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Imagine attending a family reunion and discovering that your family consists of some of the greatest creative minds alive who not only share your passions and your interests but come ready to share, encourage and inspire with ideas both familiar and brand new. Then imagine this dream family reunion is taking place not in some far off location, but in your own back yard. Well that’s what happened Oct. 8-11 in Detroit.
The event, however, wasn’t a family reunion per se but a reunion of sorts for those in the creative community. “Fire & Ink” is a gathering held every six years to bring together LGBTQ writers, journalists, academics, filmmakers and playwrights of African descent and heritage, from across the country and around the world. The last gathering, Fire & Ink III: Cotillion, was held in Austin, Texas in 2009. In 2002, the Fire & Ink Festival was held in Chicago.
Close to 200 participants from around the corner in Detroit to as far away as South Africa attended Fire & Ink IV: Witness. Some faces you knew – old friends continuing ongoing conversations. Then there were faces known only from social and other media – Facebook friends, living legends, authors and others – who we never thought we would meet but felt an affinity, a common bond and a shared struggle with.
The intention of Fire & Ink IV: Witness was to address the urgent question of what it means to bear witness as LGBTQ and SGL writers of African descent and heritage in the 21st century. And it went there from Day 1.
A theme which continued throughout the conference was the importance of recognizing and acknowledging the shared struggle connecting the African-American LGBTQ communities and our brothers/sisters worldwide from increasing translations of LGBTQ writings to and from English, to a focus on how the LGBTQ liberation movement in Africa is using media to share their stories and promote safe spaces.
LGBTQ films chronicled our heritage. Stephen Winter’s new film “Jason and Shirley” revisited the making of Shirley Clarke’s film “Portrait of Jason.” Although hailed as a pioneering documentary, Clarke’s film was frequently seen as exploitive and damaging by many in the black LGBTQ community. Winter’s look at the making of the documentary opened the door to discussions on importance of the telling of black LGBTQ stories in the voice of/from black LGBTQ lives.
Mindful of the historic role of African-American LGBTQ writers, Fire & Ink continues the work of ancestors like James Baldwin in opening up new literary territories not just for a generation but for generations to come by intentionally welcoming and including new voices, young voices, seasoned voices with stories told, revisited and explored.
Then, after lifting us to new heights of creativity, it was over, but not before a discussion on keeping the fire burning brightly. 2016 will be a year of transformation for Fire & Ink. Besides a call for new board members, keeping the fire burning ironically includes the passing of the torch by co-presidents Lisa C. Moore and Steven G. Fullwood who will be retiring from the organization. Fire & Ink IV: Witness landed in Detroit with the message that we are doing it, this is how we’re doing it and we must do it. It planted new seeds of creativity, innovation and imagination for LGBTQ writers, journalists, academics, filmmakers, playwrights and individuals of African descent to chronicle our lives. We don’t have to accept what others have done to us or rely on others to do for us. We have only to look at us for genius. The genius is within us and we must tell our stories.
And what better place to inspire a generation of visionaries, dreamers and witnesses than in Detroit, a city rich in black history. A city where its predominantly African-American residents, including members of the LGBTQ community, have survived despite efforts to be excluded and disenfranchised and opted, in the most uncertain of times, to wage love, to fight for justice, bearing witness to the resiliency of the human spirit.
WITNESS was more than a conference – it was a reunion, a festival bringing together the best of the best and brightest creative minds. This year’s festival ending heralded the beginning of a new era for Fire & Ink. In 2021 Fire & Ink will be all new – new board leadership, new technology, new evolving voices and new stories to tell. But one thing is for sure: black LGBTQ world citizens will continue to be living for and creating change and black LGBTQ writers, journalists, academics, filmmakers and playwrights will bear witness for history and generations to come.