Indie Author Tuesdays: Dara Kalima
Dara Kalima has performed at Bowery Poetry Cafe, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and Inspired Word. She’s authored three books, Black Man, Black Woman, Black Child, Casualty of Love and Two X Chromosomes with an Extra Shot of Melanin. Dara explores difficult topics to foster discussion and encourage critical thought.
One woman’s experience yet a shared reality for many woman, Dara Kalima speaks truth. Two X Chromosomes with an Extra Shot of Melanin speaks on various topics that us black women go through. Intersectionality spill all throughout the book and honestly, it’s refreshing. Menstruating, stealthing, submitting as a default, value, body image, a woman’s voice and so much more. The majority of woman-focused books that I have read thus far, spotlight white women and give crumb paragraphs for the rest of us.
Poems such as, Her Unspoken Reality, speaks on the daunting experience of fibroids and the mental gymnastics it takes to continue the day with it. As someone with endometriosis, every detailed mentioned in this poem, I felt perfectly. There was definitely a few bouts of internal rhyming and alliteration that I peeped. I am not too sure if it was intentional… Either way, I like it.
The Fragrance of My Love puts a hard-stop- “ain’t nobody got time for that”-reality-check on the pressures placed on women when it comes to hygiene. No, I’m not referring to the basics. I mean the idea that we as women must smell like flowers, fruits and magic juice 24/7. “My love smells like someone that didn’t fall for the financial fallacy of douching, stripping away my body’s own stable pH balance.” Girl. Yes.
BUT, I will say: Split identity in a Minority War is a short but intense piece that I wish was placed in the book a lot sooner.
There is just as much poetic plights as there are triumphs in this book. It’s definitely my cup of caramel latte with an old fashion doughnut. I do hope Dara decides to expand a few a these poems into essays and submits them EVERYWHERE.
Two X Chromosomes with an Extra Shot of Melanin is a must read for women whose identities play seesaw with two minority groups. This book will help you see how much alone you aren’t.
Dara Kalima E-Interview:
1. How long did it take for you to complete Two Chromosomes W/ an Extra Shot of Melanin?
A lifetime and 18 months. Lol. Some of the poems were written over a decade ago, but as I locked in around this particular theme, I spent a year plus doing thirty poems in thirty day challenges focusing as much as I could on the topic at hand. And then another half a year of compiling and editing.
2. What’s the story behind the title?
I wrote a poem “What It All Means” at some point. While writing it, I was looking for a clever way to say black woman that was catchier and so I took it to biology, Two X Chromosomes with an Extra Shot of Melanin. And it was great, because we are quick to talk about how melanated we are… The original title of the book was “Life at the Intersection” playing with the idea of intersectional feminism but now this hook was so much more powerful and compelling, and you know titles gotta grab attention, so I kept the theme but changed the name. And though it’s way too long to put on the cover picture, I think it works and even in its abbreviated form of “XX w/an Extra Shot of Melanin” it still catches eyes and attention.
3. Which poem would you like to highlight and why?
Hmm…I love “What It All Mean’s Poem” because it kinda sets the stage for the entire book but I’m not sure. “So Much to Tell” is still one of my favorite poems in the book. I wrote it a few years back in a writing workshop. The prompt was “let me tell you about my people”. I was resistant to it because I had already written a black history poem but as I was writing it, the news was breaking about the death of Sandra Bland and the poem took a while different angle. Every time I read it, it’s like I’m channeling her and every single one of my ancestors and mentors. It drains me to read it but it’s so important. I don’t read it as much as I once did, but it’s such an important poem even if it’s only about one specific experience not summing up the entire book like “What It All Means” does. I think that poem has a fun rhythm that pulls you in while the words rip at your heart.
4. Can you explain the cover?
Do I have to? I kind of like seeing what people come up with on their own. I designed it on my phone and enhanced it with Photoshop. But I assume you mean the symbolism with it. Well I did 5 intentional things, well come to think of it there’s 6 things of note. The image is a (1) tree or more so a (2) black woman representing life (the tree) at a (3) crosswalk (the intersection). If you look closely there’s a stray strand of hair which really also makes the woman a protest fist (4). My first two books all have red, black, green (and gold for good measure) in its colors. (5) This book still does that but less obviously; the halo around the tree and my name are shades of red, the intersection in gray which is just a shade of black, the yellow/gold is obvious, and the tree bark introduces brown. Also, this book is a “ripped from the headlines” triptych. A triptych is kinda like a trilogy, but the work is more connected by theme or style and not a three part series. My three books are all based on the conversations and movements of the times. Black Man, Black Woman, Black Child is tied to the Black Lives Matter movement (it’s the black book), Casualty of Love is my contribution to the #MeToo Movement (the red book) and Two X Chromosomes with and Extra Shot of Melanin is my exploration of intersectional feminism (the green book). Did you see that? If you line up the books you get red black and green and thus a completed triptych. (6) Oh and I chose the font I did for the cover because the two x’s kind of look like chromosomes, so that was why I was okay with using an artistic shortening of the name for the cover picture... And now we’ve ruined the surprise for everyone else. Lol.
5. How were you able to choose which experiences to write about when it came to this collection? Intersectionality is a broad one and I’m sure you had to pick and choose which stories/moments should be included. I noticed some hashtags too.
I am a black woman, which means I live at the intersection of racism and sexism. And while I am very closely tied to the LBGTQIA community, I thought it disingenuous to add that intersection in the conversation as I can’t talk firsthand about it. I did realize my book title could be seen as exclusionary to transwomen as chromosomal make up does not dictate gender, I opted to keep it because I talk about more than external expressions and experiences of gender such as facing catcalls and sexism but I talk about biological experiences of being existing in female body such as living with fibroids. I even start the book with a note from me addressing my struggle in coming out with the book and this topic. In the end I chose to talk from what I know, from this intersection in hopes that people start considering how oppression compounds for people depending upon which intersection one resides. It sucks for me, but it absolutely gets worse if you have to also fight homophobia, ableism, Islamophobia, etc… And yes, because I wrote these poems in the height of some moments, I thought it especially important to use a few hashtags. Sandra Bland used to use #SandySpeaks in her videos and in her death, there came out #IfIDieInPoliceCustody… And then there’s #MeToo. What’s funny is in the Bland poem the hashtag is silent but, in the poem, “Do You Hear Me?” I say “hashtag” as I perform it. I see myself and my friends in Sandra Bland’s death and I am a sexual assault survivor and thriver, so these are things at this intersection I can amplify with my writing and performances.
6. What do you wish media could do more of when it comes to encouraging black woman to just simply...be?
I honestly don’t even know anymore, I have little confidence in media doing much for us. However, I think they need to stop portraying us as angry, lonely, desperate, mean, and unlovable. These are all messages sent today and it’s not helping matters. We need to see more Melissa Harris Perrys, Joy Reid, and Stacey Abrams in our media and less Basketball Wives and Housewives; I’m tired of us fighting each other. We need Black Girls Rock as a weekly TV show. I need to see my natural hairstyles and deep brown woman on my screens and print ads. We are so powerful and gorgeous in every form we come in from a size 00 to a 32, and I need to see that in the media. The world needs to celebrate us and vote like us.
7. Is there anything you’d like to share about your book?
It’s great? Lol...Um so seriously, I think it’s a very important book and no one is spared from the challenge posed by it. The main thing I question and explore in this book is who has my back? Non-black women often want us in the fight until we say what about black folks. Black men demand that we stand in their corner (and we do) even when talking about sexual predators and justice for Black women. I’ve had men show up for me in these fights and I’ve had Non-black women show up, but more times than not, I must fight them for my right to exist as is… so again, I ask, who has my back? Read the book. If you are Black Woman, this is for you to know you aren’t alone. If you are a Black man or a Non-black woman then I challenge you to consider this plight and do better. Even if you are doing great, do better still. I ask you to have my back for real for reals or leave me alone as I go about fixing this world. That’s what this book is all about. It ain’t always an easy read but it’s an important one.