In fiction—at least in the last six months—my voice has become free. I worry less about what the publishing market demands. Why? Everybody is worried and still only few are getting published. So why not do what I want to do since the outcomes remain the same? So I rewrote my entire novel and used the voice I had always wanted to use. Consequently, the scenes slowed down. Descriptions grew richer because the lenses became more aware of what exists in specific spaces. The writing tones had more space to roam and make the novel’s languages blossom. In my social media writing, I am free with my voice like I have become with my novel’s voice. But in my academic writing, I struggle. Why? I have been trying to write to fit in.
Avoid academic terminologies, some academic writing gurus say.
Use academic jargons to reveal your familiarity with the culture of a field, others contend.
Only use them sparingly, many advise, because you want to make sure you will be read across disciplines.
Conflicted by all these writing-guideline contentions, I read many academic writing books and tried to make my academic writing sit in the middle. Trying to center my writing was like trying to center my radical personality. It felt uncomfortable. It made me hate writing final papers. Because I construed assignments as a time in which I must ignore my radical identity and voice. Academic writing was a task; not pleasuresome. This has been my view for my entire college life.
But not anymore after a class with Professor Robert Reid-Pharr of the CUNY Graduate Center and my loving classmates! The class was called Theorizing the African Diaspora. How do we imagine the diaspora using paradigms of skin color and spatial borderlines of the Caribbean and Africa? this class asked like many others. But given that theoretical and narrative traditions have long explored (and still continue to) those questions, this class fundamentally focused on less popular interrogations: how do we locate a diaspora using nontraditional modes that circumvent spaces of the Caribbean, America, and Africa? What is the African diaspora of Latin America, Europe, and Asia? And if we must use the old borderlines, how do we theorize the Caribbean, Africa, and America with new terminologies, and explore their diverse diasporic identities? And how do we queer the diaspora?
Addressing the question of queer diasporic location in mid-semester, I presented a paper in which I allowed my voice to roam freely. I took the liberty to write freely after witnessing a radical, eye-opening, presentation from two classmates, Fabienne and Sean—a presentation welcomed by Professor Reid-Pharr. My writing goal in this paper aimed to discuss how queer as theoretical framework might be read in African spaces; but I wanted to produce queer writing as well—a writing style that disrupted the frameworks of “academic” writing.
The class had great responses about my writing presentation. Almost everyone agreed I needed to access that voice more often. However, in the subsequent 5-page Introduction for the 20-page final paper, I returned to the old confined voice. Reading that writing piece, the class seemed disappointed. They agreed it was well written, but they discerned my voice was too confined. They weren’t disappointed with the writing substance of the piece; they seemed disappointed that I didn’t allow my voice to roam freely.
Robert said something like—The writing is good but it doesn’t reflect you. So I explained to him that I wanted to make sure that my writing style is publishable in the future; hence, I’m practicing the restricted voice. Robert agreed that writing diversity is important, but he emphasized there is a way to negotiate my academic voice. The class agreed and noted that my liberated voice might be more attractive to publications than my overly careful voice—because my liberated voice sounded fresh, passionate, “and academic.” Yes, academic, a few said.
I appreciated their feedback. I thought long about how to negotiate my voice. Then yesterday, it dawned on me, return to the lessons you acquired from fiction writing! Don’t let your narrow view of publication frameworks dictate your space and pace of writing! Just like that, I knew I found my academic voice.
My academic voice is going to be whatever I want it to be, based upon the piece, based upon my passion on that subject, and based upon my mood at the time of writing. I will no longer approach academic writing by questioning my voice. I will now write like an authority of a field and an authority deploying a confident writing style. For writing production must come from a place of power. Certainly, it must be negotiated with the tastes of readers, publication trends, linguistic and cultural traditions, etc.; Ultimately, however, I, the author, must execute authorial agency. For I can no longer unconsciously conceive my academic writing identity as a production mode, reminiscent of plantation production paradigms.
Today, I’m writing an academic piece for Robert’s class—and hell yes, I’m even using patois in some parts of it. No more will my writing and languages be shackled. I’m delivered because my writing has been set free.
This is great day! I find myself using terminologies I didn’t even knew I had in me. I realized that academic terminologies of freedom had been trapped. Vocabularies, words, phrases, and syntax needed release. Yes, here I am writing my 20-page final paper—and I love what I’m reading. I love reading my own academic writing. Yes, bitch-Dadland, WRITE RIGHT!
Thank you Robert Reid-Pharr. Thanks to all my classmates, but in particular, my appreciation to those who personally acknowledged my contributions to that class: Sean Kennedy, Makeba Lavan, Abigail Lapain, and Mikey Rumore—and one other person I forgot her name (I’ll add it soon). For this Christmas, my gift received: writing deliverance.