• Alicia D. Dervin

What Would Ida Do? Honoring My Literary Ancestors - Part 1

I have been thinking quite a lot lately about what Black History Month means to me and what I hope it means for others. I mean, really...there are A LOT of perspectives when it comes to how we approach this month.


We have our #365Black sect who know black excellence isn't limited to one month of the year (and the shortest month at that...tuh!):

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We have our #BlackFutureMonth crew where the youngins are gearing up to celebrate all the greatness that is on the horizon. This crew is like, yeah...we did that, but this is what we finna do now:

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And, of course, there are those who simply don't put much stock into the month at all.

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There are likely many more groups on this #BHM spectrum as well. While I am certainly not among the latter, I do find myself negotiating a healthy balance of the first two mentioned here. For me, I have a hard time overlooking the value of the past as it helps me navigate the present. So, I suppose, in a very "sankofa" kind of way, this very notion is what brought me to the two-part series titled, "What Would She Do?" in honor of Black Herstory Month 2022.


Since writing is such an important part of my life, I wanted to use this space to really pay tribute to a couple of my favorite literary ancestors. Now listen...there are SO many women that I wanted to honor here. I had them all lined up: several posts a week honoring a different woman, and an honorable mention post on the last day of the month! My schedule simply wouldn't allow it. #2023goals, right? Instead, I decided to pay homage to two women who have been most-influential when it comes to my own journey as a writer. Up first, the incomparable Ida B. Wells Barnett.


I have been a "stan" for Sister Ida for as long as I can remember. This affinity likely stems back to a book my mother purchased for our house many, many years ago.

Yes, that's the book. Yes, she still has it. This book was a staple in our house when it came to book reports and assignments for school. My mother knew the value of having such a book in our home. This book is where I met Ida. I love what Ida meant and means so much that my heart raced when I heard the news that Mattel was releasing a doll in her honor this year. Yes, I rushed to purchase it on the day it was released!

Since this post is not about a history lesson on her life and legacy (you can get a quick recap of her anti-lynching efforts HERE), I won't dive into that now. The purpose of this post is to point out two significant ways her life and her work have influenced me, and why I consider her a literary ancestor.


In sum, I often find myself asking this question when I'm writing (creatively or academically): What Would Ida Do?

1.) Ida Would Speak Up and Speak Out

Can't you just picture it? Can't you just see the faces of the people who read Ida's work and became so enraged that they would want to end her life? Yeah...I can, too. This is probably one of the most valuable lessons that I've taken from Sister Ida. She believed in telling the truth freely, even when it could result in death. While I don't see the work I do and create in nearly as serious of a light as her anti-lynching reporting, I have often had to give myself permission to freely tell the truth. In way, this involved silencing those little voices that tell us our truths might offend others. For example, 100% getting away with saying, "I know how White people can be," in my dissertation. It was my truth to tell. For any feathers that might be ruffled here, fret not...I know how "ALL" people can b


2. Ida Would NEVER Give Up

When her printing press was destroyed as a result of mob violence (that's right...sis was part-owner of the Memphis Free Speech), Wells didn't waiver on her stance against lynching or abruptly end her crusade for justice. In fact, many historians believe that this single event is what motivated her to fight even harder. So, this is a bit more of a lesson on life than a literary one, but Ida always reminds me to keep going...even when an angry mob tears up your ish!


I am sure that I could think of many more ways that the life and work of Ida B. Wells Barnett has influenced me as a writer and as a woman, but for the sake of keep this post relatively short, I'll leave you with those two for now. Comment below if there are any literary ancestors, or Black men or women in your respective fields, who you would honor in this way, and tell me why! Stay tuned for Part 2 as I make the tough decision between two G.O.A.T.s in the literary game!!!


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