As I currently work on my fantasy novel based in Queens and inspired by the Underground Railroad (two of the characters are based on Harriet Tubman and William Still), I look forward to featuring others who are continuing to share the legacy of our ancestors and heroes who fought for freedom and for us to be here in this moment today.
One of those people is Lacresha Berry, a local Queens-based educator, singer-songwriter and playwright. Currently, she is writing a one-woman show about Harriet Tubman and t-shirt line for Air Tubman. Continue reading to find out more about her and her previous and upcoming work within the community.
“I just felt it was important to understand our histories in context to the larger global community and tell stories that haven’t been told. Instead of complaining about not being taught these things, I wanted to create a conversation that there are black Kentuckians. We exist and we helped to shape the state that it is today. We contributed to country music, blues and bluegrass.”
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Lacresha Berry and I’m an artist—educator, artivist, singer-songwriter, playwright, actress, and sometimes lyricist. I was raised in the great state of Kentucky. I came to NYC—actually this month, in 2003. So, I guess you can say I’m a New Yorker now. Well, at least I live the life of one. I graduated from the University of Kentucky with a BA in theatre. I came to NYC for grad school at NYU. At the time, I was really into costume design and got accepted at Tisch for Costume Design for Stage and Film. I ended going for about a year and began full time teaching in 2005 after stints of being a sub and after-school teacher.
Hey everyone! I finally have downtime after the Queens Book Festival last Sunday, so I wanted to give you some updates and reminders about projects and other housekeeping stuff:
*Did you know I am on PATREON! I updated my page recently and you can visit my page here to find out about what I am working on currently. Please consider becoming one of my patrons, any amount is appreciated!
*Speaking of which, I also began a project called J. Expressions Bookshop! It is an initiative to support and promote authors and writers in Southeast Queens and to promote the need for more bookstores in Queens, especially in this area. If you are an author, writer, book artist, book lover and want to collaborate, you can visit my websitefor more information and myinstagram page.
*By the way, if you are in the Southeast Queens area, there is a new meetup writing group, Springfield Gardens Poetry/Writing, which will include workshops and will “explore world building for fantasy, sci-Fi, and paranormal.” The first meeting is August 26th!
*I designed a basic logo for Space:Queens! It’s Basquiat-inspired, but I’m not unveiling it yet. Stay tuned to see what it looks like!
*Space:Queens will return next week with Lacresha Berry!
Hey everyone! I have exciting news! On June 26th from 2:30-5pm, I will be facilitating a workshop at the Lewis Latimer House Museum!
If you are not aware, Lewis Latimer was a 19th-early 20th century African-American self-taught inventor and draftsman, who worked with Thomas Edison and was greatly involved in the development of the light bulb, specifically in the production of carbon filaments. He lived in the same house in Flushing, Queens, which was later moved to location it is now and was turned into a museum. Not only was Latimer an inventor, but he also was a poet, playwright and painter. He was truly a polymath!
My workshop will explore the intersections between writing, invention and social change, three areas important to Latimer; we will analyze his poetry (and also a poem inspired by one of his poems); and attendees will be given prompts to write their own poetry. If you are in NYC and are interested, please RSVP at the email in the flyer!
For the past month, I’ve been participating on the advisory council committee and as a creative writing workshop facilitator for the upcoming No Longer Empty exhibition, Jameco Exchange, that is opening on May 21st at 89-62B 165th St. No Longer empty is an organization that works with local artists and community members in various neighborhoods throughout NYC to revitalize empty storefront spaces and other underutilized properties.
One of the exhibiting artists and performers will be Margaret Rose Vendryes, a local York College art professor and artist behind the African Divas Project, which combines traditional African mask ritual with iconic Black woman music divas. Her work comments on the intersections between traditional masquerade, spectacle, celebrity, iconography, beauty ideals, gender and racial performance, and spiritual ritual.
1) Tell the readers a little about yourself.
I was born in Kingston, Jamaica and (with the exception of my first 5 years and two years of high school), and raised in Queens as the third of six daughters and one son.
I completed a BA at Amherst College in Western Massachusetts, an MA at Tulane University in New Orleans and a second MA and PhD at Princeton University in New Jersey. With only four studio art courses at Amherst College, the majority of my higher education was in art history concentrating on American art.
I continued to paint when I could, usually during the summer months. Finally, I began my full-time teaching career in 1997, and continue to teach both art history and now, studio courses, at York College, CUNY.
2) What first inspired you to start the African Diva Project?
In 2007, I left NYC, and teaching, for Boston where I had the opportunity to focus on painting. It was a huge risk that I was compelled to take. That summer, I spent a month in Mali, West Africa. I returned so thoroughly inspired, not so much by the art made there, which is awesome, but by the way artists appeared fulfilled by making their art. They were whole in a way that I wanted to be.
Although understood in retrospect, my African Diva Project began in 2005 with a painting of Donna Summer from the back of her Four Seasons of Love LP. I painted her wearing a Baule mask (Côte d’Ivoire) from my African art collection. That painting, which I thought would be just one experiment and am still changing as the mood inspires me, helped me realize that I had a “project” when I returned home to face it waiting for me on my easel. I finally saw myself as a driven visual artist as much as an art historian with a purpose. I invented a hybrid professional category for myself, I am an “Artist Historian.”
Welcome back to the next installation of my Space: Queens segment!
Last Saturday, I attended the 2nd annual Afrofuturism conference at The New School and in the panel I attended, Conjuring Black Futures, moderator, Jamal Lewis mentioned that conjuring is associated with possibility, the “otherwise.”
I had the pleasure to interview Shanté Paradigm Smalls, a local professor at Queens’ own St. John’s University, and how she is manifesting the “otherwise” in her own work involving sci-fi, fantasy, comics, hip-hop, and queer studies.
2) Tell us about your current projects. I read that you are working on two projects — “Hip Hop Heresies: New York City’s Queer Aesthetics” and “Androids, Cyborgs, Others: Black Futurism, Black Fantasy.”
So, I’m finishing up my first scholarly manuscript Hip Hop Heresies: New York City’s Queer Aesthetics which traces queer articulations of race, gender, and sexuality in New York City hip hop culture from the mid-70s to roughly the present. I do this by examining film, music, and visual art. It’s a really fun project that started with my work when I was a Masters’ student at NYU and then I further developed it in my doctoral program in Performance Studies at Tisch. I plan on turning the manuscript into the press by early summer. The second project, Androids, Cyborgs, Others is in its nascent stages, but is concerned with depictions of black futurity in music, tv and film, and genre writing (including comics). The great thing about both these projects is I get to take my life-long love of hip hop culture and sci-fi and do scholarly, critical work on them. My life is really pretty amazing.
Hey everybody! Welcome to the first installment of my Space:Queens segment, where I explore afrofuturistic art, culture and influencers in my home borough of Queens, NY!
First up is Yvonne Shortt, who is the creative director ofRPGA Studio, Inc., and is the curator for Queens Art Initiative, where she works on several community-based art and technology projects in the borough. Enjoy!
1) Tell the readers a little bit about yourself and and what inspired your love of technology and math.
I’m an an artist, mathematician, African American female, technologist, and mother. My inspiration came from my uncle who started a company to help the deaf communicate with others and my mom who bought me my first computer, a Commodore 64. Also my aunt, her belief that hard work makes all possible shaped me.
2) How do you see Queens as a place of possibility and speculative/futuristic exploration?
We have so many people from so many countries and this diversity is an amazing power to draw from. It reminds me to use diversity in my work in my exploration – diversity including art, design, technology, education… This is what makes my work important and relevant I think.
Welcome to Women’s History Month! We just left Black History/Future Month and a thought came to me to do a link between the two with a new segment called “Space:Queens.” In this new blog segment, I will be doing writeups and interviews focused on afrofuturism within my own home borough of Queens!
Growing up in Queens, it always felt as if the borough was treated as outer space. It’s reputation as a kind of wasteland was popularized by F. Scott Fitzgerald calling it “The Valley of the Ashes” in The Great Gatsby, which Robert Moses later turned into Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Flushing Meadows Corona Park was home to the 1964 World’s Fair, whose focus was to showcase the latest and possible innovations of the day. Yet, most of the attention of the city has been focused on Manhattan and Brooklyn. I know many people who have said they didn’t like to venture out to the borough. I even wanted to move to Brooklyn once because I thought it was a central mecca for Black and Caribbean cultures.
But recently I have been exploring more and more of my borough and all the wonderful
surprises hidden in it. There is so much unexplored within Queens, which is why I decided to set my fantasy book (“The E”) in the borough.
Because of Queens’ treatment as an outer space region of the city, the history of the World’s Fair and technological innovation, the technological transformation of the Valley of the Ashes into Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and The Unisphere and NYS Pavilion having this retro-futuristic appearance, I am not shocked that the later two have been used in science fiction and fantasy film, including Men In Black, The Wiz (“Munchkinland”) and Tony Stark’s Stark Expo.
Starting this month, I will post features about Queens-related visionaries who are helping to change the borough, the city and the world and visionary stories about Queens! First up are Yvonne Shortt and Shante Paradigm Smalls!