Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind

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We Have Never Been Alone: Embodying Spill


Next year Leslie Parker Dance Project is using Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity by Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Wildseed by Octavia Butler as the texts inspiring their new Momentum Dance Performance.  Leslie Parker Dance Project engages performance as “it is an opportunity to “unpack” influences of culture, ritual and daily life practices – a process of unraveling embodied experience through rigorous physical exploration. Questions unfold in spontaneous and curious improvisation as live performance in real-time.”


In preparation for this new work, the choreographer, dancers and their loved ones gathered for a special embodied activation of the Spill Oracle to identify the breakthroughs that are bringing them to and through this work.


We Have Never Been Alone

“the ground has everything it needs/we have never been alone” -“Invocation” in Spill


although we are finding our strength

we have never been alone

my ancestors are here

we have never been alone

blankity, blank, blank, blank

we have never been alone

seeing mothers and daughters cry and hold each other

we have never been alone

our grief is teaching us something important

we have never been alone

faith. faith.

we have never been alone

love love love love love love love

we have never been alone

pathways cross parallels drawn

and when we arrive we are ten thousand strong

we have never been alone


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Spilling the Beans: A Review of Spill

Spill just never stops being Spill

Spill the Beans on Spill

by Adelaide Gaughran-Bedell


these reviews are part of the undergraduate class Black Public Intellectuals taught by Duchess Harris at Macalester College, Spring 2018


Spill, by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, is an eighth-grade English teachers worst nightmare. Grammar be damned——in this book, Gumbs makes the English language do her bidding not the other way around. Spill rejects a traditional narrative in favor of brief, poetic snippets of life. Each page tells a different story of ‘black feminist fugitivity,’ as described in the title. She derives the title Spill from celebrated Black Feminist scholar, Hortense Spillers. Gumbs sprinkles differing definitions of the word ‘spill’ throughout the book. We are given an overarching definition of the word on the title page of the book “spill/ verb Origin Old English spillan ‘kill, destroy, waste, shed (blood)’; of unknown origin”. These themes of blood spilled, of Black Feminist fugitivity, will characterize the work to come.

This book brings us into a dreamlike state; a consciousness populated by black feminist literature and imaginative narratives of life. Gumbs asks a lot of her reader as she throws all literary norms to the wind. We must work our way through one-hundred and fifty pages without any characters, plot, capitalization rules, or grammatical coherence. Instead, the writing uses emotion as it’s literary guide. In this book, Gumbs is attempting to capture the feeling of black feminist fugitivity on a piece of paper. This means that the prose is often difficult to center in reality (at least any tangible reality). Gumbs uses other literary devices to bring her surreal prose back to reality.

The full title of this book is: Spill: scenes of black feminist fugitivity, this title plays an important role in the storytelling. The second section of the title: ‘scenes of black feminist fugitivity,’ is a powerful tool because it ties the elusive narrative to the real world. Without a plot, characters, or a setting, the readers are left grasping for something to anchor themselves within this book. The title allows these scenes of life to become more than just poetic snippets, it organizes these narratives under the umbrella of Black Feminist fugitivity.


Gumbs has split these narratives into ten sections: “How She Knew,” “How She Spelt it,” “How She Left,” “How She Survived Until Then,” “What She Did Not Say,” “What He Was Thinking,” “Where She Ended Up,” “The Witness the Wayward the Waiting,” “How We Know,” and “The Way”. These titled sections are the closest things that we are given to a plot arc. They allow the reader to assign different narratives meaning within these categories. These segments give a sense of growth and movement within a non-chronological story.

The first section of the title: Spill and its subsequent usages throughout the book gives the reader a theme to grasp to, as well as a clue as to how these stories should be interpreted. This word spill is the only commonality throughout the book. Before each section of the book she puts a definition of this word, using a different one every time. Even in the title, she is showing us how many different forms language can take. Her ambiguity is intentional, the definition of the word is up to the interpretation of the reader, as well as the context it is put in. This is the case with the book as well, the overarching message of the book (or just an individual story) is not in the hands of Gumbs, but our own. To Alexis Pauline Gumbs, spill means Hortense Spillers, yet she did not title the book An Ode to Hortense Spillers or Hortense Spillers Inspired Work. She called the book Spill, a word that her readers will know and be able to attach individual meaning to.

What Gumbs is giving us is brief, imaginative, narratives of emotion. What we do with those emotions, how we characterize within reality or decide they are trying to say is entirely up to the reader. The ambiguity of this book allows it to be each readers reflection on life, and not just an individual authors narrative.


Gumbs writes every word in this book in this unconventional, nontraditional style. It may seem natural for authors to write their books in their style, but most authors will deviate from their writing style in places such as the foreword and the afterword. Gumbs never deviates from her poetic prose, even in the parts of the book that were not technically part of the book: namely the the foreword (titled: “A Note”) and the afterword(titled: “Notes”). But Spill just never stops being Spill. Gumbs is not just experimenting with different literary exploits in Spill, she has developed her style of writing to defy traditional American English writing standards. Her stylistic choices are intentional and drive her activism.

As a Black Feminist, her existence defies traditional American standards, so why should her writing fit into them? Instead of writing within the bounds of traditional language, Gumbs is reworking traditional language within the bounds of her style. Her unique and unprecedented writing is reflective of her activism. As a queer, intelligent, black, woman writer Gumbs does not fit into a singular American box, she creates her own box. That is what she is doing with her own writing, creating her own box. Her work is not poetry, it is not fiction, it has no explicit characters but still draws from characters, it cannot be confined within any traditional literary group, but still manages to be a powerful piece of literature. She does not lay out what her readers should get from Spill, the point of her writing will be up to the readers.

Although Gumbs leaves the interpretation of her work up to her readers, she is not writing for them. This book is for the Black Feminists who have come before her, and who will come after. It is for those living and dead who have experienced what it is to be a Black Feminist, a fugitive. It is also for the women throughout history who were unable to fight the Black Feminist fight. Be it because of death, disease, fear, enslavement, she writes for the Black women fighters who were unable to fight. She writes for those who have been killed, destroyed, wasted, for those whose blood has been shed. She writes for those who have been Spilled.


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Fugitivity as Resistance: A Review of Spill

black female survival as a miracle

Fugitivity as Resistance and Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ Philosophies on Access


by Gus Dexheimer

these reviews are part of the undergraduate class Black Public Intellectuals taught by Duchess Harris at Macalester College, Spring 2018


 Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson) by Cornelia Parker

When I opened ​Alexis Pauline Gumbs​’ ​Spill​ ​ for the first time, I was immediately reminded of a book I read last semester by the same publisher: ​In the Wake​ by ​Christina Sharpe​, which uses the wake of a slave ship as a metaphor for contemporary black life. Sharpe frames her whole metaphor around the varying definitions of wake, including the actual wake of a ship, being a​wake​, the wake as a vigil, and more. In a very similar way, ​Spill​ is structured around different definitions of the word spill, in addition to being an homage to ​Hortense ​Spill​ers​, one of Gumbs’ black feminist heroes, a theorist, and a literary critic. This structure serves several purposes, but there was one that stood out in both ​In the Wake​ and ​Spill​. In both books, the authors speak about black American experience, struggle, resistance, and strength from slavery to present day, although​ Spill​ zeroes in on black female experience. By centering their works around vastly different definitions of the same word, Sharpe and Gumbs remind us that there is no singular black (female) experience despite an age long history of societies, structures, and messages insisting the opposite.

In a similar vein, both books serve the very important role of complicating the narrative of the black freedom struggle by adding stories of extreme, powerful resistance in the face of a country, society, and history that is designed to crush. Gumbs does this particularly powerfully, specifically in the chapter ​”How She Survived until Then​”, framing black female survival as a miracle. The first poem of the section describes the miracle of a woman or girl having escaped a “boogeyman,” poses the giant question of how she did it, describing all of the obstacles in her way–everything from her school teacher to her pastor, right down to “the god of Abraham for not thinking about daughters.” In spite of all of this, Gumbs describes how “the inherited swiftness in her legs..let her run home that day,”​ allowing her to escape the boogeyman. In spite of a world which tries to destroy black life, strength, resistance, and fugitivity exist as a tradition, an inherited tool, and a constant. In fact Gumbs summed up her entire book when I saw her speak as “scenes of black women getting free from slavery until present.”

When I first picked up the book, I didn’t have any real sense of what “fugitivity” meant in Gumbs’ context, but as I heard her speak and describe her poetry in​ an interview​ with Jessica Marie Johnson in ​Black Perspectives​, I came to understand it as a vehicle for resistance and liberation. Gumbs alludes to fugitivity both literally and with a broader sense of the definition. In the ​Black Perspectives ​interview, Gumbs describes referencing Harriet Tubman directly within the idea of fugitivity because “there is no understanding fugitivity without citing Tubman…” but also because “​The thing that Harriet Tubman taught us about fugitivity was that being one person is not particularly strategic under the circumstances.​” ​ In calling out fugitivity as salient form of resistance during Antebellum slavery, she creates it as a thread through the history of black women right up to the present day. At the same time, Gumbs reminds us that fugitivity can look any number of ways–each poem, while each is a scene of fugitivity, is infinitely different from the last. Just as we shouldn’t need a reminder that there is no monolithic black female experience, we shouldn’t require this reminder about different forms of resistance, different types of fugitivity, but we still seem to. And Gumbs does it in a way that leaves room for interpretation, personal connection, and variation.


This brings me to a benefit of having heard Gumbs speak directly about her book rather than just reading it once and setting it down that dramatically changed the way I saw her work. Both in ​an interview​ with ​Left of Black​ and in person, she spoke of her intentional choice of becoming a ​public​ black feminist rather an an academic one. The foremost reason for this role was that she wants to use her access (to theory, to higher education, to literature) to help her specific community in whatever ways they need it most. She strives to listen closely to what her community needs, and to create something that will resonate and help in very specific, impactful ways. One major of feature of this relationship that she has with her community began when she rejected a job as an academic. Instead she decided to trust that her relationship with her community would be reciprocal–if she dedicated her life to making her access and her understanding of “high theory” available to her community, she trusted that they would, in turn, support her, both conceptually and financially. This creates a network of accountability. By not relying on “the academy” to support her financially, she has no responsibility to it and its influences. I came to see this in and of itself as a form of resistance and fugitivity. She enters the academic sphere, a space that has historically and continues to exclude her community, learns and accrues information and ideas that have historically been withheld from her community, and brings them directly into the public sphere in ways that she believes will be accessible.

This took me a little while to conceptualize because I don’t believe that I am the audience for which ​Spill​ was intended. At first I found her poems relatively inaccessible (in that I don’t think I understood them very well the first time around), but this could be for a number of reasons. For one thing, I don’t have a lot of experience reading poetry, I haven’t done it in a while, and I think it’s the kind of analysis and understanding that takes practice. Further, although Gumbs described the community for which she created this book in pretty vague terms, I’m fairly certain that I don’t fit the description. I have access to education, I am white, and I’ve been afforded plenty of access in other ways. After hearing more about who Gumbs creates for and the public that she strives to serve, it occurred to me that I may not find her poetry particularly accessible or easy to connect to because it is not designed for me. At the same time, I can still learn a lot from her writing and ideas and grow to understand it more fully as I learn more about her and her life’s mission.


Spill Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity and In the Wake are both available from Duke University Press. 

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Collectivity: A Review of Spill

Gumbs seems to be able to hold time in her hands

Spill Review


by Deb Pickford

these reviews are part of the undergraduate class Black Public Intellectuals taught by Duchess Harris at Macalester College, Spring 2018

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 2.07.51 PM


Freedom, possibility, and accountability. These are the three words that Alexis Pauline Gumbs uses to encompass her works of poetry that are included in the triarch that begins with Spill. Gumbs use and play with words throughout the work shows her strength as both an artist, and as an oracle of the struggle for freedom that black women have endured: past, present, and future. Gumbs’ work of poetry is an homage to black women and how they have navigated their way towards freedom. This freedom is multifaceted and shown in different capacities. At times in the work, it can be seen as reaching towards physical freedom, freedom from a circumstance, freedom from a person, or even freedom from oneself. Gumbs’ work is both universal and individualized; her scenes paint a picture that the reader can picture clearly, as well as even picture themselves in.

Spill may be difficult to read at first, the scenes are not in a continuous order and they do not tell a continuous story. Gumbs urges her readers to stray away from the habit of reading Spill as a novel with a traditional beginning, middle and end. She describes it as a work that is indicative of the collectivity she demonstrates through the abstract interconnectedness of the short works of poetry that make up the larger work that is Spill. Though, the author says that this work is descriptive of the work black women have put towards freedom from slavery up until the present, Gumbs seems to be able to hold time in her hands through the way she is able to paint the scenes as transcendent through time.

Gumbs’ emphasis on connectedness to other black women is also shown through her use of punctuation. The author does not capitalize the letter, “i” even when it stands alone. Gumbs uses this style of punctuation to emphasize how important collectivity is within the characters she creates. There is no individual, only the collective. The few times she does capitalize the letter, it is to indicate the collective speaking. This playful touch of intentional punctuation reinforces Gumbs’ brilliance in creating a ceremonial space for her black women collective to celebrate and recognize both difference and commonality.

Gumbs’ Spill is in its entirety, an homage to Hortense Spillers, a black feminist scholar who Gumbs said has “greatly influenced” her work. The reader will note the citations present in Gumbs’ work. Gumbs says that this inclusion of citations is a direct protest to the uncited work of black women that goes largely unnoticed in both popular and academic works. Through her use of citations, Gumbs once again shows her respect and gratitude towards the black women collective. By not only repeating the name throughout the work through the use of citations, but also using the title as a play on Hortense Spillers’ name, Gumbs subtly reinforces the importance of simply saying the name of other black women in order to have their work recognized at equitable levels. Gumbs uses her work to not only share these struggles of freedom that are able

to span age, experience, and at times even identity, but also to showcase the importance of recognizing the work of black women on a public scale.


Spill Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity is available from Duke University Press. 


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Accountability and Protest: A Review of Spill

She is saying Hortense Spillers’ name, but in a thousand different ways.

Spill: Writing for a Broader Public

by Clare Johnson


these reviews are part of the undergraduate class Black Public Intellectuals taught by Duchess Harris at Macalester College, Spring 2018

The cover art of Alexis Pauline Gumbs is enough to make anyone grab the book right off of the shelves in order to have a closer look. Upon further investigation, you will realize that this book contains a well deserved and necessary tribute to the Black Feminist scholar and American literary critic, Hortense Spillers. In 150 pages, Alexis Pauline Gumbs celebrates Spiller’s Black White and In Color, ​by addressing the concept of freedom and making it more accessible to a general public.  16422672_10102963303727372_3376124097467185387_o

Currently, Hortense Spillers is a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Memphis and her Ph. D in English from Brandeis University. She has made her mark by publishing

extensive essays on African-American literature and culture. She has chosen to focus on the issues of nationality, sex, and race, thus becoming a prominent Black Feminist scholar of the 21st Century.

While reading ​Spill​, you might recognize a lowercase ‘i’ in some sections. Alexis Pauline Gumbs was very intensional in her punctuation. Where ‘I’ is capitalized, she making the statement that a personal pronoun can be used as a collective pronoun. The capital ‘I’ is put in comparison to a lowercase ‘i,’ where Gumbs is intending for her audience to read as if they were the ones in the story. By doing this, she is creating a text that more people can relate to and therefore, broadening her public.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs has formatted ​Spill​ in such a way where the reader is taken through a progression of the word ‘spill.’ She is saying Hortense Spillers’ name, but in a thousand different ways. In the section titled ‘Where She Ended Up,’ Gumbs uses the following definition of spill as a verb ‘to let (wind) out of a sail, typically by slackening the sheets.’ She melodically writes,

“but that was not at all why she had come back to the south. and the moon in her. the freedom-better-be-this-or-it-better-be-soon in her. the glare-of-the-silver-spoon in her would not comply. would not shrink down and would not lie. so when she asked her brazen question she heard the forks drop but not the sigh.” (​Spill, p​ . 96)

In this paragraph, Gumbs is describing Hortense Spiller’s quote: “a terrible silence, when in the presence of the many who have forgotten or never knew.” (Spillers, ​Formalism Comes to Harlem)


As Alexis Pauline Gumbs published ​Spill​, she was simultaneous creating two other books, following the theme of celebrating Black Feminist scholars. She chooses to experience “possibility” through Jacqui Alexander’s ​Pedagogies of Crossing, ​and “accountability” through Sylvia Wynter’s work, (you can read more about Wynter in  ​Being Human as Praxis edited by Katherine McKittrick). ​All while continuing Gumbs’ mission of crediting under-cited and under acknowledged black women in a way that includes a larger public beyond the academic community. Gumbs says that when she cites these Black Feminist scholars, she is citing them as an act of “accountability and protest.”

Spill ​allows us to visualize the meaning behind Hortense Spiller’s publications in a way that we can understand. She has expanded her public through the use of more accessible vocabulary and examples. What I most enjoyed about Gumbs colorful vocabulary was the visualization it created for me. I probably would not have taken away the same feeling from Spiller’s ​Black White and In Color as I did from Gumbs ​Spill. ​And that is one of the reasons why Gumbs’ ​Spill ​is so powerful. It gives a voice to those who have been silenced. It gives a sense of freedom to those who have experienced captivity. And finally, it gives a feeling of community to those who have been oppressed.

Cited Work:

“News.” ​Leading Black Feminist Scholar Hortense Spillers: For the Enslaved, Love Was Unstable | Barnard College​, Barnard College, 16 Feb. 2017,

Spill Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity is available from Duke University Press. 


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‘Learn Not To Write Your Name in Vain’: A Review of Spill

Gumbs actively places Black women at the forefront of their own artistic story, rather than putting the Black collective or men in front.

Constructing Black Liberation through Poetry

by Chester Polkey

these reviews are part of the undergraduate class Black Public Intellectuals taught by Duchess Harris at Macalester College, Spring 2018


What are the intersections between academia and community development in Black life? How should Black feminist thought be constructed in a poetic sense? Finally, why is it important to acknowledge both Black history and beauty to empower the struggle for Black liberation? Scholar Activist Alexis Pauline Gumbs answers these questions in ​Spill: scenes of black feminist fugitivity ​as an artistic response to Hortense Spillers’ ​Black White and In Color​. In this review, I examine Gumbs’ conception of the Black Public Intellectual through highlighting the relationship between ​Spill​ and her own community work in Durham, NC. Next, I analyze Gumbs’ construction of a non-linear narrative to demonstrate her belief in the complexity of Black female identity and everlasting Black strength and fortitude. In summary, Gumbs successfully illustrates the resistance and beauty that flows between and through generations of Blackness by documenting the emotions and stories of past, present, and future Black women.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a Public Intellectual in that she connects her academia and theory to non-traditional audiences. After receiving her PhD from Duke University, Gumbs founded two community-oriented organizations: The Mobile Homecoming Project and the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind. Both of these collectives were created with the intention of drawing on Black Feminist and LGBTQ authors to inspire Black women from all ages, sexualities, and educational-levels. Gumbs touches on subjects from Marxism to Black Feminism in film. Through writing ​Spill​, the Duke-graduate proudly highlights the community structures and the collective history that has sustained Black people, and specifically Black women.

​ ​In the chapter “How She Spelled It,” Gumbs uses the metaphor of a table to represent the eternity of black history and identity. Gumbs writes, “she would have to admit the table was there before she was … she would have to trust that a table can be strong enough for a question” (Gumbs 24). The table highlights the recognition that community struggle should receive; those who choose to enter the struggle for Black liberation must recognize the background and history of the Black collective.


To students of Black intellectualism, the “public” usually represents an overwhelmingly White and middle-class audience. In this sense, Black leaders speak on behalf of their Black community and translate a range of issues for White ears to understand. In Gumbs’ case, her dedication to developing alongside her local Black community ​and​ her literary eagerness to concentrate on solidarity rather than individualism demonstrates her progressive praxis, or her commitment to turn the theories of underutilized Black Feminist intellectuals into action and teaching for fellow Black women. Her community programs and her academic writings merge, influence, and inspire each other. By making theory accessible in both content written (Black women solidarity in ​Spill​) and organizational measures (physical outlets for discussion and reflection), Gumbs performs an anti-racist and anti-capitalist form of poetic expression and pedagogy. These themes of community and liberation are reflected in Gumbs’ non-chronological style and content choices.

Each chapter of ​Spill ​begins with two things: 1) the chapter name and 2) one of the many definitions of the word “spill.” Her chapter introductions play a role in bolstering the perspectives of Black women and demonstrating the multi-faceted nature of Black women. Gumbs chose to organize her chapters by theme rather than by any chronological order. The scholar makes “she” the subject of the five first chapters before bringing up a “he,” “we,” or a “them” (the witnesses). Gumbs actively places Black women at the forefront of their own artistic story, rather than putting the Black collective or men in front. In a world where men constantly receive the spotlight or women consistently sacrifice their gendered rights to improve the lives of all people, Gumbs produces a text that tells the story of women first and then everyone else second.


Additionally, the different definitions of “spill”, at a simple level, explain the theme selected for the chapter. However, at a more significant level, the different definitions of spill showcase the variety of emotions, struggles, and expressions of Black women. Gumbs writes chapters like “What She Did Not Say” (62) which highlights Black emotional resistance and “How She Left” (32) which illustrates White ignorance from a Black perspective. Not only are Black women the primary subject of the text, they are also shown to be full of emotional complexity and depth. Like her educational work with the Durham community, Gumbs puts the emphasis on Black voices in ​Spill​. As a Black intellectual, Gumbs continues to center her work around the community for which she advocates: Black women.

In ​Spill​, Alexis Pauline Gumbs paints the emotions of the general, anachronistic Black women, but she also pulls in references from the past, present, and future. In doing so, the reader sees a constantly rotating circle of Black pain, struggle, and freedom. Gumbs specifically references historical poets like Phillis Wheatley (63) and anti-slavery advocates like Harriet Tubman (39) to showcase Black resistance, complexity, and personal liberation in a non-contemporary age. Modern social movement organizations, like Black Lives Matters, also receive indirect recognition. Gumbs writes, “Their children are learning to dismantle the state” (135). Additionally, by comparing contemporary social justice to children, Gumbs shows appreciation to both living elders and centuries-old ancestors for their knowledge and previous progressive action. Finally, Gumbs includes a liberated, alternative world for Black women in multiple poems; “when she breathed her people felt free” (100). Gumbs’ inclusion of history and future serves to show the Black community’s long life-span and to illustrate the continued power of resistance and emotion.


Like her spiritual mentor Ida B. Wells, activist-scholar Gumbs attempts to spread a gospel of Black liberation through unusual means and unusual formats. Through both her academic work and community activism, Gumbs successfully redefines the “public” in Black Public Intellectual as a Black female collective. In ​Spill​, Gumbs writes “learn not to write your name in vain” (121). Now, Gumbs is teaching others to do the very same.


Spill Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity is available from Duke University Press. 

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“Ancestral Kiss”: A Review of Spill

boom. prophecy.

The Fiery Feminist

by Bonnie Hoekstra


these reviews are part of the undergraduate class Black Public Intellectuals taught by Duchess Harris at Macalester College, Spring 2018


Artwork by Ruben Guadalupe Marquez from Survivor Love Letter Series by Tani Ikeda. 

There are many definitions of spill. Probably too many. The most common definition however, is “to ​cause or allow (liquid) to flow over the edge of its container, especially unintentionally.” This translation means that if something spills, the container in which the liquid was held, was not big enough. So in some ways, spilling something is a small act of defiance, to refuse containment. The liquid refuses to stay within its boundaries and when given the opportunity, it flows out and wreaks havoc on your carpet and your mother’s serenity. It stains, seeps into the floorboard cracks, and demands immediate attention. In Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ novel ​Spill: Scenes of Feminist Fugitivity, ​the author weaves the various definitions of spill into her poetry. Each definition frames a section of the book and highlights how black women exceed and disrupt the parameters in which they are held. ​Spill ​is a declaration of defiance that celebrates the perseverance and steadfast existence of black women.

Examples of such declarations, come from the experiences of many black feminist writers, but one particularly notable account was that of Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till, who spilled her son’s horrific murder to the nation. Who unapologetically demanded that the public see the atrocities carved into Emmett’s face. Gumbs also dedicates pieces to Harriet Tubman who embraced a life wrought with the perils of fugitivity, and who made it her personal mission to bring freedom to the enslaved. She illustrates centuries of suffering and resilience and pays homage to those who came before her. ​Spill ​celebrates and commemorates the legacy of female fighters and activists with an “ancestral kiss”, but maintains the importance of the individual and the reality of everyday black women (Gumbs 34). She creates a space for a community of black feminist writers, activists, theorists, artists, mothers, singers, and people. ​Spill​ is a place where the lives and thoughts of many converge, but identities are not lost. Each page is a scene from a vast array of black female voices that conveys a personal message. She includes thoughts of suicide and experiences with domestic violence and rape and fearlessly showcases the vulnerability and fear of black women. Her words illustrate the struggle to overcome numerous forms of oppression in a heteropatriarchal, capitalist, racist and basically all the “ists” and “isms” of society. She features intimate descriptions of women- “their bold black feet,” the “resilience of their sweet brown flesh” and their unshakable courage. Alexis Gumbs creates recognizable poetry that resonates with everyday black women. She writes with the women she cites, not just about them. Instead of merely rehashing their experiences in her own words, she brings their voices into her work and writes in a way that maintains their raw and original emotions.

Unlike the way history recalls the events of the past, Gumbs constantly cites the voices of black women. She protests the historical pattern in which black activists and individuals were ignored and silenced. Women worked in the trenches of the Civil Rights Movement yet they are rarely remembered for their contributions. They organized sit-ins and protests, published literature, and rallied many black citizens in the fight for equality and Gumbs honors their impact. Not only does she reference their work in ​Spill, ​but she also made the conscious decision to not capitalize the noun I. Instead, the author consistently uses the pronoun i to emphasize the importance of the individual. Gumbs denies the collective function of the uppercase I which she believes signifies a collective identity. A lowercase i speaks to the individual. And ​Spill ​is intended to allow the reader to apply their own perspective and integrate their own life to the context of the poetry.

This brings us to the oracle bit of Alexis Gumbs’ work. Although I do not personally believe in prophecies, I will withhold that belief and simply describe how freaking cool it was to find out that the book functions as an oracle. Just as the author intended, it really is possible to apply one’s own perspective to the text. All you have to do is ask it a question related to freedom, possibility, or accountability or pretty much any topic for that matter, think of a number between 1 and 150, and boom prophecy. After reading the book and then discovering this information, it made the whole thing make a little bit more sense. Alexis Gumbs created a piece of literature that effectively allows for the reader to insert themselves into the text and bring their own experiences to the table. ​Spill ​simultaneously celebrates the legacy and resilience of past black feminists and connects them to those more modern. ​Spill ​encourages people to endlessly spill their stories and celebrate those that have already been told.


Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity is available at Duke University Press. 

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Black Feminist Love: A Review of Spill

Spill is grounded in the respect and love of one Black female intellectual for another. It is the ultimate feminist prose

Black Feminist Love in Spill

by Anya Ptacek


these reviews are part of the undergraduate class Black Public Intellectuals taught by Duchess Harris at Macalester College, Spring 2018


Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ collection of prose titled, Spill may be the young author’s debut publication, but it carries the wisdom and experience of a veteran poet. Spill is an assemblage of thought primarily based on the work of acclaimed Black female academic, Hortense Spillers. On each page, Gumbs uses a singular quote from Spillers book of essays, Black, White and in Color, as well as others to reflect on a wide range of topics relating to the oppression of Black women. The end result is a work in which Gumbs cites Spillers literally hundreds of times—provoking readers to recognize how widely under cited Black female academics are.

Simultaneously, Gumbs up-cycles dense academic work into gorgeously crafted prose that is both confident in its own message and intensely empowering. This allows for a much wider audience to experience Spillers’ work. Gumbs uses a similar format in her newest publication, M Archive in which she cites Black female intellectual M. Jacqui Alexander’s book, Pedagogies of Crossing, on every single page.

Growing up, Gumbs was largely inspired by notable Black female figures, such as Ida B. Wells, who taught her the value of pursuing your fate no matter the odds the world places against you. Gumbs admiration of strong Black women is thoroughly evident throughout Spill which is grounded in the respect and love of one Black female intellectual for another. It is the ultimate feminist prose—constructed from a history of strong, insightful Black women. Accordingly, Spill is not just a well- written contemporary work of literature, but a statement piece. It is an evocative performance art, encapsulated and preserved for eternity in beautifully arranged prose.

Gumbs summoned the power of Spill when she came to visit and teach my American Studies class this past week. She referred to the work as a “freedom oracle,” a term which I simultaneously did not understand and felt as though granted too much power to the book. Gumbs had each student reflect on their most personal inhibition and come up with a question, which, if answered, would free them from that inhibition. She then asked students to volunteer in sharing their questions and subsequently provide a random number between 1-100. Gumbs would read the passage that was on the page of the given number and that passage would answer the student’s freedom question. At the start of this exercise, I was unsure of Gumbs ultimate intention. Was she trying to show us that her writing could be the solution to any of our issues?

The objective of this activity was lost on me until she answered the first question by reading a passage of “Spill”. It was then that I came to the realization that Gumbs was not trying to show us the power of her own work, but rather the collective knowledge of Black female intellectuals. When Gumbs refers to Spill as the “freedom oracle” she is ultimately referring to it as an incredible reserve of knowledge and understanding that has resulted from centuries of Black suffering and oppression.


The format of Spill very much reflects the thought behind the work in the powerful way it presents each new page. Each page contains a new thought, a new scene that has neither a beginning nor an end. Instead, each scene is left open ended, as if stuck in the middle. This format would appear to be disjointed if it were not separated into sections, each referring to a different definition of the word “spill.” These definitions provide a concrete train of thought for the reader to follow throughout the book without feeling overwhelmed and lost by the open-endedness of each page. The result of this is an organized chaos—there is no single storyline to follow yet the structure of the work guides readers and is ultimately very comforting.

For such a young author, Gumbs has already accomplished substantial feats. Her presence in person and on paper is that of respect, admiration, respect, and wisdom. It is as the words of her opening poem inspire,

“…fire is blazing the brash blues women the black-eyed women
the wiry women with guns
the fire is becoming the sun

our work here is not done”

Gumbs, in this instance, is both the author and subject of her work. It will be a pleasure to witness Gumbs develop as an author with her upcoming publications as well as her inspiring work as a fierce activist.


Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity is available from Duke University Press. 


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Devotion: A Review of Spill

My reaction to ​Spill​ speaks to the aspects of academia that Gumbs challenges, in her book and in her daily life.

A Visit from a Community Accountable Scholar

by Anna Klevin

these reviews are part of the undergraduate class Black Public Intellectuals taught by Duchess Harris at Macalester College, Spring 2018

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Gumbs at University of Arizona.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs taught the entirety of our Wednesday night class seated cross legged on a tabletop in front of a projection of a collage of Ida B. Wells. Over the course of three hours she completely changed the way I thought about her most recent book, ​Spill: Scenes of Black feminist fugitivity.

Spill​ is far harder to categorize than any other text we’ve read. Each page contains one poem, or “scene”, that tell the story of an unnamed woman in various stages of an escape. The poems are broken up by various formal definitions of the word “spill.” Like a good Macalester student, my eyes were trained to find the political commentary during my first read through. Some poems evoked familiar scenes of Black protest. At first I dismissed the prose which I perceived as more personal to be less substantive. Overall, I initially struggled to see the book as a whole as a political text.

Gumb’s class cameo helped me understand how ​Spill​ is subversive and political ​because ​her academic public (people like me) will not immediately understand its political character. My reaction to ​Spill​ speaks to the aspects of academia that Gumbs challenges, in her book and in her daily life.

Spill​ is both an academic and spiritual devotion. Instead of engaging our analytical brain, which academia usually targets, it introduces an emotional dimension to theory, breathing life back into the jargon and all the alien features of academia that drive a wedge between Black academics and their publics. She folds in the experiences of historical figures like Rosa Parks and Mamie Till without explicitly naming them, making their famous experiences both palpable and universal.

The genre bending of her book parallels her life path, which is by all accounts unconventional for an academic. After finishing her PhD she turned down positions at universities, opting instead to take an enormous risk: she founded the ​Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind in her home community of Durham, North Carolina. She calls the organization a “transmedia- enabled community school (aka tiny black feminist university) and lending library.” In class she recounted the great uncertainty and excitement she felt investing in her community, who paid her living expenses while she got the school off the ground.

Gumbs does not aim to produce new knowledge ​on​ this subject, or improve on the work of her informants, as the academy expects of a PhD. Instead, in her words, she writes not ​about,​ but with ​Hortense Spillers.


This language challenges the way we think about the development of Black intellectualism. In this class we’ve studied feuds between public intellectuals like Richard Wright and James Baldwin, pointed out generational, religious and class differences to rationalize their conflicts, and tracked their personal evolutions. The result is that we subconsciously or consciously derive a linear progression of Black intellectualism. I think Spill pushes back against this tendency by publishing a work that is guided by the words of an academic who is much older than her. The book is a physical artifact of the main goal of her school: “​the intergenerational practice of describing and accounting for how we are transformatively interconnected.”

In another stand against the status quo in academia, ​Spill​ gives credit where credit it due to those women who laid the groundwork for her studies, in the form of an appendix listing which of Spiller’s quotes inspired which scene. Academics have always stolen and/or appropriated the work of Black women intellectuals at a high rate. Gumbs explained that her meticulous citations are a pointed retort at the throes of academics who devalue the contributions of Black women, as well as a form of compensation for Spillers.

Spill​ makes the academic intimate, with jives with the subject of Spillers’ scholarship in a roundabout way. When Gumbs and Spillers appeared in a TV interview together last year, they discussed the latter’s research about how intimacy was robbed from enslaved families. Under slavery, sexual encounters were tightly coupled with brutality because plantation owners often fathered slave’s children. Needless to say that White men’s assault on the Black female body and the resulting association between intimacy and violence that Black women harbored did not end with the formal abolition of slavery. ​Spill ​speaks to this. The last two sections depict black women wrestling with new-found freedom, which entails the rediscovery of stolen intimacy in the broadest sense of the word.

It won’t surprise you that the class environment Gumbs created was more intimate than any I’ve I’ve entered here. She lead us in an activity in which she put her book to use as an “oracle” to advise our personal questions related to three themes: freedom, possibility and accountability. At first I wondered: how can a book about Black female liberation be ​my ​oracle? But much of the oracle’s advice rang true, a testament perhaps to the innate humanity of her book, but more likely to the breadth of her life experience, as someone who straddles disparate worlds. I am grateful to have ​Spill​ the book as a memento of her too-short visit.

Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity is available from Duke University Press. 

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Intimate Scholarship: A Review of Spill

For me, it comes down to an invitation.

Spill​: Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Intimate Scholarship

by Adele Welch

these reviews are part of the undergraduate class Black Public Intellectuals taught by Duchess Harris at Macalester College, Spring 2018


“This is going to open me up in a particular way that’s unpredictable,” ​author-scholar Alexis Pauline Gumbs commented​ about writing and teaching her book of poetry, ​Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity​. For herself as well as her readers, Gumbs’ reflection is spot on. ​Spill ​is a dynamic collection of poetry that asks its readers to celebrate what Black feminism can teach us about vulnerability and intimacy.

“Spill” ​is a reference to Black feminist theorist Hortense Spillers, whose scholarly writing serves as a direct inspiration for Gumbs’ poems. ​Spillers herself said​ that Gumbs’ writing evokes intimacy and “political passion.” How is Gumbs able to elicit unguarded closeness between her audience’s experience and her poems, and her poems and Spiller’s Black feminist scholarship? For me, it comes down to an invitation.

When readers pick up ​Spill, ​they are met with 150 short pages of unassuming free verse poetry. While Gumbs writing is personal, she extends an invitation to her readers to consider each scene a place of intimate self-reflection as well. For example, take the following segment of a poem on page 131:

“i am before that. i am not born this morning when you wake up in fear and look frantic for breakfast to belittle, for something to burn and consume. i am before that. present like dew and like steam and like dreams without request. i am not assembled on demand when you suddenly don’t know what to say. i am before that.

when domination wants a name i am old. before my sweat is sold i am gold. i am a circular story retold. i am fire i am root. i am cavernous ravenous proof. so fly that i precede the lie. so bright born the same day as the sky.

so just try.”

I interpret Gumbs’ use of “i” statements as an assertion of her full existence as a human being. She is Black, she is a woman, she is queer, she is more, she is full, and her presence does not live only within the context of oppression. She is “before that.” (Before what? Colonialism, slavery, racism?) At the same time, Gumbs’ repetition of “i” allows readers to situate themselves directly within the poem and apply it to their own lives. While the text is made for Black women, readers of other identities (such as white women like myself) can simultaneously acknowledge its intention and the ways we too connect. Gumbs brings up a sense of collectivity herself by citing the following words by Spillers as inspiration for this particular piece: “the personal pronouns are offered in the service of a collective function” (Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,” 203).


The first time I read the above poem, I wrote in the margins, “you cannot use me because I am full,” with a specific personal meaning in mind. I do not normally engage with the work of scholars so freely or privately. But Gumbs isn’t just any public intellectual.

Throughout ​Spill​, Gumbs makes Black feminist scholarship into accessible poetry, and vice versa. Her position as a self-described “community accountable intellectual” grounds her work in the public she writes for. It takes a certain level of vulnerability for an intellectual to interrogate who their scholarship benefits, but Gumbs intentionally invites a broad audience to engage with her work. Quite literally, she invites her community to her living room. Instead of working for an institution, Gumbs runs an educational program for everyday people out of her home in North Carolina called “Eternal Sunshine of the Black Feminist Mind.” At the school, her poetry is just as much her students’ as it is hers. That is radical accessibility. That is intimacy.

Another aspect of being a “community accountable intellectual,” I would argue, is to acknowledge your relationship to the thinkers that came before you. Gumbs intended to write ​Spill ​not simply about, but with​ Spillers and her scholarship. She calls her collection of poems a “ceremony for the intimacy” between the two of them. In the same way Gumbs is accountable to her students, she is accountable to Spillers. Therefore, Gumbs upholds the possibilities of mutually liberating relationships between Black feminists of all educational levels and backgrounds. We can all afford to learn from her relationship-based approach to organizing.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ ​Spill​ is an excellent book that translates Hortense Spillers’ Black feminist scholarship into intimate and accessible poetry. Yet Gumbs’ work is not just a reproduction of Spillers’; it is a fresh and important take on what it means to be a Black feminist intellectual.

So thank you for the invite.