Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind

The Question of Freedom: A Review of Spill

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What is the most relevant question to your freedom?

The Question of Freedom

by Kristijan Peev

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


What is the most relevant question to your freedom? – This was the first question that Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs asked at the beginning of her lecture at Macalester College. Her book Spill centers around this question. The question of your freedom. The question of what it means to have freedom. How can you recognize freedom? How can you evaluate and understand freedom? What means are justified in order to achieve freedom? Can someone dictate your freedom? Can you steal someone else’s freedom? Is it ever justified to ruin someone else’s freedom in order to get your own? What does it mean to be freedomless? And since every individual has his/her/their own definition of freedom, how objective can be someone’s subjective opinion of freedom?

Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, inspired by other Black women’s writings, explores the experiences of Black women in various times of uncertainty in their lives. Through her poetic writing, she sheds light on Black women’s stories from the perspective of Black women themselves. In particular, she shares her reconing of what people are capable of, what people have (not only materialistically), how people can take something from other people (such as our freedom) and how can people leave other people, (in ruins and disgust, as if nothing happened). Her book Spill has very subtle ways of approaching many topics and depicting Black women’s reality. She stresses the importance of knowing what you have control over. One of the things that people stress a lot about and consequently struggle to grapple with is the reality of other people’s expectations. Do we have control over other people’s expectations? How do other people’s expectations form their opinion of us? And how are we treated as a result? She also stresses the importance, or the lack thereof, of our expectations of other people.


More importantly, her work encompasses real situations in which people do not always have control over their lives, many times by releasing control due to violence. Those stories show how strong Black women are, something that much of the literature does not acknowledge. And rather than picturing and defining Black women as victims, Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs shows what Black women are survivors and heroines by choosing to live their lives with the resources that they have control over. Her work illustrates that strength and self worth come from within not through the eyes of the others.

Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs welcomes people’s experiences from various walks of life. Her work embodies the interconnectedness of living in a world in which you are not welcomed, in which you are not accepted, in a world in which you are treated as an object, in a world in which because you belong to a particular gender and race you are inferior. In a world shaped by other people’s expectations, which are in turn shaped by generational systematic racism and misogyny. Many stories in which the experiences of Black women are forgotten, unknown or unheard of. And as such the work of Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs is of a paramount importance in order to hear and learn more about the various struggles and battles that Black women have fought for so long.

Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ writing is strong and powerful especially for the audience of Black women. I loved her quote “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….before black is bad and broken i am more. i am not coin or token. i am deepest spell spoken. and you are shook.” – I can only imagine how powerful this message can be for someone who identifies with the stories that were described in the book. That is the power of words that intentional writers know how to use and impact people for better. These forms of resistance and resilience are indisputably the best way to not only depict a person’s experience but also validate and acknowledge all the struggle that people have been through as well as their strength and character development in spite of these experiences.


Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ Spill is truly exemplary. Her recollection of stories through poetry transcends the simple words used to describe emotions. Her intersection of gender, race, and class in the face of capitalism and other literature show how deliberate she was in creating stories that have lasting effects in a way in which they speak to people. Her stories were genuine and heartfelt and her work empowers.

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


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