We recently interviewed Pittsburgh-based author Schereeya about their new book of poetry, Prayers & Pixies, which will be available starting Nov. 1 through Red Hawk Publications. They tell us about their love of poetry, seeing more Black people in fantasy settings, and their novel in progress.
Midwest BSFA: How did you get into poetry?
Schereeya: I’ve been writing poems as long as I can remember. My dad was a rapper so I spent a lot of time in early childhood just playing rhyming and freestyle games as a kid. I remember specifically in fourth grade doing a poetry unit and making this booklet of examples of different styles of poems (haiku, quatrain, poems with alliteration) etc. I fell in love with knowing there are words to describe the sounds and rhythms that I liked. After fourth grade, though, I never really wrote poems publicly, I usually defaulted to stories or scripts for a while. Until this summer, I kind of started selling poetry commissions on a whim to make some money and it took off spectacularly!
Midwest BSFA: Who are your favorite poets and why?
Schereeya: It’s cliché, but as a kid I loved Emily Dickenson. Her poems were short and sad and I didn’t want to like them because of the aforementioned cliché but I just did. My first introduction to poetry was really music, so I always loved specific lyricists: Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Lil Wayne, but also more punk/rock like Haley Williams and Linkin Park or Reliant K. I just like words so anyone who is doing something fun or interesting or silly with them gets my attention.
Midwest BSFA: What do you think keeps more people of color from getting involved in fantasy?
Schereeya: My experience with fantasy growing up was always that I loved it and I was sad that I’d never be able to play any of my favorite characters in a movie or TV show because they were never Black. I think historically the lack of representation is part of it, but I think an even bigger part is lack of heritage and connection. So far, we haven’t seen a lot of fantasy that is mired in African, Caribbean, or African-American culture. It’s usually King Arthur type tales. That’s why I live for Children of Blood and Bone and Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky and their contemporaries. Children of color have fantastic imaginations and love magic and fairies and supernatural or fantasy creatures just as much as anyone else, because they come from peoples who were connected to the supernatural. It’s not just European cultures that have roots in folklore and “myths.” We’re seeing such a resurgence with Black Panther and even Raya and the Last Dragon, you know? And I love that because Disney is kind of the keeper of magic for our age, I think, but we definitely have to start claiming our stories back!
Midwest BSFA: Why did you want to put out this book?
Schereeya: I’ve actually been working on a novel for about 10 years — science fantasy, set 100 years in the future, magical neurodivergent and queer Black and brown kids, alladat — and the process of writing it has set me on a journey to really kind of explore and expand my writing practice. And my artistic practice in general. So that’s kind of how I got back into poetry- almost as like word sketches to test out some of the story or scene ideas I’ve been playing with. When I had so much excellent feedback about the poetry commissions, I realized I had some really nice pieces that would work well as a collection. So I wanted to just you know, finally get something out there, after years of writing a book, stories, poems, plays, I really felt like it’s time to get myself on the map!
I also just think that we live in a time where there is so much value in expressing yourself, and trying to live authentically, and connect with people through whatever means necessary. For me, I connect with people through my work. Try to give voice to difficult emotions and situations that sometimes people struggle with. So I knew I had a potentially fleeting opportunity to get connected with even more people by publishing these poems as a collection instead of just one-on-one commissions.
Finally, the poems in this book (and my follow-up collection which I’m already working on) are kind of woven into my novel. I won’t give all the details now because I haven’t decided how much to spill, but they are connected. I want people to start getting kind of familiar with my voice, with my worldview, so that they’re primed to really accept the stuff I’m presenting in the novel. It’s 100 years in the future in a world that’s lived through the pandemic, lived through climate change, is exploring space and the potential existence of literal gods on the planet. I think a lot of it is kind of radical stuff, and I hope that the poems are kind of a palette-primer if that makes sense.
Midwest BSFA: How did you come up with the concept? Why tie fae/faeries into it?
Schereeya: The concept sort of birthed itself after I looked at the collection of poems I had available. Because I’ve been deep in book research mode (for the novel) I was already deep in the themes of nature and magic and the cosmos. That’s just sort of what came out of me as I started writing. I was able to sort the poems into four categories and add some magical woodland photos that I’ve taken on nature walks with the kids. The fae just sort of come up naturally as well, because again, I’m always thinking about fairies and magic. (are aliens and angels and fairies the same thing? Maybe!) There’s a poem about a mermaid, one that personifies the ocean, two RPG poems based on Dungeons & Dragons, so it just made sense to me.
Midwest BSFA: How has the pandemic affected your creativity?
Schereeya: So I actually graduated from grad school right at the start of the pandemic. I finished a Master’s in Theatre from York University (UK) and was in my third trimester with my second pregnancy. Between the pandemic and the new baby (and the toddler!), it was a horrible time to get into theatre, which is what I thought I was going to do. But then there was so much going on with the uprisings and protests in summer 2020 that all of sudden people were like begging me to participate in arts-y things. (I had been pretty outspoken about social justice things on my social media for a few years before that so I think it just clicked for some people.) All of a sudden I was trying to polish up scripts and pull together a portfolio, etc. etc. I landed my first professional directing gig. The pandemic actually afforded me the opportunity to do some remote work and really sort of focus on my artistic practice in a way I think I wouldn’t have been able to do under ‘traditional’ circumstances which is I guess wry comfort in a global pandemic.
I also really struggled with depression in the year leading up to, and through a lot of the first year of the pandemic. So my creativity really suffered from that for a bit, but honestly the process of engaging mindfulness and working to really sort through stuff and try to get myself back to a mentally healthy set has had a huge impact on my work.
Midwest BSFA: Anything else you want our readers to know?
Schereeya: I’m rooting for everybody Black! I’m on social media, where I post selfies, jokes, and content about how to be better, more revolutionary allies to marginalized communities. Also, I’m on Patreon where I muse about writing and religion and spirituality as well as provide behind-the-scenes stuff about my novel!
Find Schereeya on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok at @schereeya!