Poetic Justice: A Conversation with Joiya Morrison-Efemini
Nymeria Publishing is thrilled to welcome author Joiya Morrison-Efemini to our family. The author of three previous works — The Notes They Played, The Impossible, and Petrified Flowers — Joiya puts some of her most powerful prose on display in her newest collection, Darker Sister.
This collection follows Joiya’s experiences as a woman of color in America and explores the toll second-class citizenship has on the individual and society at large. Through righteous anger, tolerant teaching, and, ultimately, radical forgiveness, Joiya challenges readers to get uncomfortable and find themselves on the wrong side of the page.
While Darker Sister grapples with the reality that racial justice may not be achieved in this lifetime, Joiya’s ultimate rallying cry is that “you can do hard things.” With this in mind, she asks her readers to reflect and identify whether they fit the descriptions they’ve been assigned.
Prior to the release of Darker Sister, we sat down with Joiya to discuss her new collection, the importance of racial justice, and what she hopes readers take away from her work. Check out the conversation below and preorder Darker Sister starting June 19 on nymeriapublishing.com.
Nymeria: How did you get started as an author?
Joiya: I’ve been an author since I penned my first picture book at age five. It too was largely autobiographical. Ha!
I have always wanted to be a writer and have been drawn to poetry since my dad introduced me to the Harlem Renaissance greats as a preteen. I think we call that “tween” now? Throughout my life, the written word has been what I have gone back to again and again; in college and law school, during my career as a child advocate attorney, and being a full time mom.
DARKER SISTER is my fourth publication. THE NOTES THEY PLAYED (2017) is a collection of short stories written in verse. THE IMPOSSIBLE (2019) is a novel in verse, loosely based on my maternal grandparents’ migration to New York from Georgia. PETRIFIED FLOWERS (2020) is my YA novel in verse.
N: Where do you get inspiration from?
J: God, obviously. But, also the people around me - my family, my girlfriends, strangers on the street. When I write fiction I instinctively sprinkle it with truth and love. DARKER SISTER is completely biographical and autobiographical - every poem or essay was experienced by myself or someone I love.
N: What made you want to create a published collection?
J: Last year, we were all being held captive by COVID-19. I think a lot of people watched a lot more TV than normal. I was glued to the news. I watched the death of George Floyd. I held my breath but couldn’t even last 46 seconds. My kids and I ran 2.23 miles in honor of Ahmaud Arbery. And then I went back out and did 6.69 more miles because I have four Ahmauds. Breonna Taylor was shot to death sleeping in her own bed. Amy Cooper tried to invoke white woman tears to teach Christian Cooper (no relation) a lesson.
People of every shade braved the dangers of COVID-19 and marched. Mothers of every pigment heard their own sons and daughters when George Floyd called out for his Mama. And they were (finally) outraged! Articles went viral. Elected officials and celebrities spoke out. People who sat on school boards demanded MORE for students of color (shout out to the CCSD Board Members who are making headlines in their fight for educational equity in my kids’ district).
I prayed and cried. I talked to my children. I asked my boys, “Please be careful,” when going for runs in our neighborhood, and my youngest son, who was thirteen at the time asked me how being careful would have saved Ahmaud.
I prayed and I took to my computer and poured out my heart. It wasn’t a conscious decision to write a collection at first. But then I posted some of the poems on FB and people commented. I got a lot of positive feedback, but I got some negative feedback too. I decided to just keep pouring.
N: What can readers expect from your work?
J: Honesty. Anger. Vulnerability. Pain. Joy. Pride. Humility. Love.
N: Your collection joins the long overdue conversation the US is now having about race. Why do you think your collection is relevant now and how do you think it can help move the needle going forward?
J: This collection has been relevant for more than 400 years. As the beloved MLK Jr. so famously voiced, only light and love can drive out darkness and hatred. I pray my collection can be the love and the light that shows just one person their hidden hatred. The Bible says that people don’t light lamps and then hide them. Light travels.
N: Why is poetry a powerful outlet for you to tell your story about your experiences with race?
J: Poetry speaks to everyone. There are so many nuances. You can read the same poem a hundred times and see or hear or feel something totally new each time. Some people think poetry is not for them, but if they read the right poem for them, they discover poetry. I try to write poems that everyone can feel and see and hear. Everyone will not feel or see or hear every poem, but I believe in this collection there is a truth or an awakening, or a shoulder to cry on or validation, and always love. For everyone.
N: Your work challenges readers to “identify whether they fit the descriptions.” What does this mean and how can readers tackle these often uncomfortable topics?
J: People of color are often targeted because they fit a description of what someone else believes about them. In my collection I describe prejudice and bigotry. We all have preconceived notions. I want my readers to take a step toward self identification and then another one toward self improvement.
N: You talk about having these conversations about race with your children. Why do you think poetry can help facilitate these intergenerational conversations and help readers of any age understand the issues surrounding race in the US?
J: I’ll never forget reading Langston Hughes’ DREAM VARIATION in middle school and almost crying with delight, thinking he knew me. He died ten years before I was even born, but he wrote a poem that described perfectly how I often feel as a brown girl living in a predominately white space. My dad shared Langston Hughes with me knowing it would bless me, but not knowing how each poem would bless me specifically. I share poetry with my children for the same reason.
The power in intergenerational conversations is that elders offer the gift of experience and wisdom and youngers offer the power of innovation and hope. Our children are manifestations of our wildest dreams.
N: Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from your collection?
J: Knowledge and love.
N: Last question: what can readers expect next?
J: Right now I have two projects in the works. I’m in the editing phase of a romantic suspense novel entitled THE BIRD. It’s my first foray into traditional prose, and I just love the protagonist, Taja! She’s smart and funny. Secondly, I’m writing a YA novel entitled SERVING SIZE about a morbidly obese middle schooler named Langston.
Preorder Darker Sister starting June 19th on nymeriapublishing.com.