “Bang! Bang!”
by Faylita Hicks
Ballistics: What we think we know of these things.
Ballad: An oral hallucination of our fanatic histories.
Blame: A reasonable exit strategy for the iron-fisted.
It is a dead thing in the poet’s hands if it has no threat.
If it’s without its teeth.
If it’s without its grunge.
If it has no pulse.
We lug ammunition in our larynxes; language is
our artillery’s oxidization, at first utterance.
Like a protestor’s cell phone
disconnecting in the police station
and reconnecting outside
of our country’s deconstructed civility—
poets are providing the network
with the same alchemy used to conjure
this nation up out of the colonies.
We were born from war, so to war do we turn
Every makeshift martyr, recently made
coughed up the delineated design
of a truly American death:
guilty of being human,
condemned for being less.
These days hold
no respite for our children,
no sanctuary has been found.
We are still hunted—
in our schools, in our hospitals
in our kitchens, in our driveways
in our bedrooms, in our grocery stores
in our gardens, in our backyards
in our churches, in our community centers
—marooned are we Black womxn and men
by the “Everyman”
(what he means is white man)
and his star-sick affections
for Order & Law, a sickly homage
to the so-called “sanctity
of things being destroyed:
our freedom of speech,
our freedom of movement,
our freedom of religion,”
—and his freedom to gnash his teeth
His free sees me docile
and kept; his free keeps us all
chewing on lead; us all
afraid to drive alone at night.
Hence the fire.
We seize Amen! with our lungs. So be the fire
that curdles in our compressed throats,
foams forever over the Black womxn’s bruised
lips—a calligraphy of genuine love.
We hold Hallelujah! in our grasps; a yellow tape
slathered across the ghost of our dying radical.
Hallelujah! jangles against our sun-cloaked skins,
sweats down our knuckles, the melt of our bodies
a new constitution set to drown the unfaithful
in their own acrid bile.
There’s no easy way to say—when I die, no one will remember
me, exactly as I was: an anxious Yes! For a change.
But a change of the caliber kind.
On Being Buried in the Hays County Jail
by Faylita Hicks
I only remember
what little was left
of my words, falling
out of me, into pale sheets
stapled & stiff.
Meeting my maker
on a tiny tv screen.
My chin tacked to my chest,
my lips falling off of me.
I let them
but what else
could I have done?
I only remember
An infinite scream, dressed
in gallows of orange, a pillar
of smoke floating from
one hole to the next.
Here, I was more
than a fetish—
I was a recipe.
Something savory & comforting
in the cold.
Everyone knew me
I only remember
staring into the gray muscle
of this pauper’s house.
A roach breeding in its ventricle,
soothing itself in the semi-dark.
Grafting my wounds with wool & ink,
I fractured by the hour—knowing
there would be more of me
I only remember
the feral way
I dug down, looking
for a way out.
forms of suicide.
Any dignified version
Any pithy metaphor
other womxn could learn from
when they read about my death
in the paper.
about bridges & highway lanes
I could drift across,
lift off & scatter.
Always on a sunny day. Always
on a weekend. Always
with a big, blue sky.
I swallowed gallons
of saltwater down.
until I didn’t have to
Until my body relaxed & my eyes stared
at the bluest black & I sank
amongst the bodies
of a thousand un-excavated pearls
that passively strangled
the pale, thin neck
of the Guadalupe River.
how even as a gxrl,
I had known
I would lay at the bottom.
A secret or a salt puddle
beneath the city.
A spill of oil.
Unseen & untouched
You have been booked and busy! Congratulations on all of your success and recent honors. In the fall of 2021, you received a Shearing Fellowship at the Black Mountain Institute in Las Vegas. Can you tell us about your time there and any projects you worked on?
Busy is an understatement! I will say, though, that I am currently doing my best to manifest some work/life balance. That’s actually a little bit of what I worked on during my time as a Shearing Fellow, finding the balance between working on the next thing and allowing myself to slow down to find some joy in the present. That said, I did manage to write and record my sixth spoken word album inspired by the work of Civil Rights Corps, A New Name for My Love, and scope out the structures and themes for my next two poetry collections tentatively titled A Map of My Want and A Storm of Butterflies in a Field of Terror, and work on essays for my debut memoir. It was a fruitful time for sure.
Your most recent collection, Hoodwitch, is a triumphant declaration of survival and grapples with some deeply personal subjects. What was your process like for this collection? What do you hope your readers will take away from it?
I often share that many of the poems featured in HoodWitch took over a decade to fully come into themselves. I did that thing almost all writers do in the beginning, tell myself I can’t say whatever I want to just because I feel like it. No one had said that to me, not that I can recall anyway, but it had been a fear keeping me from taking the necessary risks to turn my interesting ideas into fully-formed pieces. That being said, when the older poems finally did come into themselves, the rest of the work came easily to me.
When the drafts were done, I entered into several months of editing feeling newly empowered to embroider literal energy into the work with daily rituals of dancing underneath the stars while sipping something, singing, praying to the ancestors, and lighting my candles. I slept with the galley under my pillow, carrying it with me everywhere I went. Technically, I still carry a first edition with me everywhere I go now, but back then, it was like trying to keep a child real close so I could keep an eye on it. If I forgot it for a little while, I’d look in my bag, see it, and remember that I had done what I had been called to do. Now, it’s like my best friend, reminding me it will always be there to hold me when I feel more than a little lost.
I celebrated every part of the creative and publishing process, both publicly and privately. I wanted readers to feel what I felt when I was writing—so I treated the writing and publishing process as a relationship. I set the mood, I reached for honesty, and I tried to be unapologetic. I wanted to introduce myself to the wider world with HoodWitch. I wanted this first book to recognize and name the many minds of the Black femme, first and foremost. I said to myself, “If for whatever reason this happens to be my one and only, because life is what it is, it better be my very best work.” And it was. I can tell you, though, that I’ve grown.
If there is anything I hope readers take from HoodWitch, it’s that if no one else sees you Black womxn, I see you. And ain’t we all we need anyways?
As a multidisciplinary artist, your work arcs across creative and academic disciplines through poetry, essays, music, and visual performances. Do you feel there is a connective tissue between your artistic expressions?
We were born in a spectacularly unique era, one that requires we learn to look beyond the identities we’ve inherited via the carceral system of this country. My first few attempts at trying to define myself for myself have involved embracing my natural inquisitiveness by learning how to play again. In this context, play means following my creative whims in any and every direction. Playing makes space for intuitive problem-solving and dynamic interactions which can transform one’s perspective on the world and the people that move through it.
At the root of my work, there are several questions: What does freedom actually look/feel/taste/sound like? Who has access to it, if anyone actually does, and why? Is there a price and who sets it if, by participating in this society, no one has access to it? Post-liberation, how will our communities function? No—really. Where will I go for socks? What does accountability look like in circumstances of extreme harm? What drives us and how does the “human spirit” impact the policies co-creating our lives? With all that’s wrong in the world, will there ever be time to talk about joy again?!
My projects are all, in one way or another, trying to answer or explore these questions and others like them. In the work that exists in the public forum, I feel like I’m still very much at the front door of a very large and unending expanse of questions about an undefined future for our world. I am trying, very hard, to translate the philosophical assertions about potential new shapes for our society into an experience or narrative that can be readily enjoyed by any and everyone.
What does your ideal writer’s life look like?
In my most lavish dreams, I’m partially off-grid in a cottage with a banging library, wi-fi, a well-stocked pantry, and wine cellar, a creek, and low-light pollution. Every day, I wake up and make brunch, read from the latest, take a nap, a shower, a glass of vino, and watch the sky till around seven. About that time, the music comes on, the dinner gets made, and the animals stop by for stories. Around ten, I finally pull out the draft as a well-fed, well-rested, and well-balanced writer who has spent all day thinking about the wonders of the world.
You’re throwing a dinner party to introduce work to new followers. What’s on the menu, what music is playing, and how is the table set?
I’ve always wanted to have regular dinner parties where each month, we get together and try a different meal created by regional chefs based on the theme of a book we’re collectively reading. This would mean there were no regular food items but, hopefully, we’d be supporting the culinary artists from around the area and getting the first taste of something new and exciting. If it’s warm, plenty of green lawn, and no neighbors for miles—we’re outside. Farm table all day. If it’s cool, there’s plenty of soft lighting, a large round table, and fresh flowers. My regular music playlists are chaotically delineated only by the year in which I have decided to listen to them as opposed to the artist, mood, or genre. Therefore, I’d probably choose some Robert Glasper and let the algorithm do its jazzy thing.
How can people support you right now?
I’m trying to make my Substack a weekly newsletter, so support there would be amazing. Besides my memoir about my odyssey-like journey through America and the next two poetry collections, I’m also working on a tarot and affirmations deck for currently incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people as part of my work with the amazing oral history archive group Texas After Violence Project, expanding my justice-focused docupoem “Bar for Bar,” and playing with the idea of a seventh spoken word album. General support keeps the wheels moving and the gears going, so all of it is welcome!
Who is another Black woman writer people should read?
Deborah DEEP Mouton
Nicole Shawan Junior
To get you started…
Torch Literary Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit 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 Toi Derricotte, Tayari Jones, Sharon Bridgforth, Crystal Wilkinson, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, and others. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.