JERRY GORIN: What made you want to create a new book fair?
TEKA-LARK FLEMING: I founded the Blk Grrrl Book Fair because I felt that we needed to have a more inclusive literary event in Los Angeles. I’ve always gone to all the book fairs, the LA Art Book Fair and the LA Times Festival of Books, and I’m a great fan of those, but I really wanted a book fair that was truly inclusive; I got sick of going to events and being the only black woman there. And on the other hand I wanted a book fair in the black community that was actually about art and literature. When I would go to literary events in South LA, there would be a lot of health groups and nonprofits that had nothing to do with literature or the arts, and I was disappointed. It was kind of like being a kid and being given a doll that was broken. I wanted a cool event where I lived, I wanted the cool doll!
So I wanted to have an event in South Central — or South LA, the Eastside, whatever we want to call it — and I wanted it to be a celebration. When I looked at Afropunk in New York I was like why can’t LA have an event like that? I wanted an event for people who are alternative, who love literature, who are independent publishers, and also for it to be inclusive of everybody — Latinos, Asian-Americans, white people, everybody. It’s called the Blk Grrrl Book Fair because black women are running it, but it’s not that we only want black women there.
What’s in the name?
The Blk Grrrl Book Fair came out of the Blk Grrrl Show, of which I am the host and producer. “Blk” means radical black person, or radical person of African descent. “Grrrl” comes from the Riot Grrrl movement. That movement and those women really impacted me growing up. And there really should be a comma between “Blk” and “Grrrl,” because “Blk” doesn’t describe the “Grrrl” part, but rather it’s like an invitation to all kinds of radical and progressive blacks. When I moved back to Inglewood, where I was born and raised, one thing that really stood out to me was how much our community, the black community, had gotten so conservative. And I was surprised at how silent the rest of the black community was, almost as if they couldn’t express who they were.
So you grew up in Inglewood. What was that like?
When I was growing up there I thought it was the most boring place in the world. My mom was a housewife, my dad worked for the post office, and I went to the Catholic school up the street and learned how to be well behaved. I mean honestly I had this really great childhood, and I feel bad now that I wasn’t grateful at the time. I first went to college at Vassar, but I never went to class and instead spent a lot of time in New York, which was great but we’ll have to skip all that. When my parents found out they made me come home and switch to UC Riverside, and at Riverside I first learned that Inglewood was viewed in this very negative way. And I was shocked, I was clueless, I really didn’t know Inglewood was supposed to be a dangerous neighborhood, and I didn’t know people could think of me in that way. And I was confused for a while, I actually started telling people I was from Westchester, but after a few months I settled down and realized there was nothing wrong with me.
At UC Riverside I ended up becoming president of the African Student Alliance, and one year I wanted to protest Greek Week. There was a sponsorship from Coors beer, which had a history of racism against Latinos, and also I just hated fraternities. At the time there weren’t that many black kids on campus, though, so we had to reach out to the Latinos at MEChA, and then the Asian-Americans, and it still wasn’t big enough so we reached out to the Native American group on campus, and then the LGBT group, and eventually we just invited everyone who wasn’t in the fraternities and sororities. And everybody wanted to join. I mean the fraternities and sororities are like the elite and most people aren’t a part of that, and we went around the campus and held hands and we actually shut down Greek Week. And our head administrator had to fly back from his vacation, and Coors sent a representative to find out what our “demands” were, and of course I told them that all I wanted was for Greek Week to be canceled forever. I ended up leaving UC Riverside and graduating from Mount Saint Mary’s University.
We’ll have more of Teka-Lark’s interview published soon, including more questions on race, gender, and class politics as they relate to the production of art and literature, as well as how those politics are played out in Los Angeles. Check out The Blk Grrrl Show, on Twitter @blkgrrrlshow