At this time in my life I am reminded of my first encounter with Native/African American sculptor Nancy Elizabeth Prophet’s diary. I first read about her rather aching life last spring in the book New Negro Artists in Paris.
Her diary entries chronicle experiences most people don’t want to feel with their bodies much less with a pen. For this, despite her tragic, unsuccessful life as an artist, I revere Nancy Elizabeth Prophet’s life as a SUCCESS. We need to know of such women if only to know what it sounds like to be honest and vulnerable with ourselves during life’s brutalities.
Prophet’s entries describe journey spaces too often romanticised or skipped over in artist life testimony. They tell of the deepest darkness and the painful friction of unsuccessful spaces any of us could find ourselves. They demonstrate what it means to journey soulfully.
I am inspired and excited to share pieces of Prophet’s entries with you, especially since I am in a similar space that she was in most of her life as an artist trying to keep herself alive in a new city. Her bravery to document herself encourages me to document where I am. I hope they do the same for you.
A brave soul, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet worked as a housekeeper to pay her way through Rhode Island School of Design. She became the first Black woman to graduate from the institution.
In 1922, with only $380, she sailed from Rhode Island to Paris where, for a good while, she had better prospects as an artist of colour. Back in the States her ethnicity hindered her growth as an artist (once she was invited to submit work to an exhibit with the condition that she not come herself…).
Nancy’s 46-page diary is filled with lines of determination from what seemed to be her pits of hell while living in Paris. Despite malnutrition, working in no heat, having no benefactor support at times, etc. she kept at her work, kept making, kept soliciting support through her friend WEB DuBois. She kept going.
I am learning celebrate brave continuance far more than I ever have.
Reading through journals by women of colour leaves me feeling like I have an assignment to carry a torch of their latent hopes and dreams. I get this feeling that I have to leave a memorial from my journey.
At the same time their journals are sort of like emotional maps (if that makes any sense). I read and feel gratitude and relief that they expressed how something felt or documented certain life events. I’m relieved they found vocabulary to describe scenarios, sensations, moments, and emotions for which even I haven’t been able to match words. In their documentations I see why it’s so important that I keep documenting my life. There’s resonance in their rhetoric. And where there is resonance there is healing.
This is why I am sharing OUR journals.
These women’s words remain, bound as evidence for us. We cannot leave them unreviewed. In their private revelations we may find hope for our tomorrows. They are proof of purpose. Evidence of humanity. Evidence of survival. Evidence of validity. Evidence of life. Evidence of sanity. Evidence of truth. Evidence of a journey done soulfully.
Where are OUR Journals? is an ongoing project unearthing the writings
of teastained women's journals.