What does it mean to be Black and alive right now? Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham have brought together this collection of work—images, photos, essays, memes, dialogues, recipes, tweets, poetry, and more—to tell the story of the radical, imaginative, provocative, and gorgeous world that Black creators are bringing forth today.
The best way to read Black Futures is, frankly, as slowly as possible. At over 500 pages, it’s heavy, literally and figuratively. Every page of this oversize illustrated book is dense, even when it’s just a few lines of white print on black background, or a sepia portrait of Representative Ilhan Omar. The book’s curators, Kimberly Drew (the former social media manager at the Metropolitan Museum) and the New York Times Magazine culture writer Jenna Wortham, advise that 'like us, this book is not linear,' nor is it meant to be read as such; you can enter and exit the project on whatever pages you choose. This freedom creates a literary experience unlike any I’ve had in recent memory — once you start reading Black Futures, you are somehow endlessly reading it, even long after you’ve devoured every page ... its messages can and should speak to anyone ... That’s where so much of the pleasure of “Black Futures” lives: in getting lost down rabbit holes, learning more about, say, Black trans visibility or Black farming or Black hair. The brief chapters reach in seemingly infinite directions, each one a portal into what could be an entire book on its own ... t’s a document that could flex and change with time, that could have endless editions attached to it as Black life moves apace. For now it serves as a living and breathing memorandum, and a pressing reminder that anyone anywhere can — must — join the fight.
The ambitious content is a blend of subject matter, through visual images and literary conversations from a full expanse of sources, including social media, photography, art installations, articles, texts, essays, studies and collaborations. The only missing element—understandably—is live performance (though there are discussions of theatrical events such as Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview), which underscores how this compilation is a jumping off point for discussion, rather than a static destination ... There are thematic sections that encompass both the political and persona...yet the subject matter wanders organically via such broad headings. There are many connections across these rooms, both through specific links suggested by the editors, as well as the individual delights of paging back and forth, performing a kind of Luddite hyperlinking ... the sum of its parts is nothing short of exhilarating. It’s an unexpected irony that this traditionally printed product inspires one to search the internet for more, and equally that these words and images somehow appear more durable on a fungible page than in the permanent cloud ... political—as life is political—and joyous. One of the great accomplishments of this book is that though it addresses the systemic harm, literal and figurative, done to Black people, which incites sorrow and rage and underscores the immediate demand for justice and parity, the overall experience is that of a dwelling full of pride, elation and opportunity. The editors have artfully fashioned a mansion without limitations, and hint at rooms still to be seen, perhaps to be filled by subsequent voices and editions ... A book that so meaningfully creates diverse discourse necessitates a community conversation ... an admirable, generative and thoroughly essential curation that offers space and spaces from which to crusade, celebrate, reflect, and create more archives and platforms for Black futures.
... a polyvocal anthology of Black cultures that brims with life, urgency, and radical imagination ... anger is just one emotion on the spectrum that Black Futures invokes. The anthology amuses, soothes, and heals as much as it incites ... To build the world we want to see is to be faced with this everlasting battle of scrapping and retaining, of abandoning and starting anew. This struggle, as Wortham writes in an interview with the author Ta-Nehisi Coates, is required: 'the resistance is the reward.' In these contexts and beyond, Black Futures reckons with this daunting task, declaring revolutions eternal and Blackness limitless.