Saturday, September 24, 2022

Remica Bingham-Risher's "Soul Culture"

Remica Bingham-Risher, a native of Phoenix, Arizona, is an alumna of Old Dominion University and Bennington College. She is a Cave Canem fellow and Affrilachian Poet. Among other journals, her work has been published in the New York Times, the Writer’s Chronicle, New Letters, Callaloo and Essence. She is the author of Conversion (2006) winner of the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, What We Ask of Flesh (2013) shortlisted for the Hurston/Wright Award, and Starlight & Error (2017) winner of the Diode Editions Book Award. She is currently the Director of Quality Enhancement Plan Initiatives at Old Dominion University and resides in Norfolk, VA with her husband and children.

Bingham-Risher applied the Page 99 Test to her newest work, and first book of prose, Soul Culture: Black Poets, Books and Questions that Grew Me Up, reported the following:
On page 99 of Soul Culture, we’re a few pages into an essay, “Girls Loving Beyoncé and Their Names” about what I learned from the poet Forrest Hamer, how Beyoncé became a bridge connecting me and my daughter and how we should all take care to listen to the in-between. We're also, almost to the page, at the exact halfway point in the book. Here’s a passage found there:
Sonsoréa was a lot more like I might have been after my parents divorced, if either had chosen to remarry. Respectful, kind enough, but on guard always. Like her, I, too, was wary of love in real life—not the kind New Edition told me was possible, but the falling-apart kind that was unbearable if people who were supposed to be grown up, responsible, didn’t actually know everything, even ruined things, barely listening to us or each other. At thirteen, my parents split up, I was the best soloist in middle school choir, and I met Sonsoréa’s father, years before she was ever imagined.
The Page 69 Test works remarkably well for Soul Culture. I was a little shocked at how each of the recurring threads of the book—talking with a particular Black poet I interviewed, ruminating on what I learned from being in their orbit and studying their work, how all my different identities blended together at home or on the page and even some of the hybridity of the work i.e. portraits, footnotes, Q and A exchanges, etc.—all showed up on page 99.

On one hand (and still in my heart of hearts), Soul Culture is my love letter to the elder poets who helped me figure out my own path as a writer. On the other hand, it’s a snapshot of my life, my growing into myself with the help of family, friends, and innumerable good books. On page 99, I am trying to figure out how to be a mother to children I’ve inherited and I’m beginning to wonder what it means when our parents create us and pull our names (and lives it seems) out of thin air. It’s miraculous really, our coming to be, and all the things we’ll desire for ourselves outside of what others have made for us make up the big questions of our lives. Every time I put pen to page, I’m really just trying to articulate a question I have about the world. In the intro to Soul Culture, I explain: “The enduring question I ask daily—when writing, when watching the news, when praying—about Black folks is: How is it possible we’ve survived? Soul culture is rooted in deep pain, longing, and incessant innovation, so this book is about singular experiences illumined by memory, mortar made possible by genius, grit, mother-wit, and sleight of hand.”
Visit Remica Bingham-Risher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue