Art Beat: Black Indian
Kalamazoo native Shonda Buchanan now lives in California. She moved, in part, to put some distance between herself and her family. A poet, educator, journalist, and professor, Buchanan is the daughter of mixed blood — tri-racial and tri-ethnic African-American, American Indian, and European-American - families who migrated to southwest Michigan from North Carolina and Virginia in the 18th and 19th centuries. Buchanan tells her story in the new memoir, Black Indian (Wayne State University Press, 2019).
Talking about the two family funerals that bookend the book, Buchanan says of her return to Kalamazoo and family: “It was a sorrowful moment of paying my respects to one of the matriarchs of my family. But it was also a sense of - my daughter was coming home with me (and) I wanted to protect her from anything I had suffered in my family. At the end of the memoir, it’s not quite a resolution. My family story doesn’t necessarily have a resolution because of what we as a free people of color, as mixed bloods in this country, in terms of the enactment of the historical trauma, so that funeral is a period on one sentence.”
Buchanan addresses the dysfunction of her family along with the love. She traces the storylines of alcoholism, family secrets, deaths, and abuse. But she also looks at the ways in which the family was ostracized by society because of their mixed roots, crossing three races.
As she researched both family and Michigan history in writing the book, Buchanan says, “I didn’t know that Michigan had such a rich history in terms of the American Indians. I had no idea I was living on their landscape. That wasn’t taught in public schools.”
While exposing some of the darker sides of family dysfunction, Buchanan felt that bringing them into the light led to some measure of healing within her family.
“I did get a message from a couple of female relatives that after reading the book, they were finally feeling brave enough to expose one of their relatives who had sexually abused them,” Buchanan says. “And for me, in that moment, I felt like the book did its job.”
The literary editor of Harriet Tubman Press, Shonda Buchanan is an award-winning poet and educator. She's also the author of Who’s Afraid of Black Indians? and Equipoise: Poems from Goddess Country, and editor of two anthologies: Voices from Leimert Park and Voices from Leimert Park Redux.
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