Described by the creators as “a new online literary and visual space to showcase the creativity and experiences of people of the African diaspora specifically at Brown,” Brown’s Obsidian Magazine launches on today at 7:00 p.m. The launch will include five or six submissions on their website. Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis. They are looking for both fiction and non-fiction, cultural analysis, thoughts on current events, photography, video, audio. As co-creator Paige Morris ’16 put it, “Any way a person can think of expressing a thought they have related to black identities.”
With the launch around the corner, BlogDH sat down the Maya Finoh ’17, Morris and Jasmin Jones ’17, Obsidian’s creators and editors, to discuss their goals for the Brown’s newest publication.
BlogDH: What inspired you to start Obsidian?
Maya: Coming to Brown, I didn’t really feel there was any literary space for people of the African diaspora, a specific space that’s safe and intersectional and open. I was like, let’s do this. If no one else is going to do it, we will.
Paige: I’m a sophomore, so as long as I’ve been here, I definitely haven’t seen a literary presence on campus for black students in particular. I know before I came here there was the African Sun, which is not really a thing anymore. I think our mission was not just to resurrect that space; it was also to create our own, new space that is dealing with all facets of the black identity.
Jasmin: My main concern is black femininity and black women. I think the voices of black women aren’t really recognized a lot on Brown’s campus, or anywhere for that matter, so I thought Obsidian would be a great outlet for that flow through.
BlogDH: What other campus publications have you worked for and how, if at all, have those experiences shaped Obsidian?
Paige: I work on quite a few literary magazines on campus and I haven’t had negative experiences with them, but I have never felt that those magazines are a safe space, particularly for some of the issues I would bring to the table. I think that the spaces I’ve been involved in are very generalized. That doesn’t really work to get specific with certain aspects of identity.
Also, as someone who previously worked for the [Brown Daily Herald], I definitely saw a lack of representation on the staff, which, probably unintentionally leads to… a different way of reporting and choosing what stories to report or what voices are heard. Especially because there is a lack of diversity on the staff and behind the people who create the content that is read by most of the campus, there definitely was a need for more black voices to be brought to the forefront.
BlogDH: What from your personal background brought you to Obsidian?
Jasmin: I consider myself a black feminist and I was talking to Maya one day about what spaces are available for black women on campus, any sort of space. We were able to identify spaces where other groups felt like they could go but not necessarily black women. I come from a single-parent household—me and my single mom. That’s something I’m interested in, hearing the voices of black women. Whenever there is an issue on campus, I feel like I hear from everybody else but not what black women think.
Paige: Coming to Brown, I’ve become a lot more aware of the history of black Americans and in questioning that, I didn’t really feel I had a space to express my questions or thoughts about my identity in a creative form. I come from a poetry and fiction writing background and all the places I saw on campus, I didn’t feel I could share such personal stories about my identity.
Maya: One of the most formative parts of my identity is being first-generation [American]. Even though I was raised in a West African household, I grew up in a predominantly African-American community for my entire life. It’s hard being first generation because my parents came over for a specific reason. And that’s not the case with American blacks. I’ve never had that discussion before. What it means to be of slavery and of immigration.
BlogDH: Is the publication open to non-black voices?
Maya: Yes. Even though the space is specifically for black people, I think non-black people can always have positive things to contribute. That’s why we made the conscious decision to leave it open.
Paige: I have always viewed this project as an attempt at a conversation, which does involve voices that are not strictly black or strictly one of these intersections we’ve discussed so far. I think conversation can come from all kinds of communities, and we’re open to it.
BlogDH: What are you looking to see change on Brown’s campus as a result of Obsidian?
Paige: It’s a matter of allowing black students with ideas and voices and something to say know that they do have a space. Right now, a lot of black students on campus go through outlets that are not designed for them or by them. Having something that is specifically designed for and by black students will bring together the black creative and artistic community in a more cohesive way than it exists now.
Maya: Yeah, for me, as a first-generation Sierra Leonean, I really want to see dialogue between the facets of blackness. At universities, and most institutions, you just say black students and everybody is “black.” And that’s not the case. Being black American is very different from being Continental African or Afro-Caribbean or Afro-Latino or mixed-race.
Jasmin: Yeah, I agree. I think a lot of the time when you think of black students here, you think of them as a monolith. I want there to be a place where black students can be creative and speak their minds and use their voices.