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Charis welcomes Francesca Royster in conversation with Alexis Pauline Gumbs for a discussion of Choosing Family: A Memoir of Queer Motherhood and Black Resistance. A brilliant literary memoir of chosen family and chosen heritage, told against the backdrop of Chicago’s North and South Sides.
As a multiracial household in Chicago’s North Side community of Rogers Park, race is at the core of Francesca T. Royster and her family's world, influencing everyday acts of parenting and the conception of what family truly means. Like Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, this lyrical and affecting memoir focuses on a unit of three: the author; her wife Annie, who's white; and Cecilia, the Black daughter they adopt as a couple in their forties and fifties. Choosing Family chronicles this journey to motherhood while examining the messiness and complexity of adoption and parenthood from a Black, queer, and feminist perspective. Royster also explores her memories of the matriarchs of her childhood and the homes these women created in Chicago’s South Side—itself a dynamic character in the memoir—where “family” was fluid, inclusive, and not necessarily defined by marriage or other socially recognized contracts.
Calling upon the work of some of her favorite queer thinkers, including José Esteban Muñoz and Audre Lorde, Royster interweaves her experiences and memories with queer and gender theory to argue that many Black families, certainly her own, have historically had a “queer” attitude toward family: configurations that sit outside the white normative experience and are the richer for their flexibility and generosity of spirit. A powerful, genre-bending memoir of family, identity, and acceptance, Choosing Family, ultimately, is about joy—about claiming the joy that society did not intend to assign to you, or to those like you.
Francesca T. Royster is a native of Chicago’s South Side and a professor of English literature at DePaul University in Chicago, where she teaches classes on African American literature and culture, Shakespeare, and gender and queer theory. She is the author of three academic books, Becoming Cleopatra: The Shifting Image of an Icon, Sounding Like a No-No: Queer Sounds and Eccentric Acts in the Post-Soul Era, and Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions. She received her PhD in English literature from the University of California, Berkeley. Her essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Chicago Literati, and Feminist Studies, among others. She lives in Chicago.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a poet, independent scholar, and activist. She is the co-author of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines and author of Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity, M Archive: After the End of the World, Dub: Finding Ceremony, and Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals.
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A brilliant literary memoir of chosen family and chosen heritage, told against the backdrop of Chicago’s North and South Sides
As a multiracial household in Chicago’s North Side community of Rogers Park, race is at the core of Francesca T. Royster and her family's world, influencing everyday acts of parenting and the conception of what family truly means.
After a century of racist whitewashing, country music is finally reckoning with its relationship to Black people.
An anthology that gives access to the voices of mothers of color and marginalized mothers
Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Frontlines is an anthology that centers mothers of color and marginalized mothers’ voices—women who are in a world of necessary transformation.
Undrowned is a book-length meditation for social movements and our whole species based on the subversive and transformative guidance of marine mammals. Our aquatic cousins are queer, fierce, protective of each other, complex, shaped by conflict, and struggling to survive the extractive and militarized conditions our species has imposed on the ocean.
The concluding volume in a poetic trilogy, Alexis Pauline Gumbs's Dub: Finding Ceremony takes inspiration from theorist Sylvia Wynter, dub poetry, and ocean life to offer a catalog of possible methods for remembering, healing, listening, and living otherwise.
Following the innovative collection Spill, Alexis Pauline Gumbs's M Archive-the second book in a planned experimental triptych-is a series of poetic artifacts that speculatively documents the persistence of Black life following a worldwide cataclysm. Engaging with the work of the foundational Black feminist theorist M.
In Spill, self-described queer Black troublemaker and Black feminist love evangelist Alexis Pauline Gumbs presents a commanding collection of scenes depicting fugitive Black women and girls seeking freedom from gendered violence and racism.