Raina J. León is an Afro-Latina, native Philadelphian, daughter, sister, madrina, comadre, partner, poet, writer, and teacher educator. She believes in collective action and community work, the profound power of holding space for the telling of our stories, and the liberatory practice of humanizing education. She seeks out communities of care and craft and is a member of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, Cave Canem, CantoMundo, Macondo; she actively works to create those communities for and with others through Artists for Sustained and United Resistance and Cleave: Bay Area Women Writers. She is the author of three collections of poetry, Canticle of Idols, Boogeyman Dawn, and sombra: (dis)locate and the chapbooks, profeta without refuge and Areyto to Atabey: Essays on the Mother(ing) Self. She has received fellowships and residencies with the SV Community of Writers, Montana Artists Refuge, the Macdowell Colony, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, the Tyrone Guthrie Center in Annamaghkerrig, Ireland and Ragdale. She also is a founding editor of The Acentos Review, an online quarterly, international journal devoted to the promotion and publication of Latinx arts. She is a full professor of education at Saint Mary’s College of California, only the third Black person to achieve that rank there.
What I Write
shall i tell you the quick story or the long?
the quick? get to it. a god rose from the water where an almost woman drowned. it was a bloody river. thick with slaughter and when her spirit was just about to rush out, an astral bridge formed. all those spirits tumbling in grief and surprise at seeing their own vessels split and ruined, they found the bridge and crossed, flooded the one perfect body left. she was an almost woman, become god, and all the rules of life and death changed.
the long? it’s gnarled, hot, and thorned, like the acacia tree under which iset sought shelter. the sun was high, and the whistle thorn buds ached for a wind to sing. her arms understood ache, too, tired from her work to carry water from the river to the village with no name.
she belonged to the sweet death, a tribe of women devoted to the last days of warriors, those who sought an end that would not be by point or pummel. they held that war is an addiction with the only salve coming from complete removal from the material. these ancestors of these women had born the weight of war and made a new way of offering. those warriors who were strong and somehow came to this revelation – their secret succor a whisper in the night and over dying embers in the bush that men thought over often for years – sought the women. they knew the offering: weapons molten into bowls, a seed of a rare tree, a pilgrimage down a long path of sand to a river rushing through a mountain, a climb along a high font to a place of impossible trees, and a wait for what might never come. they would be observed, watched for proof that they had given up the war ways. in their bowl and with nothing but time, sun, soil, river water, they must start that seed to spring up and tend it until strong. they must nurture life. kill a fly and this was enough to be left in silence with an already nearly extinct thing, the only one to hear their cries. some died alone with only their bowls and a ruined seed.
the village with no name took others, too, who had paid war with tears, blood, and wandering.
those men did not know the other price. a woman’s choice to take the body’s seed and a man’s choice to give. iset was the result of such an exchange: sweet death after the tests and gift. she did not know her father. he was strong as her mother was strong, priestess of the cult of sweet death, the only one of their people of her generation to have gone out into the world and returned. it was she who told iset to gather water in the times nearest to dawning – when the morning bird calls, there is less danger from the animals and men – but she had been slow in her duties. what were the dangers of the world to an almost woman who had never known the world outside her village? the occasional entrance of war-weary men, who silently plowed an atonement; the hushed laughter of children; the singing of women, like melodious birds, over sparking fires, their spirit-ushering work most active in dawning and dusk; and the rustling robes of those who were all and undefined, as their gathered the tools for their mysteries in Sight and their sacred work with the impossible trees.
she leaned against the acacia tree, in the full sight of the sun and mountain’s stone. she felt her skin smoothed over by warm hands and when the wind did rise, it kissed her with her own name. she smiled the joy of her body, melting into a slow sap. she welcomed this sensation as it rose from the earth, through her bare feet, up taut calves and muscled thighs. she felt at the warm gather at her root, felt a wetness rise and stew, eager to be met. a tension, a painful delight stretched the length of her, just beneath her skin, the work of blood and flesh alone and wanting. with her left hand resting against the lip of the cool water jar, she took her right to find her own slick, thrumming the valley between fleshy clitoral nub and vaginal lip. her dress offered a secondary texture and soon she felt her spirit loosen its grip on the body. this is what she knew of the bridge between Here and Other, the peak of pleasure, a small death. under the thorny acacia, she could explore the edge and commit herself again to the work of dying.
iset was not alone in that moment. a warrior had come with a bowl, only one, but when he saw her, perfect in her own pleasure, a desire to take, conquer, own rose up in him again. it itched his scars. he felt a thrill he had not known for a long time, worn of the battle and always winning. he was bored until this new want, gluttony mixed with lust.
when iset returned the next day, she found near her tree an abandoned bronze bowl. inside one was an odd, unevenly shaped stone, that sparkled in the light in resplendent colors. it was the size of an eye, and, as an eye, it seemed to look deep into her core. she did not know to be afraid.
|What I Write||
Afro-futurist and Afro-surreal fiction; poetry; creative nonfiction and essays.
2. León, R. J., & Thomas, N. D. “Critical Race Theory and the Cultivation, Mentorship and Retention of Black Women Faculty.”. American International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 2016, 2(1), 1-16.
3. León, R. J. “Fight or Flight: An Account of a Professor’s First Year Obsession”. Brock Education: A Journal of Educational Research and Practice, 2014, 24(1), 20-25.
4. León, R. “Am I a Lasallian Educator?: Lessons from Hermano José Cervantes”. Educational Perspectives, 2013.
5. Thomas, N. D., & León, R. J. “Breaking barriers: Using poetry as a tool to enhance diversity understanding with youth and adults.”. Journal of Poetry Therapy, 2012, 25(2), 83-93.
1. León, R. J. “school of fish with angels, new edens” and “a time magic”. LatiNEXT Breakbeat Poets anthology. Winter 2019.
2. León, R. J. “poet: code’s story”, “when your mother is a god”, and “iset: god and mother”. Carolina African American Writers Collective 25th Anniversary Anthology. Fall 2019. Forthcoming.
3. León, R. J. “elisha & amor ciego” and “What we lose in the fire a blown tire makes us see”. Furious Flower: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry anthology. Fall 2019. Forthcoming.
4. León, R. J. “Diagnosis: Devil’s Grip”. Mills College Writers Workshop chapbook. June 2019.
5. León, R. J. “from the adyton”. Studio One 10th anniversary anthology. Summer 2019.
6. León, R. J. “mother sexed” and “pass the dark and stormy”. 580 Split. Spring 2019.
7. León, R. J. “Lovers of Valdaro”. Pilgrimage. Spring 2019.
8. León, R. J. “Book of Wipe Clean”, “Genesis: Sword, Angel, Devil”, “on changing my son”, “Book of Picaroon”, and “i call you husband and you call me wife”. A Dozen Nothing. March 2019.
9. León, R. J. “Consolation”. Queen Mob’s Teahouse. Summer 2018.
10. León, R. J. “Banned portrait in the MAGA era: Afro-Latina texts her brother”. Queen Mob’s Teahouse. Winter 2018.
1. León, R. J. “Albert Remembered”. The Osprey Journal, Scotland. 2009. Web.
2. León, R. J. “Sisters”, Novel Excerpt. Torch: Poetry, Prose and Short Stories by African American Women. 2007. Web.
1. León, R. J. “On the value of labor”. VIDA. Spring 2019. Forthcoming
2. León, R. J. “Don’t let them steal your joy”. Vitae of The Chronicle of Higher Education. April 2017. Web.
3. León, R. J. “Dragon Spine Girl”. The Packinghouse Review Journal. 2012.
4. León, R. J. “Interview with Verso and Flor”. The Acentos Review Journal. 2012. Web.
5. León, R. J. “Latino Round Table”. Poetry Society of America. 2011. Web.
6. León, R. J. “Inside Out: Paul Martinez Pompa’s My Kill Adore Him and Julia’s Story Post Moxie”. Post No Ills. 2011. Web.
7. León, R. J. “View of the World: Germany”. The Crisis Magazine. 2011.
8. León, R. J. “Running Man: A Review of Christian Campbell’s Running the Dusk”. Post No Ills. 2010. Web.
9. León, R. J. “Costa Rica”. Come Bien Press. 2009.
10. León, R. J. “Poetry, Hip Hop and Global Revolutions”. Words, Beats and Life Journal. 2005.
My Write-a-thon Goals
Really wanting to work on my novel in progress and also start writing new essays about mothering as a Black and Afro-Boricua academic and creative.