Q&A with Sherese Francis, Creator of Jam Journal
Sherese Francis is a Queens-based, Afro-Caribbean-American (Barbados and Dominica) poet, editor, interdisciplinary artist, workshop facilitator, and literary curator of the mobile library project, J. Expressions. She has published work in various publications including Furious Flower, Bone Bouquet, African Voices, and multiple issues of Newtown Literary. Additionally, she has published two chapbooks, Lucy’s Bone Scrolls and Variations on Sett/ling Seed/ling, and has another one on the way from DoubleCross Press called, Recycling a Why That Rules Over My Sacred Sight. On the eve of launching Jam Journal, her newest Queens-based literary venture, we interviewed her about her inspiration and motivation to keep creating and curating. You can follow Sherese on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and check out Futuristically Ancient and J. Expressions for more.
You’ve credited Saul Williams’ CHORUS: A Literary Mixtape anthology as inspiration behind the experimental aspect of Jam Journal. How were you first introduced to CHORUS and how did the inspiration to create your own collaborative literary text take root and grow into Jam Journal?
I found out about CHORUS attending an Aja Monet poetry reading. She had collaborated with Williams on the anthology. I was inspired by the structure of the anthology, which was the work of various poets strung together like one long poem without the names separating each poem. Seeing that structure inspired me to think of others ways an anthology or journal could be—that it could be seen as a collaborative text or as “jam sessions.”
You’ve had experience creating your own literary platform before in the form of J. Expressions, a pop-up bookshop and newsletter promoting artists in Southeast Queens. What has been the most rewarding and/or challenging part of curating your own journal?
Curating J. Expressions has been a wonderful teaching experience for me. I’ve learned to be creative and how to manage doing it while having little resources. Building this project taught me to value small steps and wins but also not to overexert myself. The first events I had, Reading (W)Riting Remedy and Book Boutique, had few people show up but I took value in that I was able to do them. But lugging around books from my library with no help was taxing on my body and I had to think of a new way to promote the project, which led to Jam Journal.
How does your relationship with Queens inform the work you do?
As a writer growing up in Queens—specifically, Southeast Queens—there were few literary-based spaces and groups for me to participate in and develop my writing skills. I usually had to go to either Manhattan or Brooklyn to find those communities. After college, I was fortunate to connect with Johanne Civil and work with her on the Queens Book Festival, which led to me connecting with other writers and authors from Queens and Newtown Literary. After my work with QBF, I wanted to create another platform for writers and artists here, who may not have as much access to spaces in the other boroughs.
In addition to your own poetry, you admirably seem to always have multiple projects going at a time, including J. Expressions, various workshop series, readings, etc. Do you have any practical tips to share with other artists on how you organize your ideas in such a way that allows you to effectively bring them to fruition? For example, I might have what I think is a great idea, but then . . . you know, Real Housewives comes back from commercial. How do you remain disciplined and committed?
Keep it small and manageable, and do the work in a way that the projects relate to each other. I’ve learned my lesson from other projects like the book festival to not do work that is outside of my ability to do when I don’t have the team to do it. So, I do what I am capable of doing and focus on building that. Most of my ideas flow into one another and integrate into a larger process. For example, my Ark|Teks workshop series is compatible with the work I am doing with Jam Journal and for my own writing process. Thus, it never feels like a lot of work.
I also make sure to have fun with what I am doing, which helps my creativity and forces me not to be so serious that I can’t change or adapt the work I am doing. Being flexible and not pressuring yourself too much allows you to be disciplined in a way that’s healthy. As long as the purpose is in sight and focused on, you can move in many directions on the way there. Real Housewives could add another dimension to your idea . . . wink wink.
What do you hope people take away from Jam Journal?
I hope it inspires people to think of text differently, as a fully embodied and collaborative experience. Words are art. Words on a page is a type of visual art. Spoken word is sound poetry. Writing can inhabit different mediums and different mediums can inspire writing. I want us to be more present with the language we use everyday and play around with it to discover new ways of embodying this experience on earth.
How can writers and readers support Jam Journal?
Please join me and the contributors for the launch of the first issue of Jam Journal on Sunday, November 15, 2020 at 7pm. You can RSVP here.
You can also support through donations, since what doesn't get covered by grants for both J. Expressions and Jam Journal, I pay out-of-pocket. I accept donations via PayPal: sheresefrancis1[at]gmail.com, Cash app: $afutureancient1 and Venmo: afutureancient1.