This Writer Is On Fire: Mecca Jamilah Sullivan -The Toast

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“I think our voices reflect the depths of who we are and what we’ve experienced.” From an interview with Maleka Fruean at APIARY Magazine.


Who she is

An Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at UMass Amherst, Sullivan holds her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania and her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Temple University. This “proud native of Harlem, NY” has won so many awards, fellowships and residencies that we gave up on listing them all here.


Why you should read her work

Because Mecca Jamilah Sullivan’s stories, her characters don’t wait for you, the reader, to move into them, they move into you. Stories like “A Strange People,” which appears in her short fiction collection, Blue Talk and Love, will take you over, will make you understand that we have watered down, tamed that word ‘strange.’ But Sullivan brings back the deeply unfamiliar, the alien in it to remind us of what we are as humans, what we stand to lose. The story is about conjoined twins We-Millie and We-Chrissie. Black and born into slavery, they share a body and in some ways, thoughts or maybe ‘share’ is the wrong word for the ways in which they co-possess and struggle over this body that is so deeply unfamiliar, so ‘freakish.’ The story follows their career on the stage as a circus act, their attempts to turn that body into fame and fortune and maybe love all while being owned. Theirs is a body owned and possessed on so many levels in so many ways, it’s truly incredible to see how much they are still themselves. And they will haunt you and take up space inside you. They will make demands. They demand a novel, a series — they want their own damn show, finally. They are that big, have that much mass — they warp the spacetime around them so that then becomes now, here becomes there. But I could say that about all of the characters in Sullivan’s universe. In “Wolf Pack” Sullivan turns around the familiar story of a group of young women who have been convicted for defending themselves from a would-be rapist and demonized as a ‘wolf pack’ in the press. They are so terribly human first and working hard at it in the invisible ways we all do every day. They may have become a wolf pack, but they didn’t choose that transformation, or they did because like so many ‘choices’ it was the only option they had. Like “A Strange People,” “Wolf Pack” is about the ways in some of us are not allowed to own our own bodies, are punished for defending them, or for simply living in them. As much as we are in them, our bodies are always about to be claimed by others and not just predators, but well-meaning family, institutions, lovers and friends. As Luna reminds us, “The only real difference between people and animals is that people talk. That’s it.” Sullivan returns the humanity to the freaks, the beasts, the bodies that aren’t ‘norm’ and sets that humanity loose. Her characters are as human as it gets and they will speak to you, haunt you. They will make demands. They will remind you that being human is not a steady state but something active and acting, a continuous, terrible and beautiful struggle. You have been warned.


Where to find her work


Blue Talk and Love (Short story collection – amazon link) – “tells the stories of girls and women of color navigating the moods and mazes of urban daily life. Set in various enclaves of New York City—including the middle-class Hamilton Heights section of Harlem, the black queer social world of the West Village, the Spanish-speaking borderland between Harlem and Washington Heights, and historic Tin Pan Alley—the collection uses magic realism, historical fiction, satire and more to highlight young black women’s inner lives.

“Sererie” (short story). Callaloo.

“Dazzling Futures and Other Fairytales” (novel Excerpt). Prairie Schooner.

“Blue Talk and Love” (short story). American Fiction: Best Previously Unpublished Stories by Emerging Writers.

“Powder and Smoke” (short story). BLOOM.

“Adale” (short story). X-24: Unclassified.

“Snow Fight” (short story). Baby Remember My Name: An Anthology of New Queer Girl Writing.

“Wall Women” (short story). Woman’s Work.

“Pra” (novel excerpt). Tri-Quarterly.

 “Wolfpack” (short story). Narrative Northeast.

“Big Girl” (novel excerpt). Specter Magazine

“Friday, Field Trip Day” (short story). Philadelphia Stories.

“Ruidos”  (short story). The Minnesota Review.

“A Strange People” (short story). Crab Orchard Review.

“Freeze Tag” (novel excerpt) CrossBronx Journal.

“A Strange People” (short story). The Feminist Wire: Featured Writer.



“Fat Mutha*: Hip-Hop’s Queer Corpulent Poetics” . Palimpsest: Journal of Women, Gender and the Black International.

“‘Unsayable Secrets’ of Diaspora’s Bodily History” (Roundtable essay on M. NourbeSe Philip). Jacket2.

“Piper’s Adventures in Blackness” (Roundtable Essay on Orange is the New Black). Public Books.

“The Uses of Quiet” Zora Magazine.

Second (and Third, and Fourth Helpings…) Size and Spectacle in The Help)” (From Uncle Tom’s Cabin to The Help: Critical Perspectives on White-Authored Narratives of Black Life). Palgrave McMillan 2014.

“Six Feet Under, Above, Beyond” (Review of Christopher Peterson’s Kindred Specters). GLQ: Lesbian and Gay Studies Quarterly.

“How to Be Black in the Age of Obama, George Zimmerman, and Paula Deen: Notes from Summer 2013” The Feminist Wire. (Reprint)  The Root  (Reprint)

“Media, Sports, and Black Queer Youth: Tayshana Murphy and the Dimming of Stars” The Feminist Wire. Ms. Magazine online.  (Reprint)

“Your Abstention Will Not Protect You: Voting and Radical Black Feminist Politics”  (Mecca Jamilah Sullivan and C. Riley Snorton). The Feminist Wire.

“Black Queer Gender and Pariah’s ‘Grand Swagger” The Feminist Wire.

“Pear Blossoms and Mule Eyes: A Review of Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s Mule & Pear” Mosaic Magazine.

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