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The Gift of Writing: An interview with Shaa Bailey

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The Woman Power’s Josiane Ménard recently spoke with Shaa Bailey, author of The Art of Ambivalence, a poetry collection released in July. A powerful encounter with a soulful artist.

In one of your poems, you talk about being a queer Black woman. If you had to add to that description, what words would you choose?

“Rebellious,” “resilient,” “strong” and “fearless” are associated with being Black and queer. I am also very loving, and I have a big heart—even though I can’t write a love poem to save my life. I do love, very hard.

Do you feel like, as a queer Black woman, you must convey a message through your art?

I do. When I was growing up, there were barely any queer female public figures to look up to. I started writing when I was really young, but I wasn’t aware of any queer artists because I wasn’t exposed to them. It’s really important to me to highlight that not only am I a Black woman, I am queer. My identity carries a lot of weight and I feel the need to address it. One of my favorite writers, James Baldwin, said that being Black and queer were two of the best things that could have happened to him; despite having so much going against him, he was able to overcome it all and release his words to the world.

Your grandmother played a very important part in your writing. Was she always supportive of your art?

Yes. She’s the one who pushed me to write the book. She would ask me what I was going to do with that gift of mine, the gift of writing. After she passed, I spent two months writing non-stop. I told myself I needed to do it because I’d promised her I would. I also dedicated the book to her.

How do you feel about your book now that it’s out in the world?

It’s so hard to explain. I feel no attachment to it, which is strange because when I was writing it, it felt like my baby. I had to take care of it, I had to protect it. I didn’t even want to let it go at one point, so I kept writing, putting things in and taking things out. I just couldn’t surrender. I was writing every single day without ever leaving my room. It almost felt like I was under some sort of spell. Then, as soon as it was done, I woke up and I let it go. I put it out there, I released it and it was over.

When I started reflecting and meditating on that lack of attachment, I came to the realization that maybe this book wasn’t for me. Maybe there were other people who needed to hear what I had to say.

I gave birth to this beautiful thing, something I wanted to do for a really long time. I finally sat down and put in all this effort and literally shed blood, sweat and tears. I hope that one day, I will be able to look at it and feel a sense of peace. That time hasn’t arrived yet.

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Are you different from the woman you were when you wrote your book?

When I was writing the poems, I was closeted in my little space and writing was a personal release. It was like I was preparing myself to step out into the world and carry my words with me. As soon as the book came out, I felt like a completely different person. I have all the confidence in the world—I’m no longer afraid to speak my truth. Before, I was very apprehensive when it came to sharing my art, because I felt like a lot of people weren’t ready to hear what I had to say. Now, I’m just like, f*** it. I always knew what I wanted to say but I was always sugar-coating it. Now, I write without a filter and I’m so relieved I got to this point. That’s the gift my book gave back to me.

Have you been able to write since releasing your book?

No. I don’t know if I’m still under a spell, but I feel like I’m going through a creative drought. I know it will be incredible once I start writing again; I’m waiting for the wave to hit me.

Do you beat yourself up about it?

So much. As artists, we often feel like we have to be constantly creating, so when I’m not writing, I feel lazy and useless. My art is all I have. When I’m not writing I feel a sense of emptiness and stagnation. I’m currently learning that I have to go through these stages in order to be where I need to be. I’m trying to be patient and not to force it.

How is Montreal treating you as an artist?

Incredible. It’s truly amazing to be surrounded by talented people who also support your work. I was shocked to see how many people came to my book launch. I received so many positive comments and it helped me see the extent to which my words were resonating in people’s hearts. It makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing.

It really seems like 2018 was the Year of the Woman. I dedicated this year to writing my book and to empowering women around me to launch their own projects, to do their own thing. The support has been amazing; we as women, as a collective, have had a very prolific year when it comes to creativity and resilience. We pushed the boundaries and did what we had to do.

What do you want your future self to never forget?

To stay raw and to stay honest. My grandmother always told me to say what’s on my mind. My whole life, I had to live behind this facade, this character, which was hard enough for me, being a Black woman. As soon as I came out, I felt a different kind of freedom. So, I want my future self to never forget to stay as potent and as raw as she possibly can!

By Josiane Ménard
Photos by Ghazal Samm
Artistic Direction: Samara Carbajal
Styling by Tishanna Carnevale
Hair & makeup by Laurie Deraps

Josiane Ménard is an author, online writer and psychoeducator. She combines her two passions—writing and human behaviour—to create safer spaces where everyone feels welcome.

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