A Conversation with Black Lesbian Poet JP Howard

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JP Howard is a Black lesbian poet, author, and founder of the Women Writer’s in Bloom Poetry Salon. She lives in New York City with her wife and two sons. Howard co-edited Sinister Wisdom 107: Black Lesbians—We Are the Revolution! with Amber Atiya. Sinister Wisdom is a lesbian literary journal, and the longest-running lesbian publication in the world. I sat down with her to have a conversation about her work, what inspires her, and her experience editing Sinister Wisdom.

Freelance journalist Carina Julig had the opportunity to speak with the author and reports for AfterEllen. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

AfterEllen.com: Who were some of your inspirations as a lesbian poet?

JP Howard: Audre Lorde and Pat Parker. Pat Parker was one of the first black lesbian poets I read and it was inspiring to hear a black woman writing about loving women and being so political. She also talked about being a mother, they both did. And that was something I knew I wanted even though I was a lesbian. She really inspired me to be my truer self.

AE: What are some of your favorite works by them?

JPH: Audre Lorde has a poem called “Power” that is really incredible. It reminds me a lot of what is happening right now with the shootings of black children and youth by police officers. (Howard has her own poem on this subject as well.)

AE: What do you see the role of poetry being in activism?

JPH: I’m a part of Black Poets Speak Out, which uses poetry as a tool to think about what’s happening and to speak up and demand justice. And that’s always been going on, people like Audre Lorde were using poetry as a political tool to reach out to people and hopefully people will continue to do that far into the future.

AE: So do you think poetry can be used as a bridge for people to find political their voice?

JPH: Absolutely. I think it’s a natural progression. from Poetry can inspire people to become more politicized and it makes room for so many different voices to enter.

AE: How have you seen LGBT culture change over time?

JPH: There’s much more support now. It can still be very challenging for young folks who are coming out unfortunately, but there is so much activism out there, particularly in this political climate. I’m hoping that will continue so younger people will know that it’s safe to come out.

AE: Are there specific challenges that are still affecting black LGBT people?

JPH Absolutely. I think issues with healthcare or access to healthcare is something that is still a major problem. 

AE: How did you get involved with Sinister Wisdom?

JPH: I first heard about Sinister Wisdom when I was at Barnard College and worked at the Lesbian Herstory Archives after I had just come out. Later on I connected with Julie (Julie Enszer, Sinister Wisdom’s current editor) and she mentioned it would be cool to work on a black lesbian themed journal. That was something I was really passionate about, and could only have dreamed of when I was 18 or 19.

AE: What was your favorite part about editing Sinister Wisdom?

JPH: Being able to look through all the amazing submissions we received, and see things from people from all different backgrounds. I just regret not being able to pick all of them. It was so amazing; it was something I had dreamed of. I wondered what the response would be if we put out a call and it was really positive. The submissions were a combination of people I looked up to who had come before me and emerging voices that I wasn’t familiar with, and being able to include all those voices was really incredible.

AE: What advice would you give to people who want to start writing poetry?

JPH: Join writing groups that are focused on what you’re interested in. I live in New York City so it’s easy to find things, but sometimes in smaller towns you’ll have to create something yourself, maybe at your local LGBT center. Becoming part of a writing community will make you feel more comfortable and it helps with your confidence.

Howard will be at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art on Tuesday, February 27 for the launch of Sinister Wisdom 107: Black Lesbians—We Are the Revolution! There will be readings by authors featured in the volume as well as a Q&A and book signing.

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