An Interview with Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Almah LaVon Rice-Faina
Cantrice: How did you both conceptualize this dream retreat rooted in Dark Sciences, and how did you come up with that particular title?
Almah: Alexis weaved the name, so I’ll let her speak on that. This retreat’s ancestry flows, in part, from a divination workshop I did at Alexis’ Indigo Days (a pretty groundshaking gathering, so amazing) back in 2011. We were initially planning on convening an oracle gathering, a retreat dedicated to divination, but when we started exploring collective dreaming practices and traditions… well, the Maker of Dreams had decided the shape of this retreat for us.
Positivism is so drummed into us, and I hold that it’s a pretty white supremacist theology. “The sciences” and “dream” are cast as opposites, and “darkness” is supposedly the antithesis of “science,” so I love the rebellion and remembrance in our title. As people of color, we reclaim our varied traditions of mystical science; we refuse to split and forget. The funny thing is, many scientists celebrated in the West (e.g., Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein, Dmitri Mendeleev) have named their dreams as the source waters for their scientific discoveries.
Dreams are one of the sturdiest bridges that we can cross to commune with our ancestors. So many folks who dismiss “the otherworldly” will at least acknowledge that ancestors have visited them in dreamtime. I am the fruit that has fallen in the orchard my ancestors have planted.
Alexis: A name is so important to something seeming real and shareable to me, but Almah and I were part way into the description for the web page and I still hadn’t hit on something that really rung for me. Then when we started talking about the ancestor dreamers who are inspiring the retreat and along with Harriet Tubman, Anna Julia Cooper, Joseph Beam and others Nanny of the Maroons stepped up spiritually. Maroons are a group of African people who escaped slavery and fought against colonizers in the New World. Nanny of the Maroons was in Jamaica and she was known for her ability to be in tune with the natural world, in touch with the ancestors and to use those skills to fight off enslavers and help her community to be free. Maroons call Nanny “the great scientist” because of her ability to listen to nature and the ancestors, and those are the sciences we are hoping to develop and support at the dream retreat, so we are calling it Dark Sciences!
Cantrice: How should retreat participants engage with their dreams at Dark Sciences – specifically, and what does it mean to be present in, as you say, a “queer-Black-feminist imagined collective dreaming house for people of color”?
Positivism is so drummed into us, and I hold that it’s a pretty white supremacist theology.
Almah: I would be fugitive with the hows, because Dream will always offer more chutes and escape hatches than I ever could with my daylight mind. But here’s a map, in faintest pencil: retreat participants will be invited to be wildly open, awake to signs, pricked with incipiency. They will be invited to remember who they belong to, who has their back—across time and space and memory. Queer Black feminist imagination has birthed worlds upon worlds—get into it. And don’t forget to keep the libations on tap.
Alexis: One method that we are using for Dark Sciences is that the retreat participants have received dream journals and are encouraged to practice making space for their dreams by writing any dream memories that remain when they wake up. The dreams that may inform our time together will include the dreams we have together on the land, but also the dreams leading up to our time together (which may be connected) and any dreams we remember from our lifetimes as dreamers. By prioritizing our dreams in this way we are saying that we are open to ancestral and cosmic wisdom. We see this dream retreat as an opening and offering, a message to all the transformative forces of the universe that we are here, listening and open to direction. We need directions that go beyond the limited colonial epistemologies we have internalized in order to face the urgency of this historical moment on the planet.
Cantrice: I understand that Dark Sciences will employ this concept of dream work as a link between our ancestors, our communities, and the cosmos. Please tell us more about this textured approach to your work.
Alexis: Yes exactly. Toni Cade Bambara is one dreamer who has taught us so much about this connection. In her novel The Salt Eaters and in her work as an educator and cultural worker she taught that are all connected in an ecology of scale. So what is happening in each of our bodies is connected to what is happening in our communities, and what is happening in our communities is a scale of what is happening on the planet, and what is happening in the environment and what is happening on our planetary environment is just one way of accessing the universe, which is the same thing. This is why we are accessible to each other through our dreams across time, species, life and death. Across everything. This is also why we are never truly individual, although we may make use of the scale of the individual person to do specific work and learn specific lessons. We are inherently connected. Sometimes our dreams know that better than our waking minds.
Almah: Dreams are one of the sturdiest bridges that we can cross to commune with our ancestors. So many folks who dismiss “the otherworldly” will at least acknowledge that ancestors have visited them in dreamtime. I am the fruit that has fallen in the orchard my ancestors have planted. They dreamed us, so the connection is so deep and infinitely textured. We are dreams walking. And we are actually descendants of stars, a Dream that keeps turning its pages. I don’t think the cosmos is dead or vacant of intention--cosmogenesis, ancestry, and dreamwork are so intertwined, there’s no end to the exploring and knowing and unknowing. Nodding to Zap Mama: ancestry in progress. Revelation is in progress.
I understand all anti-Blackness as a nightmare perspective acted out by those of us who are afraid of the challenge of Blackness.
Cantrice: From the racially-motivated murder of nine Black church members at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, to the mass deportations of Haitian migrant workers and folks of Haitian ancestry in the Dominican Republic, the timing of the retreat seems to intersect this recent uptick in manifested anti-Blackness. How will Dark Sciences, either directly or indirectly, address the trauma associated with witnessing or experiencing this kind of brutality, discrimination and erasure, or other by-products of white supremacy?
Almah: Huge and loamy question. I’m not sure. It’s definitely something that’s on my mind and skin, all of the time. As a Black person whose religion is Black people, I think honoring Black interiority, as I believe Alexis has mentioned before—the subterranean incognegr@ for real—is an act of radical Black imagination. Honoring Black anguish—and where we don’t triumph, give up, are heartbroken—feels important too. I think dreams and visions affect what goes down in the streets, and can and does fuel our resistance. For me, personally, I think of Black retreat and flight and Igbo Landing and Derrick Bell’s “The Space Traders.” Like, we need safe-houses, still, for Black folks to sing, “I’ll Fly Away.” We need to be up under the Afrofuturist floorboards, when we want and when we must. I will probably continue to live and weep into this question.
Alexis: Our Blackness is the threat of the dream. The reality of the dream. I understand all anti-Blackness as a nightmare perspective acted out by those of us who are afraid of the challenge of Blackness. This includes facing the unknown, and includes being with and beyond death, and which requires a fundamentally different relationship to the planet on the scale of our species and our interaction with every other species and material here on the planet. When I say those of us who are afraid, I am including the non-self-identified African people of the Dominican Republic who are legislating anti-Blackness and I include those of us who are Black and afraid to be free. So Dark Sciences, centered on that Black reality, and open to people of color (some of whom may not be predominantly identified as Black people while they move through the world, but all of whom are committed to the value of Black imagining) says to those of us who are there and to everyone who hears about it that we don’t have to be afraid of the reality of Blackness. We can honor Blackness as what it is, the unstoppable energy of the universe being its beautiful, Black, blinged-out self.
Cantrice: Is there a significance in the Austin, Texas location of the retreat?
Almah: There’s a significance to this retreat being grounded in indigenous women’s land—a significance that is still femmifesting and unfurling, I’m sure. I’ve attended a retreat at Alma de Mujer before and I know Alexis has been to the land as well. I feel so good about our “temporary autonomous zone” being anchored there.
And it doesn’t hurt that my name is Almah. ;)
Alexis: Almah being Almah proves that this is destined to happen (and that the universe is a Black poet! I always knew she was!). Alma de Mujer is a space where women of color have connected to femininity as an access point to a profound aligning relationship to nature. The space itself is a miracle that has survived nightmares. The moment I stepped on the land I started to dream of a gathering, but I didn’t know what it would be or who would be there. The dream is still happening.
Write down your dreams. Let us know what emerges. We are in this together.
Cantrice: Will folks be able to look forward to a “part 2” of Dark Sciences, or similar programming in the future?
Almah: Nothing solid has been planned yet, but perhaps this retreat (and our dreams!) will soothsay more gatherings. I’m definitely hoping that this dream constellation of ours will spark ongoing multidimensional collaborations.
Alexis: One thing is that people can participate right now. I am offering one-on-one dream consultations leading up to the retreat for folks who contribute to the scholarship fund, and sharing a dream memoir called “After Brightest Star” that folks can check out. We also encourage people of color to intentionally dream with us from August 20-24 every night. Write down your dreams. Let us know what emerges. We are in this together. As Almah said we see this as the emergence of a collective practice in our community and we see the people that are gathering at this retreat (and all of the folks who decide to connect with us) as the people to design a support network for dreamers and more technologies through which to support each other’s dreams and honor our collective dreaming as a community resource.