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Lethe Press is seeking submissions for its 2017 Best Gay Stories anthology.

The project will be edited by Joe Okonkwo whose evocative debut novel Jazz Moon we covered in a recent interview.

As with past volumes of their Best Gay Stories series, Lethe Press is seeking quality works of fiction, creative non-fiction, and essays that capture gay life in its entirety and range and complexity.

Selected authors will be paid for their submissions.

Deadline: March 15, 2017


  • We seek manuscripts that are a minimum of 45,000 words but no more than 135,000 words (and we are very, very selective on submissions more than 100,000 words).
  • We are primarily interested in queer speculative fiction. That is our specialty. We are willing to read and consider other genres (however, we have more resources to apply to such titles).
  • Currently we are only interested in reading poetry manuscripts for our Tincture imprint.
  • When submitting, please email to Steve Berman (at a synopsis of your ms. and the first three chapters as a RTF file or MS Word document. Please include a cover letter (you may list previous publications) and give us a sense why you have chosen to submit to Lethe Press.
  • Obviously we will not consider any title that has a negative perspective of LGBT individuals.
  • Please allow us 120 days to respond to your query; we do not consider simultaneous submissions.

We hope to have a cogent African representation when the anthology comes out. So: submit!

Read the full announcement for this and other anthologies here.

Good luck everyone!






CfP: 3rd EALCS conference



The 3rd Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies
(EALCS) Conference

University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

24th -26th August, 2017

Theme: Cartographies of War and Peace in Eastern Africa

Call for Papers, extended deadline: 08 January 2017

The Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies Conference Series brings together artists, media practitioners, literary and cultural studies scholars, students and teachers interested in scholarship in and on the Eastern African region. This conference is the 3rd in the series, building on the August 2015 conference held at Makerere University, Kampala, and before that, the inaugural conference held at the University of Nairobi, in September 2013.

This year’s conference theme Cartographies of War and Peace in Eastern Africa invites participants to reflect on literary, media and cultural engagements with peace and conflict in the region. Eastern Africa—pre-colonial, colonial and post-independence—has been a region marked by shifting configurations of peace and conflict, resulting from different policy and political frictions in the region. Beyond periods of warfare and violent conflict, even peaceful nations in the region have had to bear the brunt of the structural violence of poverty, economic and political marginalization unleashed by problematic macro-economic and political policies.

We invite literary, cultural and broadly interdisciplinary meditations on war and peace in Eastern Africa; through an engagement with key historical moments and policies in the region, including, but not limited to: slavery and early European struggles to control the Indian ocean, the two world wars, the Zanzibar revolution; the rise and fall of Ujamaa; the Kagera war; Structural Adjustments Policies (SAPs) and their impacts on everyday life; the Africanisation policies and Asian expulsions; the 1994 Rwanda genocide; the Lord’s Resistance Army and its activities in Uganda; post-election violence in Kenya; the historic 2015 elections campaign in Tanzania (mainland and Zanzibar); the Al-Shabaab phenomenon; the Darfur crisis; the South Sudanese conflicts; Somalia’s conflicts; the Ethiopian revolution; the Eritrean military encounters; and the recent Burundi crisis, among other landmark moments in the region’s histories.

The 3rd EALCS, therefore, invites papers that explore how historical, cultural and political borders and maps have shifted as a result of these incidences and how new allies have emerged thus the new cultural and political cartographies.

Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Politics of identity including aspects of ethnicity, religion, or race.
  • Violence, migration and exile.
  • Language and Culture.
  • Genres and trends in narratives of conflict
  • Eco-critical readings of resource competitions
  • Sexuality
  • Popular arts
  • New Media narrative engagements
  • Autobiographical reflections on conflict
  • African language literatures on peace and conflict
  • Refugees, dislocation and displacement
  • Human rights and Justice
  • Representations of peace and militarism

We invite abstracts (of no longer than 250 words) for papers that engage with the above topics and related concerns. We encourage submissions in either English or Kiswahili. Email your abstract to by 8th January, 2017.

The 3rd Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies Conference is an initiative of the Department of Literature, University of Dar es Salaam and the Department of English, Stellenbosch University.









James Knudsen Prize for Fiction

Contest Opens: October 1
Contest Closes: January 1


2016 Judge Anne Raeff

2016 Judge Anne Raeff

Anne Raeff’s stories and essays have appeared in New England Review, ZYZZYVA, and Guernica, among other places. Her first novel Clara Mondschein’s Melancholia was published in 2002 (MacAdam/Cage). Her short story collection, The Jungle Around Us, won the 2015 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and will be published in October 2016. 

See Bayou’s  interview with Raeff here

The winner of this year’s contest will receive $1,000 and a year’s subscription to Bayou Magazine. Finalists will be named on our website, and all entries will be considered for publication.



  • Submissions must be original, previously unpublished work of fiction, no longer than 7500 words.
  • Reading fee: $20, which includes a contest issue.
  • You may enter more than one story, but each submission must be uploaded separately with its own entry fee.
  • We accept novel excerpts if the submission stands alone as a complete short story. 
  • Please enter your name, address, phone number, email address, and the title of your submission on our online form. DO NOT include your name or any other personal information on the pages of the story. Any story with identifying material will be disqualified.

We subscribe to the CLMP contest code of ethics. UNO students and alumni who have graduated in the past 10 years are ineligible. All current and former Bayou staff, previous contest winners, and current or former students of either judge are ineligible to submit.

Click here to submit

About James Knudsen:

James Knudsen served as Director of the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans from 2001-2003. A beloved teacher, friend, and colleague, Jim taught all levels of creative writing at UNO from 1977 until his death from cancer in 2004. He authored the novels, Playing Favorites and Just Friends, the story collection, Evening of Wonders, and with his friend and colleague, Joanna Leake, the textbooks The Illustrated Guide to Writing and The Illustrated Guide to College Composition.






DJ Rahdu – Some Jazz 21

“Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” – Martin Luther

Free musical healing from DJ Rahdu. Enjoy!


The Cookers Quintet – Meridian

Jon Benjamin – I Can’t Play Piano, Pt4 (Trill Baby Trill)

Ashley Henry – St. Anne’s

Eddie Moore & The Outer Circle – Aural Denial

Myele Manzanza – A Love Eclectic (LIVE)

Takuya Kuroda – No Sign

Carmen Lundy – Soul to Soul

Ross McHenry – Clean Break (For Ornette)

Shabaka & The Ancestors – Joyous

Elvin Jones – Slumber

Reginald OMas Mamode IV – Omas Sextet (Time Rhythm & Change)

Rudy Royston – Rise of Orion

Common – Letter to the Free ft Bilal, Karriem Riggins, Robert Glasper,

Elena Pinderhughes, Derrick Hodge & Keyon Harrold









photo by Alex Lear

photo by Alex Lear



That’s Christmas


We sat silently at the table. Keith, the youngest of us, was maybe five, six at the most, I probably was around eight, sneaking up on nine. My daddy had said go by the table in the front room and dutifully we waited quietly.


There was no tree in the living room, no lights around the windows, no radio on playing Nat King Cole singing The Christmas Song—a song that unfailing marks time for me ever since I was driving back from a holiday party my senior year in high school and the song came filling the car with a strange sentiment, which in years ahead I would easily identify as a combination of desire and satisfaction. Nat’s voice had a very reassuring quality, and at the same time the music made you want to have someone near to share that moment, someone you could touch in an intimate albeit unembarrassing way, like her hand between your legs or vice versa, and catching green lights all the way on the slow drive home.


When my daddy walked in the room we all looked up, certain that this was an important moment. My daddy was a man of few words, he didn’t joke around and when he told you to do something, well, as young as we were we understood. 


It was maybe a week before Christmas. In future years by then we would have already strung lights around the grillwork on the front porch and on the edge of the roof fronting the sidewalk, and during the holiday seasons when we went all out, we would put color-coordinated blinking bulbs in all the windows facing the street, but at that moment there was only the lonely dining room ceiling light illuminating the bare table and the close-cropped heads of my father’s three sons as our giant of a man stood in front of us.


I don’t know where my mother was. She wasn’t in the room. Was she even home? I don’t remember.


Maybe I looked up at the fixture, a sort of frosted glass plate that muted the harsh illumination, the same kind of covering I broke one day while bouncing a rubber ball in the room. Boom, it shattered and a falling shard cut my top lip—the scar is still there, you just don’t notice it because of my heavy mustache.  


Then my father pushed his hand into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, opened the leather, extracted three five-dollar bills, gave one to each of us, said “that’s Christmas,” turned and walked out the room.


Nothing further was said. No lecture. No sugar-coating the naked truth. We continued celebrating Christmas for years after that but inside each of the three Ferdinand boys there was a calculator that added up each sentiment, every desire, all our feelings as part of the emotional audit we routinely did at key moments for the rest of our lives. 


Thanks to my father, my brothers and I viewed Christmas and everything else in life with cold, clear, unsentimental eyes. We could and often did go through social feel-good motions but the mask of mythology had been ripped off our eyes early in our lives when our father taught us the true meaning of Christmas: give what you can and move on.


—kalamu ya salaam












OCT 10, 2016

OCT 10, 2016




Detail of statue of pharaoh Amenemhat III in the shape of a Sphinx-This statue of Amenemhat III was carved in the shape of a sphinx; joining a human head with a lion’s body. This particular statue was part of a larger group of statues of the king, which were probably placed in the temple of Bastet, the cat goddess, at Bubastis in the Delta.

Detail of statue of pharaoh Amenemhat III in the shape of a Sphinx-This statue of Amenemhat III was carved in the shape of a sphinx; joining a human head with a lion’s body. This particular statue was part of a larger group of statues of the king, which were probably placed in the temple of Bastet, the cat goddess, at Bubastis in the Delta.






October 17, 2016

October 17, 2016




Colson Whitehead

Brings the

Underground Railroad

to Life



Colson Whitehead is an award-winning novelist, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a MacArthur Grant recipient and now (propelling him into our popular consciousness), on Oprah’s Book Club list for his latest work, The Underground Railroad. Taking his skills in writing speculative fiction and combining it with historical events, Whitehead portrays the story of slavery and the escape to freedom through a young girl’s passage on a literal Underground Railroad.

With the Vancouver Writers Festival now upon us (Oct. 17 to 23) and Colson Whitehead’s much-anticipated participation in the event, VITA chatted with the Harvard alum via phone to dig into his story-writing process and what led him to make the Underground Railroad real. —Michelle Gadd



What pleased you more, to find out your book was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club or that it was on Barack Obama’s summer reading list?

They’re both pretty good! It was a month of really good news in terms of how the reviews turned out and Oprah’s fans coming to pick up the book and then Obama taking it on vacation. So one wraps into one; a really great couple of weeks. Oprah picked up the book in April. I had just finished doing copy for it and wasn’t even thinking about publication and then we got the call out of the blue that she had picked it. They wanted to move the publication date and wanted it to be a surprise and keep it a secret. It turned things upside down.

Why did you decide to treat the Underground Railroad as literal?

I thought it would be a funny idea and it allowed me to talk about a lot of different things. When you bring that fantasy element to the historical record; I didn’t feel bound to keep my story in 1850. I could talk about a lot of different things and a lot of different historical events in conversation with each other so it’s really just playing with this ‘what if’ notion and then trying to see what story ideas I could piece out of it.

Who or what did you consult most for researching the historical basis for the book?

Not many who’s but some of the bigger slave narratives like Frederick Douglass. I went back to Harriet Jacobs again, there’s a history of slavery called Bound for Canaan that came out a couple years ago that was really helpful in grounding me in the main contours of the railroad and then in the 1930s the Federal Government paid for writers to interview former slaves: People who had been kids and teenagers at the time of slavery and it gave me really detailed nouns and verbs and adjectives to hopefully paint a good portrait of plantation life.



Why did you choose the voice of Cora, a young female slave, to tell the story of the Underground Railroad? 

It’s not clear what her age is, but once she gets off the plantation and starts learning how to read and have different interactions her idea of the world changes and her place in it. I had a few male protagonists in a row so I wanted to mix it up.  One of the first narratives I read in college 30 years ago was Harriet Jacobs’, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. And I hadn’t done a mother-daughter relationship before, it allowed me to talk about a different experience of slavery from the male, which I thought I could do and it was more of a challenge.

I noticed a lot of articles mention that you have children and specifically state that you have an 11-year-old daughter. I wonder if that’s because they think it gives you insight into the psyche of a young girl?

No (laughs)! They’re quite different! Whenever you’re thinking of a protagonist or a supporting cast your drawing from yourself, your understanding of the world, your imagination and empathy so there’s not much of a template there.

Why do you think as a society we adore stories of individuals who fight their way to actual or psychological freedom?

I think, you know, for this book it’s an adventure novel. You’re running away from a very hellish place looking for refuge. The stakes are life and death, so that’s exciting. I think if you make a compelling protagonist that allows the readers to see themselves in her struggle and hopes and aspirations, it’s part of the job of making a credible main character.



Did you fear any expectations as an African-American writer who publishes a big book about race and freedom in the era of Black Lives Matter?  

None. It didn’t cross my mind at all. Black Lives Matter comes together to raise awareness about police brutality. It’s not hard to draw a line between law enforcement in the slave patroller days and law enforcement now. The book is about race in America, history, and it wasn’t hard to broaden the conversation from the time of slavery to the way black people have been subjugated. It echoes throughout the decades in very similar ways.

In an interview with Vogue you say that in a few years time you don’t think the book will have a strong association with Black Lives Matters because our brief conversation about police brutality will be over. You compare it to Rodney King and the events in Ferguson. Does that mean you don’t have hope for change?

I think we progress very slowly. Change is very incremental. Perhaps 10 years from now people will pick up the book and there will be a brief conversation about police brutality. They seem to erupt every couple years. In terms of how I feel about hope, we can look to the fact that we have a black president as a sign of advancement and then we can look to Donald Trump and his racist, bigoted, rhetoric as a retreat from progress. So things happen very slowly.

So are you a Hillary supporter or voting third party?

It’s safe to say I’ll be voting for Hillary.

When writing on such a serious and dark subject matter how do you transition from your workday to family life? Is there a carry over of emotions?

Yeah I mean, I think when I was younger before I had kids I’d write during the night and that was my whole life. And now definitely my four-six hour window when I’m working is when I’m working and I’m not really thinking about it that much afterwards except in a casual way. I think it helps that my office is in the basement so I come down into my little hellhole and then I come up and it’s a different place. It’s a lot more full of life. I do most of the cooking in my house so once I’m finished working I’m figuring out what I’m going to make for dinner, getting ingredients and I cook and sit down with the family. So overtime I became less obsessive about work and more able to keep it separate.



You finish the last sentence of an epic novel that took years to formulate. What do you do next?

I went back to the start of the chapter and started revising (laughter)!

There was no putting your head down in relief and saying, “It’s done!?”

Yeah, I mean at the end of the day but in that moment you just go back and try to get the days work into a little better order. And then at the end of the day there’s definitely some wine drinking and that sort of thing.

Have you already started on your next book?

I haven’t. I finished the book last December and then there were edits, and copy edits and publication came pretty quickly so I’m just going to chat about the book, take some naps, see some movies and then get back to work in the Spring.

What do you want the reader to take away from reading The Underground Railroad? What impression?

It’s open to the reader’s interpretation of where we last see Cora. It’s not an academic book. I’m not trying to teach people about slavery or how they should feel about history. I think if in the course of my journey writing the book what I’ve come up with allows people to think about history or race or themselves in a different way or from a different perspective, I think that’s a perfectly fine goal. Not too lofty or outlandish. That it wasn’t a waste of time to pick it up.


© Copyright 2016 – See more at:







DECEMBER 16, 2016

DECEMBER 16, 2016






John Edgar Wideman’s

“Writing to Save a Life”




You are probably familiar with the basic facts of Emmett Till’s
brief, tragic life. Born in Chicago in 1941, he was violently
murdered in Money, Mississippi, August 28, 1955, allegedly
for whistling at a white woman. At the trial, his two accusers
were exonerated. When his body was shipped back to Chicago
for a funeral, his mother, Mamie, insisted on an open casket
so that all the world could see how brutally mutilated his body
had been. That horrifying event did not result in Southern
justice. The boy was black; the woman was white. That is all
that mattered. After all of these years, Emmett Till’s death
sticks in the caw of American racism. But even though we
are still choking on it, it’s difficult to be hopeful about racism
in America. Our country has been built on it and now we
have a president elect who sees it as a growth industry.

John Edgar Wideman, the American writer, has been obsessed
with Emmett Till’s death most of his life. Both were from Chicago.
When Till was murdered, Wideman was the same age. What was
he to expect when he first became aware of the murder and saw
the photos of the fourteen-year-old in a casket? His book,
however, (Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File), is not
about Wideman’s double, but the boy’s father: Louis. Few people
know (I certainly didn’t) that Louis, an American soldier, was
hanged in 1945, in Italy “after a court-martial conducted by
army officers found him [and another black soldier] guilty of…
rapes and murder.”
Louis was not quite 23. General Eisenhower wanted to tidy things
up, “ordering expeditious completion of all capital court-martials in
Europe.” The court-martials were disproportionately of black
Wideman’s near obsession is with the father and son, his
“yearning to make some sense out of the American darkness that
disconnects colored fathers from sons, a darkness in which sons
and fathers lose track of one another.” At one time, Wideman
wanted to write a novel about their relationship, but he gave that
idea up after, apparently, multiple attempts. Finally—and this is
what Writing to Save a Lifebecame—he settled on a book that is
part essay, a good part fiction (imaginary scenes between Louis Till
and Wideman, for example), and in large part his own memoir
about what it means to be a black father, son, brother in the United
States. This is a subject that he has written about many times
before. The brilliant fusion of the several genres that inform this
book are further illuminated in the following statement:

“Nothing closer to truth than truth—but the truth is—not even truth is close to truth. So we create fiction. As a writer searching for Louis Till, I choose to assume certain prerogatives—license might be a more accurate word. I assume the risk of allowing my fiction to enter other people’s true stories. And to be fair, I let other people’s stories trespass the truth of mine.”

What we do know about Louis Till is that he beat his wife during their short marriage. There was a restraining order against him, and when that did not work, the judge ordered him to enlist or go to jail. He enlisted. [Wideman’s father was in the Army at the same time.] If black men were second-class citizens in the United States, conditions were no better in the military. When Wideman was eventually able to get a copy of the government’s file on Louis because of the Freedom of Information Act, what he discovered was little surprise. He cannot assert with final authority that Louis was innocent, but discrepancies in the thick file demonstrate that Private Till was “sentenced to death on the basis of being the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time.” “Colored soldiers whom the army considered second-class citizens were suspects who possessed no rights investigators need respect.” Till’s crime was “a crime of being.” Not being white.

There are no real surprises here. The agony of Writing to Save a Lifeis the parallel story of John Edgar Wideman’s own life, beginning with Chicago and looking at the photos of Emmett Till dead. Wideman’s parents also had a difficult marriage. His own relationship with his father was complicated, equally conflicted. There’s a wrenching scene in the book when Wideman’s mother accuses him of being selfish, “Just like him,” that is, like his father, of not accepting responsibility for those around him. “When she addressed those words to me, my mother acknowledged the vulnerable place inside herself where my father reigned absolutely. Unopposed, unopposable, my view back then, because he didn’t care. To have her or loose her—neither mattered to him. He didn’t give a good goddamn push come to shove, about her or anyone else. Didn’t care.”

Wideman sees his mother as Mamie Till’s double and then he makes the most unsettling statement of his book: “A disturbingly simple fact: every time a him, a colored male person they love, man or boy, leaves and the door shuts behind him, door to a dwelling in which they are attempting to make something of their lives together, there’s a good chance that he, him, that colored male person, won’t return. Not when she expects anyway. Or needs him most. Maybe not ever. Once he leaves the space they are struggling to secure for their mutual benefit, for the benefit maybe of their children, once he’s beyond the door and out in a world which does not love him, there are no guarantees.” Either the world will kill him or he will do something that becomes the equivalent of suicide.

Wideman knows of what he speaks. Besides the conflicts between his parents, he has a brother who is in prison for life and a son also in prison for a twenty-five year term. These personal details are not the primary concern of Writing to Save a Life but their relationship to the precariousness of too many black lives, especially males. And to modulate his concern, when Wideman visits Louis Till’s grave in a cemetery for American soldiers in France, he discovers the discrimination against black soldiers that continued even with their burial. Louis Till “had more to fear from his own army than from Hitler’s legions. Nazi Germany did not invent war or race or genocide. Many wars waged before and after World War II. Wars being waged today whose purpose is to eliminate entire or so-called races of people. Us. My people. Done to us. Done to others. Done by us. Done to each other.”

John Edgar Wideman: Writing to Save a Life (The Louis Till File) Scribner, 193 pp., $25

John Edgar Wideman: Writing to Save a Life (The Louis Till File)
Scribner, 193 pp., $25

Yes, there are places in Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till Filewhere Wideman’s mixed genre goes astray. But what I wish is that the book will gain as much attention and as many readers as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, that it will sit atop the New York Times bestseller list. It’s that important.


Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = Twitter @LarsonChuck.

















My PhD graduation, May 2013.

My PhD graduation, May 2013.



The racism that ran rampant through my graduate program was like a swift, hard punch to the gut for me as a naïve, first-year graduate student. I had not even attended my first official graduate course before a cohortmate had marked by body as “ghetto,” despite growing up in the suburbs. I was devastated to find a self-proclaimed scholar of immigration saw no issue with her research assistant’s instruction to fellow students to avoid “talking Black” while conducting interviews. I was annoyed, but no longer surprised, that the faculty failed to see the problems with the ethnic theme of the annual department party.

My college days reside in my memory as a generally wonderful time of self-discovery, activism, and a willingness to have difficult conversations. My alma matter, University of Maryland Baltimore County, is where the seeds of my intellectual activism began to blossom. Undergrad did not, however, prepare me for the reality of oppression in higher education. The funny thing is, when I contacted my two main undergrad advisors halfway through my first-year of grad school, neither professor was surprised that I had been smacked in the face by racism in academe; in fact, they kind of alluded that I was naive to expect otherwise.

Whatever the reason for being surprised by the racism that I experienced and observed in my graduate program, I say with some reticence that my time in grad school has provided me with some insights that may be useful to others.

For Black prospective graduate students, I recommend, as a starting point, to be aware that racism is the norm in academe. Even if you are generally shielded from microaggressions, racism is deeply entrenched in the operation of graduate departments, universities, disciplines, and professional organizations. It affects who and what gets funded, who and what gets published where, who gets hired and tenured, who gets admitted, who graduates, and so forth.

As you select a graduate department, I’m afraid it is simply a matter of how much racism you will experience, not whether you will experience it. Weigh your options carefully. The supportive bubble of a program at an HBCU may come at the expense of your job prospects, yet the prestige of a top-ranked historically white college or university may come at the cost of your mental health and happiness. Don’t assume the presence of a few token Black faculty members or race scholars will be enough to overcome an otherwise racist department. And, given the devaluing of interdisciplinarity in the academy, don’t assume the presence of other, critical programs (e.g., African American Studies) will compensate for lack of diversity or race consciousness in your own (more traditional) PhD program (e.g., sociology).

Do your homework on each program you are considering. Contact multiple current students to ask about their personal and professional experiences — with coursework, support from and availability of faculty, with the university, with funding opportunities, with publishing, with teaching, with the surrounding city, etc. If you are interested in studying race, ethnicity, or immigration, ask whether that kind of work is supported by the faculty, reflected in the course work, and funded. You might do well with a few concrete questions that you email, and offer to talk to them by phone if they are available. Contact faculty to ask similar questions. Take note not only of the number of Black faculty, but also whether any are tenured associate or full professors; if you actually visit the department, use your budding ethnographer skills to observe how central Black faculty and students are in the department’s functions.

As you prepare to begin your graduate program, I recommend setting up your support network ahead of time. Your grad program is not in the business of looking after your personal well-being, so do not rely on it to feel your personal, social, spiritual, and sexual/romantic needs. I highly, highly recommend that you have a community outside of your program; I’d even recommend avoiding dating a fellow student (and professors are off limits). Get involved with a graduate student group, set up a Meetup account and your choice of dating app (if you’re looking), find a church, and look for an off-campus gym, doctor, and therapist if your finances allow them. My point is, do not center your entire life around your graduate program. When school gets tough, it’s nice to have other places to go to unwind without fear of your actions or words getting back to your colleagues.

I wish I could say this concretely — but navigating racism in a supposedly anti-racist or at least race-neutral environment is a messy affair. Find a balance between “playing the game” to succeed in graduate school (by mainstream standards) and authenticity. I made the mistake of “souling out” to such a high level that my mental health suffered. But, I saw others in my program who embraced authenticity so strongly that some faculty did not want to work with them or did not take them seriously, who struggled to advance through departmental milestones, and/or struggled to do the things that made them a strong candidate for the academic job market.

It is an awful catch-22 that Black scholars must choose between advancing their careers or advancing their communities. I am not sure that a happy medium exists, but I believe you can be successful on your terms and be able to sleep at night while making as few concessions as possible. It’s never too early to read The Black Academic’s Guide to Winning Tenure — Without Losing Your Soul.

The faculty advisors whom you select can either help or hinder your success and well-being. Before you jump to making a list of names, I recommend that you identify your needs, as there are many. In the words of Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore, avoid the pitfall of attempting to find a mentor guru who will serve all of your needs; not only does such a person not exist, but it is perhaps unhealthy to rely on a single person for everything. You will likely have a main mentor who serves as your primary guide through department milestones and helps you to get a job. But, I strongly encourage a second mentor who perhaps isn’t as accessible, but whose insight is just as important as your main mentor. You can have mentors who are more of a sounding board for professional and/or personal matters, but may have little say over your progress in the department.

Your own preferences and actual availability will determine whether these mentors are Black or some other race. A Black professor may be more supportive by virtue of their shared experiences with racism in the academy. But, there is evidence that white men professors may lead to better job prospects in academe, perhaps owing to their wider, higher status professional networks, cultural capital, and other resources that are unequally distributed in the academy. Keep in mind that being Black doesn’t necessarily make one a good, reliable, or trustworthy professor; unfortunately, you cannot assume a shared Black identity is an automatic sign of solidarity. And, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the white faculty as potential resources; maybe they won’t be sounding boards for the racist crap you’ve dealt with (and might even contribute to it), but they may have other means to help you excel in your career.

Whatever you do, remember that graduate school is a means to an end. This is not the rest of your life. There will be times you simply have to suck it up and do something that feels crappy, or feels irrelevant to your goals to survive and thrive as a Black intellectual. But, you’ve just got to do it to get that PhD and then do whatever you want. These professors are mere gatekeepers. They can grant you a PhD, but they can never validate your worth or value.