‘Black Futures’: A Timeless Capture of What It Means to Be Black and Alive

by M. Anthony Davis

Last night, Seattle Arts & Lectures in partnership with the Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas hosted a virtual lecture with Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham to promote their co-edited new book Black Futures

The lecture itself was a robust conversation about the writers’ journey curating this eclectic anthology and their experiences stepping into the realm of being editors for the first time. As a writer myself, it was especially interesting to hear about the dynamics of being on the opposite side of pressing due dates and having to tackle tasks like heavy cuts to pieces submitted by contributors.

The idea for Black Futures came from Wortham’s admiration of a Tumblr blog, Black Contemporary Art, created by Drew. The blog, which Drew started in 2011 while she was a student at Smith College, features artwork by nearly 5,000 Black artists. The latest post is from 2019, and by scrolling the blog, you will see an endless stream of brilliant Black art from around the world. 

During last night’s lecture, Wortham told the story of reaching out to Drew back in 2015. She remembered going to a Beyoncé concert and seeing a video on a jumbo-screen depicting images of Beyoncé from magazines and social media clips that seemed to flow through time and space. “All good things come from Beyoncé concerts,” Wortham joked. 

The images at the concert sparked an idea, and Wortham reached out to Drew, who she had never met, through a DM on social media. The pair met for lunch, and Wortham pitched the idea for a book without knowing how Drew would react — and Drew loved it! That initial meeting kindled a friendship, and now, five years later, Black Futures has been published and is available for purchase. 

While the original idea for the book came from Drew’s Tumblr, it turned into a new project with a life of its own. Black Futures blends images, photos, essays, memes, recipes, tweets, poetry, music, and more into one book that encapsulates Black existence in the past, present, and future. Readers will embark on a journey that jumps from social media posts, to academic essays, to paintings, to conversations. The idea of the book is to capture the experience of being Black and being alive across a multitude of time periods and locations. 

The book itself is a work of art that can be read in multiple ways. The theme of timelessness is not limited to the pieces contributed but applies to the entire book, which can be both a linear and nonlinear read. Each page has a list of related entries, so you can read in sequential order or you can read by topic, making each voyage through the Black Futures unique. 

One of the contributors to the book, King Britt, who is a DJ and an educator, joined the lecture. For his contribution to the book, he created a mix that includes music from many different genres and generations. He spoke about the timelessness of Black Futures and how creating a mix that spanned multiple generations would tie into the theme of synchronicity that is displayed throughout the book. King Britt describes Black Futures as a “visual mixtape” and he was careful to only select music with lyrics that resonate through time. 

A screen capture from the Black Futures lecture on December 2, 2020. (Image courtesy of Seattle Arts & Lectures.)

Expanding on the idea of synchronicity, editors Wortham and Drew discussed the way events are tied together. They reflected over this past summer and the protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd. During this specific moment in history, Black Futures had already been completed, so it does not include direct references to George Floyd (or Breonna Taylor), but through the natural connectedness of Black existence, artistic and academic responses to police brutality and systemic oppression are still heavily represented throughout the book. 

“Everything that’s happening right now feels like a standalone incident or something that’s on an island unto itself,” Worthington said. “But the truth is, it’s all connected. And the book starts to make some of those connections, and I feel really grateful for that.” 

Black Futures by Kimberly Drew & Jenna Wortham is available now. 

M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.

Featured image courtesy of Seattle Arts & Lectures.