Q&A with Nubia Assata

We sit down with teenage author Nubia Assata to discuss Silent Screams. The poetry anthology comprised of poems about the Black experience through the fresh eyes of a 16 year old.

What were you doing at 15? Most of us were preparing to sit out GCSE's, making the decision between sixth-form or college and yearning for our parents to release the reigns a little and let us go to our first house parties. At this tender age Nubia Assata was comfortably digesting post-colonial theory and ready to contribute her own thoughts to the endless zeitgeist of Black consciousness. Her debut book Screams Screams (available in Waterstones and on Amazon no less) is an anthology of poems extracted from Assata's innermost emotions. The heightened racial tensions over the past decade stoked by Brexit, Trump and the rise of far-right populism worldwide is often seen as a battleground for adults to contend with. The reality is that you only get one chance at your formative years. It is not often enough talked about how challenging that must be to go through as a young Black woman. In a world where anti-Blackness it is not only socially palatable, but politically bolstered, mapping out your identity in a world that continuously attacks your existence is beyond challenging. Society and mainstream media love to talk about young Black people. But how often do we hear about young Black people from young Black people? Now 16 with her sights set on continuing her foray into authorship, we sat down to chat with her about Silent Screams and everything that contributed to her debut.

How old were you when you first decided to write a book?

I had just turned 15 when I had found comfort in writing poems in order to interpret my emotions, to introspect or even to tell the stories of others. At the end of summer 2019 I began to accumulate various poems I had written out of pure spontaneity and by October I had spoken to my parents about the possibility of creating an anthology and began to make concrete plans on what it would take to get there. 

How did the process of getting it published come to fruition? 

The publishing process was much longer than expected due to Covid, but ultimately I was fortunate enough to be able to approach the publishers that had worked with my dad on his book ‘Money Manual’ and once I had completed Silent Screams a deal was made. However it took almost six months in order for it to be published, at least four months longer than projected and therefore induced a lot of patience.

The title Silent Screams implies reference to the feelings Black people are forced to suppress, both by their own families and white society. Do you think the high profile racist killings this year have made it easier for Black people to open up about their inner feelings?

I believe as a collective we as Black people have been internally bleeding for our entire lives and this year it is almost as if someone pierced our skin and all that blood has come spilling out. We have watched the embodiment of the pain we carry day to day in action multiple times this year and within a very concentrated window. As a consequence it has sparked prevalent and paramount questions and discussions across the board within our community. Therefore yes. I think the aftershocks have had positive glares to it, we have been forced to come to terms with issues that we have neglected. For example, the topics of inclusivity, toxic family dynamics and intersectionality within the Black community. We have been listening to each other, respecting and acknowledging our differences whilst recognising common obstacles, challenges and impediments that we face as a global community. 

From your Instagram we can see that you're very well read. What books in particular would you say have shaped your worldview?

At the end of Silent Screams I have a small selection of recommendations that really widened my scope and inspired a lot of the pieces. One of those being Natives by my favourite person ever, Akala. Natives changed my life. I read it when I was 14 and it's one of the best books for people who feel they are naturally politically inclined but need a headstart. I recommend this to everyone. It's incredible. 

Secondly The Psychodynamics Of Black On Black Violence In The Service Of White Domination, this book is a whirlwind of the densest most complex issues in the Black community.The book also heavily inspired my poem  knots and not about internalised hatred and internal conflict. 

Thirdly would be the incredible How Europe underdeveloped Africa. It took two reads for me to truly consume this. Reading it the first time at 13 was probably not the best idea but once I revisited it I realised how important this book was and is. 

Lastly and most surprisingly is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Hear me out. I am not a fiction lover. I like facts and figures that I can pragmatically apply to life, but this book here really changed so many things for me. I read it at the beginning of lockdown, needing something to escape into and finished it in a week. It is a beautiful story that follows about 10 generations of a lineage from 1700’s West Africa all the way to 1980’s America. Every Black person, especially of the diaspora, needs to read this book and any one else that wants to understand the psychological legacies of slavery and colonialism, which is literally the backbone of Silent Screams

Why did you feel poetry was the best medium through which to express your feelings?

Unlike everything else I do, which is often calculated and logical, poetry was one of the few things that seemed to just pour out of me of it's own accord. It would be 1am at night and a random word or sentence would pop up in my head and off I went onto my phone notes and within 7 minutes I had a 300 word poem. That's how most of my writing experiences go. It was never forced and even once I had planned to write the book I told myself I would let them come naturally when I needed the outlet or when the words just appeared in my head. 

It felt good to not have to think about something. Being a grammar school girl everything I do in terms of academics is very tactical and pragmatic. Even writing stories, something I used to love as a younger child, became something I hated because school made it matter of fact and computed. However, poetry provided me with the rush that other more debilitating ways of expressing myself gave me, self harm for example. It wasn't something whereby I assessed and evaluated the costs, or how advantageous each available creative medium was and then as a result chose poetry. In a sense, poetry chose me. 

Where do you find happiness and escapism from all the issues touched upon in your poetry? 

I love learning. Honestly I cannot go a week without watching a new documentary or reading a random article. The one thing I have been obsessed with all my life has been history, does not matter whose history or how ancient or contemporary, I just want to know and understand it. I am most definitely an aspiring historian and I will go wherever history takes me. Almost all the netflix shows I watch are period dramas LOL and even all my books are historical. I find solace in understanding the past in order to come to terms with the future. I love knowing what was going on in two different areas of the world at the same time and simply drawing comparisons. 

Other than that, I love fashion and it is the focus of a large part of my life. Something about wearing my baggy jeans and Avirex gives me an unmatched confidence in my body, in who I am and allows me to walk into every room and feel worthy to be there. A bit extreme but honestly the truth.

Do you have plans to write more books in the future?

YES. Whether it will be another anthology or a book on political history? Wait to find out ahaha, but seriously many things are coming and I cannot wait to see more of my goals implemented. The personal goals and my goals for the world. 

Buy Silent Screams from Waterstones

Follow Nubia via Twitter

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