About Kathya Alexander

AWARDS

2014 Work Readiness Arts Program Award (WRAP) Office of Arts and Culture

2014 Youth Arts Award – Office of Arts and Culture

2013 CityArtist Award – Office of Arts and Culture

2013 Seattle Theater Group (STG) – Night At The Neptune

2007 Writer-in-Residence, Hedgebrook Women Writer’s Retreat

2005 Freehold Theater Lab Diversity Scholarship 

2003 Washington Software Alliance Best Community Program Award

2002 Fringe First Award for Black to My Roots (co-author and member of ensemble) Edinburgh Festival Fringe – Outstanding New Production in Edinburgh, Scotland

PUBLICATIONS

2014 Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace (Contributing Author; Naa NaaLost Horse Press)

2009 Threads (Contributing Author) –African American Writers Alliance

2004 The Initiative (Freelance Writer) – positive news from African American community

2004 Words! Words! Words! (Contributing Author) –African American Writers Alliance

2003-2008 Colors Northwest Magazine (Freelance Writer)

1998 God the Mother, A Creation Story  (Author) – adoption from a spiritual perspective

PERFORMANCES / PRODUCTIONS / READINGS

2015 Actor – And Jesus Moonwalks The Mississippi (Miss Sippi) Seattle Theater Group

2014 Actor – The Negro Passion Play, Brownbox Theater, Seattle University

2013 Writer/Actor – Of Hope and of Morning; 1-woman show at Whitman College

2013 Writer-David & Jonathan: A Modern Day Retelling of the Biblical Story, Neptune

2012 Writer – Homegoing, Rainier Valley Cultural Center and Stone Soup Theater

2012 Actor – Zooman and the Sign, Brownbox Theater, Rainier Valley Cultural Center

2012 Writer – A Revolution of Hope w/Seattle Labor Chorus and Seattle Storytellers Guild

2011 Actor – The Amen Corner, Brownbox Theater, African American Museum

2009 Writer – emotionalblackmale, Brownbox Theater, Seattle University

2009 Writer – David & Jonathan: A Modern Day Retelling of the Biblical Story, Brownbox Theater, Seattle Rep

2008-Present – Aunt Mama’s Story Table – Monthly reading at Madison Park Starbucks

2008 Writer – HumaNature – Brownbox Theater

2007 Writer – Dream’n (hip hop adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) Rainier Valley Youth Theater

2007 Actor – Before It Hits Home – Brownbox Theater

2006 Writer – Native Sons and Daughters, Intiman Theater’s Rough Eagles Project

2005-2013  Resident Playwright – Brownbox Theater 

2005 Teaching Artist –Freehold Theatre, Washington Correctional Center for Women

2004 Writer/Director-A Taste of Prison (play about the criminal justice system)

2004 Writer/Director – Three Strikes on Trial  (play re: WA state Three Strikes Law)

2004 Writer /Director – Nappy Roots: A Fairy Tale –  children’s play about the effect of hair on African American girls’ self-esteem.

2001-2005 Writer/Actor – Black to My Roots: African American Tales from the Head and the Heart 

MEMBER

Office of Arts and Culture CREATIVE ADVANTAGE ROSTER

African American Writers Alliance

Seattle Storytellers Guild

Bedtime Stories

AngelInTheOuthouse

KEEP-A-LIVIN’

Angel in the Outhouse

by Kathya Alexander

My mama say she have a son get burn up one time in a fire.  I scratch this memory from out her scalp.  She in a chair.  I stand behind her.  Dark done fell.  Our lights is off.  Cause Daddy forget to pay the bill.  Mama know it is his payday where he work down to the mill.  She say she do not know what could have happen.  He ain’t showed up for her to ask.  My Daddy big.  My Mama little.  But right now she could whip his a–.

I scratch a scab up from her head and give it to her in her hand.  She say it bring to her remembrance of that nite her son get dead.  She say this thing to me real quiet.  Voice so low my blood run cold.  That night, she say she get a scab too.  Not on her head.  One on her soul.

She say wudn’t no TV nor electric way back when my brother die.  She say they use a lamp like this one fill with kerosene all the time.  I want to ask what do they do instead of watching My Three Sons.  But, I don’t.  Instead I listen to her story just begun.

She say she wake up from a dream and something tell her get straight up.  She rock and rock.  Go back and forth.  And pray for now she know not what.  A spirit dance upon her ceiling.  Beckon for her come and play.  “Get out of here, you evil spirit.  Get out my heart,” she say she say.

She see the spirit it just lightning when she come back to herself.  Then thunder rattle pane in window.  She know she better rouse herself.  She push her feet from out the cover.  Slide one foot into a shoe.  She say she never did find the other.  Not with fire and Clyde death too.

She say she run all thru the house.  The nite so black feel like a touch.  She say, “Darkest hour come just foe day.  And ‘member ain’t so sucha thang as luck.”

I do not know why Mama want me ‘member this thing.  But I say to her, “Yes, m’am.”

She say, “The boys they sleep in one room.  The girls they sleep just like a lamb.”  She say, “The fireplace it need stoking.  And the night it get real cold.”

“What y’all house look like?” I ask her.

She say, “Like this one.  ‘Cept with moe doors.  It have a fireplace.  Not like this one.  Seem like white folk only have them now.”  I wonder why it seem po’ coloreds can’t seem to get ahead no how.

She recollect how fear come on her.  Gnaw at her skull just like a rat.  “You know what that like?” she turn and ask me.

“I know what rat like.  Turn yo’ head back.”

She say she know some thang ain’t right.  But, she say, she cannot see.  She scream, “Get up!” into the darkness.  “Cleo!  Clyde!  Azra Lee!  Get up.  Get out right now!” she holler.  Then she run where girls is sleep.  Vernell and CeCe in the kitchen.  They resting calm as they can be.

I like for Mama to tell me stories bout way back when my brother die.  Cause back then I wudn’t even a twinkle what shine in my Daddy eye.

My brother, Cleo, he real little.  He grown now.  He live Los Angeles.  He drink a lot and act a fool.  He keep my mama on her knees.  He ball his fist up and he hit me last time he come home to stay.  Just cause the way I bring him water ain’t fast enuf to suit his taste.  I ask my Mama do she remember that time when Cleo in a fight.  One time when he go to the jook joint.  Back off in the woods one Sat’dy nite.  I like the part bout how that man raise Cleo way up in the air.   (I hear this story from his friends.  Of course, you know I wasn’t there.)  Say razor come out Cleo’s sock so fast it look like it was greasy.  Cleo stutter and he say, “Puu-ut me down easy.  I mean rr-real easy.”

My Mama frown and grunt.  She say, “Shoot, Cleo nice as any other til L’il Man get hit by that truck.”  Mama say that change my brother.

My brother Azra Lee he die from something happen in the war.  My Mama wrap his pipes and medals up in silk.  They in a drawer.  I hear her take them out and cry sometime when I lay wake at night   I make him a get well card when he sick.  And people shock that I can write.

I go stay with my Cousin Cece in St. Louis when school get out.  My Mama raise her cause her mama she too busy stepping out.  Her son a big old stanky cry baby by the name of David Earl.  He get on my last nerve sometime because he act just like a girl.  My cousin call pinto beans ‘brownies’ like she think they is a treat.  I get so excited the first time she say that.  I’m so surprise come time to eat!

Vernell I do not like at all.  She try to act like she my Mama.  Hit her one time up side her head with mop so hard she start to holler.  “Whip yo’ own,” my Mama tell her.  “Send her to me she show out.”  I stick my tongue out at Vernell.  Mama backhand me so quick she knock the spit from out my mouth.

“No electric show don’t help arthritis none,” my Mama say.  She rub her knee.  Same one she hurt on roll’way bed that nite she say.  She say she drag the girls out one door just as she hear another slam.  She think all the boys safe on the back porch once she hear the door go blam!  But, she say, something about the sound that tell her thangs ain’t right.  But, she say, she do not follow her first mind that awful nite.

She look at me and she say, “Mandy, all way follow yo’ first mind.”

I say “Yes, m’am.”  And then I part her thick grey hair in a long straight line.

She say, “Don’t never love a man so much that you can’t tell when he is lying.”

I scratch some dander from out her scalp.

I do not think she know she crying.

“Damn you,” she say just like she do when she come home and lights is off.  “Daddy gone the nite Clyde die.”

I ask her, “Where?”

Her voice get soft.  She look into the lamp beside her.  Adjust it so it don’t go dead.

“Do it hurt?”

She whisper, “No.”

I mean her heart.

She mean her head.

Damn you, A.D. she scream at her husband when she find the two in bed.  She remember all the times she found the long red hair from the woman’s head on A.D. clothes.  She don’t pay them no mind.  She think she and the woman friends.  She walk in on them out in the shed.  Candles burning soft and dim.  A.D. he cover up his butt and push the white gal to the floor.  Belle close her husband out her heart.  And slam the door forevermore.  She run out the shed into the orchard.  She scream the way a banshee might.  Her whole world fall down round her knees on that warm October night.

She feel the air go still around her.  Then the lightning strike the house.  “This the sound it make,” she tell me.  “Craaack!”  She make the sound back in her mouth.  She say she stand with her mouth open and watch the fire eat up the roof.  When she come back to herself she covered up with smoke and soot.

She say, “Just then Cleo and Azra come round the corner from side the house.”  She say she still don’t know Clyde missing till Azra Lee open up his mouth.  He ask her, “Mama, where my brother?” Mama say the baby said.  She look back at the house and she know.  Her oldest child is good as dead.

Another streak light up the sky.  She turn and see Clyde in the window.  Mouth shape in his Mama name.  He calling for her, “Come and get me!”  She say she never will forget the look of fear upon Clyde face just before the house fall down.  And turn itself into Clyde grave.

Then she quiet.  And you know my Mama forget I stand behind her.  I scratch her scalp real soft.  And up come big ole flake of juicy dander.

She get him out somehow or nother.  She don’t know how she say to me.  She pick her son up in her arms and set him down by the old oak tree.  He scream her name out till he die.  Skin burnt so bad it’s black and smooth.  The Chi’ren Who Live scream out behind her.  But, she say, she cannot move.

“Lord, please have mercy on my soul!”  All nite long my Mama beg.  She stay this way till Daddy find them.  He reach for her.  She bite his leg.  She say she like a dog who mad.  Her mouth all full of spit and foam.  I cannot ‘magine this my Mama.  I wipe the dander from off the comb and put my finger to the soft spot on her head.  She start to moan.  I rub her scalp real soft and easy.  Careful so the nail don’t rub.

“How long you stay that way?” I whisper.

“Until the day the angel come.”

A pain, she say, shoot thru her butt and make her come back to herself.  She in her daddy bed she say.  She smell like she done soil herself.  She don’t know just how long she been there.  But she know it must have been a while.  Cause she can smell the honeysuckle.  It smell so sweet it make her smile.

She crawl up out the bed she lay in.  Stomach cradle in her palm.  No one at home she say she reckon.  Cause the house real nice and calm.  She say she look round for her shoes, but she don’t find none for her feet.  So she walk barefoot to the toilet.  In pain so bad it make her weep.

The darkness wrap itself around her.  The grey wood cool beneath her feet.  She heish her skirt up round her waist and set down on the wooden seat.  Bitterness roll from her eyes.  She hurt so bad she start to moan.  The pain cut thru her like a razor.  The scream in her throat sound like a song.  “Blessed Father up in heaven.  Have mercy on me, if you please.”  She need to get up off the toilet.  She need to fall down on her knees.

“Help…me…Lord,” I cry to Jesus.  “Hear yo’ servant humble call.”  She turn to me.  Say, “’Member all way, God He catch you when you fall.”

What happen next my Mama say she never tell a living soul.  She say a hand reach out and grab her.  And just like that! her pain is gone.  She say a woman stand before her.  Bright and shiny as the sun.  She say the angel speak and say, “I come from God.  His will be done.”

When angel speak she say she hear it not in her ear.  But in her soul.

I say, “It must be sorta like the nite you hear the thunder roll.”

“Yes,” she say.  “It just like that.”

“Was you scared?” I want to know.

She say her knees was almost buckling.  My Mama say she scared for show.

“God send me to you with a message,” Mama say the angel say.

“And what’s this message so important you come to my outhouse today?”  She say she just can’t help but laugh.  This bout as foolish as thangs come.

“Forgive,” she say the angel say.  Then poof!  Like that!  The angel gone.

“What she want you to forgive?” I ask my Mama.  Her voice get low.

“Myself,” she say.  “Yo’ Daddy too.”

For what is what I like to know.  I quiet while I think on this.  Mama quiet too, I see.  She sit and stare off into space.  And rub that old wound on her knee.

God could just as soon have ask her walk on water.  Part the sea.  She don’t remember back in time when ‘forgive’ a thing she want to be.  What it feel like she not lukewarm.  If she say just what she meant.  She wonder what have happen to her.  She wonder where her passion went.  She hold her hand up to her nose and breathe, although its clog with snot.  Her breath come out just like she know.  It come out neither cold nor hot.

She know she do not hate her husband.  That would mean she have to care.  The way she got her life set up caring is something she just don’t dare.  Apathy spread so far and wide it make her pie crusts gummy.  And her cakes don’t rise.

I love you, he says.  His touch make her jake her body back from him like she bit by a snake.  That don’t make him quit reaching.  She can’t say that it do.  He just sing Baby Belle, Baby Belle to the tune of the blues.  He bring her persimmons.  She spit in his face.  He give the ‘simmon pits to the chi’ren.  But the knife and fork he leave in place.

“What you say then, Mama?”

“Show me how,” she say she say.  And then my mama tell me, “Member God will all way show the way.  All you got to do is ask Him.  Just look at me,” my Mama say.

Just then the lights all come back on.  And the furnace start to hum.  Daddy walk in thru the front door.  Two bags of grocery in his arms.

“Be glad the Lord He touch my heart, A.D.” my Mama say.  Her voice all mean.

“And that I is, Baby Belle, Baby Belle.  God know I is!” my Daddy sing.

Hedgebrook

Vortext-weekend salon

VORTEXT

May 20-22, 2016

VORTEXT is an extraordinary weekend salon at the famed Whidbey Institute, led by renowned women writers.

The program, now in its fifth year, gives writers the opportunity to connect in diverse and powerful small-group workshops. Writers also enjoy dynamic keynotes and discussions about opportunities and challenges for women who write, as well as several open mics over the course of the weekend.

Dates: May 20-22, 2016       Location: Whidbey Institute | Whidbey Island, WA

 

I WANT HEAVEN TO BE HEDGEBROOK

I first heard about Hedgebrook back in 1999.

I was about to move to Seattle and call myself writer for the first time.

A woman who worked at the Seattle Rep told me about this place for women writers.

She said the name was Hedgebrook.  So I went back to South Carolina

And told my accountability writing partner about this place I’d heard about.

We decided to apply together.  (Just cause I had problems sending stuff out.)

And the way the world works, don’t you know, they chose her and did not choose me.

I was devastated.  (Even tho I was really happy for my friend.)

What “my angel” told me was, “It’s cause you’re not good enough.

You know you’re not a writer.  Quit playing.  Get a job.”

 

When Ruth Ozeki talked about killing your angel, I understood what she was saying.

Your angel pretends to be your only honest friend.  Just a voice to keep you grounded.

And so I did.  I got a job.  But I would not stop writing.

But it took me another five long years before I had the courage

To try again.  But I kept hearing my mama say, “If you don’t try, you sho’ won’t fail.”

And so I tried again.  And again I was rejected.

When I got the rejection letter, I sat with my head in both my hands.

“Why try?” my angel told me.  “You’re not as good as those Hedgebrook women.”

And I believed her more than I wanted to.  Maybe I was crazy.  Cause who was I

To think I could sit at the same table as those gifted Hedgebrook writers?

 

And then I took a playwriting class taught by the amazing Amy Wheeler.

She didn’t work at Hedgebrook at the time.  But she was their biggest cheerleader.

And she encouraged me to submit the play that I had worked on in her class.

And the third time was the charm.  I was finally accepted.

It was then I realized I wanted heaven to be Hedgebrook.  I want to spend eternity there.

Experiencing the radical hospitality that permeates the very air

And everything else, from the food to the cottages.  It was like I finally exhaled

For the first time during that glorious week back in June 2007.

 

Since then, I knew I needed Hedgebrook, but my angel would tell me,

“You never even got a full production of the play you worked on there.

Everybody else ends up being famous.”  I couldn’t shut her voice up in my head.

But this year I made a decision.  I was going back to Hedgebrook again.

And like Reiko said in her amazing insightful tarot reading,

There is a place in your unconscious that holds everything you’re needing

To be the writer / the creative / that you are meant to be.

I let the angel talk (since she must).  But the yearning was still inside me.

And so when the email came about the Vortext workshop this year,

I emailed back to see if I could get some kind of scholarship.

And, thanks to the generous efforts of the wonderful Rebecca Cleary,

When I applied, I was offered a place at the Vortext weekend.

 

That Friday morning when I arrived and sat at the breakfast table,

I met Agatha.  And I learned about the diverse group of VONA women.

It felt like a connection that I want to hold onto forever.

And I loved how everybody talked about the things that we were writing.

Cause where else in the world can I have those kinds of conversations?

Where else where women are treated like we are the ones who really matter?

Where else where everybody is holding so fast onto their dreams?

Where else that silences my angel so completely when she screams?

 

And then the keynote speakers rose.  And told us all about their problems.

And all of a sudden, I didn’t feel so much like I was such a failure.

They helped me understand that failure is a part of the process.

Ruth helped me look my angel in the eye.  And I told her BANG!  YOU’RE DEAD!

On the second day, I was blessed to hear Natalie Brazille speak.

I sat in my seat and I cried like a baby as she told her story

Of her failure and rejections.  And it was my story.  Every syllable.

All the ways being a writer hurt.  (All except for her happy ending.)

Hannah said something that made me think.  Truer words were never spoken.

There were always better writers in all of her classes. But they couldn’t take rejection.

They let their angel talk them out of it.  Or they couldn’t see it thru.

That made me even more determined.  I said, “That writer won’t be you.”

 

A week has passed since I left Hedgebrook and the Whidby Institute.

I’ve written something every day.  And this I want to share with you,

The wonderful writers I met during Vortext and the spirit women who were there.

Thank you for everything.  And I hope to see you all again next year.

And I hope to see you in that place in heaven especially reserved for Hedgebrook writers.

Where we can read and talk, play ukelele and sing, and write together for all eternity.

Kathya Alexander

May, 2016