Continuing our spotlight with our Sister Spit 2020 artists, we have Junauda Petrus!
Junauda Petrus is a writer, pleasure activist, filmmaker, runaway witch, cosmic bag lady and performance artist of Black-Caribbean descent, born on Dakota land. She creates performance and written work centering in wildness, queerness, Black-diasporic-futurism, ancestral healing, sweetness, shimmer and liberation. She is the co-founder with Erin Sharkey of Free Black Dirt, an experimental arts production company. She is currently writing and directing, "Sweetness of Wild" a poetic-episodic film series themed around Blackness, queerness, biking, resistance, love and coming of age in Minneapolis. Her first young adult novel, The Stars and The Blackness Between Them, debuts September 2019 on Dutton Children’s. It’s about queer, Black diasporic love, mass incarceration, astrology, ancestral magic, Whitney Houston, and trusting the sacredness of your existence despite oppression and heartbreak. She lives in Minneapolis with her wife and magically aquarian, bonus-daughter.
Why do you write? What compels you to write?
I write things to heal and to find myself and my existence on the page. From since I was young, writing has been my therapy and my place of magic. When I was young, I looked to books to help with feelings of loneliness and outsiderness, and as a writer I seek to put love and sweetness on the page for all of those who needed to see a reflection of their divine, sweet selves.
What upcoming writing projects are you working on?
I'm working on a new young adult book that I'm super excited about that takes place in the 90s and deals with Black intergenerational healing and feelings. I also am working on writing some film projects and completing a poetry collection.
Describe your work in five words:
Whimsical, Emo, Funny, Black, Sensuous.
What are some of your artistic influences/inspirations?
I'm deeply inspired by the Black Feminist Canon of greats, Toni Morrison, Alexis DeVeaux, Sharon Bridgforth, Alice Walker, June Jordan, Lucille Clifton, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur and Octavia countless contemporaries who are continuing the magical healing through text. I'm inspired by the falsetto of Marvin Gaye, Bilal and D'Angelo, and the perfection of nature and the cosmos. I'm inspired by Black queerness and radicalism and how that has been a beacon of healing in an anti-Black reality for me. All of these energies, named and unnamed have helped me in re-imagining a world that is dipped in our creative expressions and limitless healing.
"Mabel" an excerpt from The Stars and the Blackness Between Them
I’m trying to sleep and I can’t sleep. My belly hurts and my hips too. All I can do is lie in bed and think of young Whitney Houston from the eighties. I have her album Whitney next to my bed. I found it at the thrift store last week when I was there with my mama, and I been sleeping next to Whitney every night ever since. My mom thinks it’s cute since Whitney was her idol growing up, and she was inspired by her singing and style and stuff. But I feel like Whitney and I are connected in a special way for some reason. I have loved her since I was a kid, when my mom and I would play her greatest hits and dance to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” At the part when Whitney says, “Don’t you wanna dance? Say you wanna dance! Don’t you wanna dance?!” Mama would pull my dad in. He would do his reliable and raggedy two-step, thinking he is killing the game and she would be in her intricate Afro-modern-hip-hop choreography—which is a lot of shoulder-shimmying, lyric dancing, and old-lady twerking. My mom can dance though, for real, and she could always get my dad to just let go and be goofy.
Anyway, I’m up staring at my ceiling, in my memories and my feels as usual, listening to my “quiet storm” mix (as my dad calls it). It’s all emo and soft music. Soon, I’m thinking of Whitney and her fine self from back in the day again. She just had a lot of layers to her, which is a thing I think I like in people, like Ursa and Jazzy. Even Terrell has layers. I like that sometimes Whitney was graceful and poised like a church lady, but she was really kind of wild and cray, and straight hood, too.
I’m like that, I got a lot of layers too, but I think other kids think I’m just this whatever tomboy Black girl, who always reading and playing ball or working out or something. I basically fit in, which is okay, but sometimes, I wish I felt comfortable to put my layers out there more.
If I’m honest, part of my renewed curiosity is because recently I found out Whitney Houston fell in love with this other girl, Robyn, when they was teens and working a summer job in New Jersey. I was just looking stuff up online and found some things about her “rumored romance” with her basketball-player best friend, Robyn. I don’t know, but it just seems cool to know that she had this connection with this other girl. And that the other girl was a beautiful basketball star, and Whitney fell for her butt, called her the “sister she never had.” Mmm-hmmm. I feel that. I think I’ve felt that way before. With Ursa, my bestie, I felt that somewhat and in another kind of weird way with Jada, this girl from math.
I read that when Whitney hit it big, Robyn was her for-real, ride or die. That she became Whitney’s assistant and her confidante and always had her back. For real, for real. They shared a huge apartment together that was bad and beautiful and was living that good life together.
When I listen to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” after reading more about their connection, I imagine Whitney and Robyn slow-dancing in an icy and lit penthouse in the eighties and it’s all back-in-the-day fresh. A world of windows, looking over the city lights and skyscrapers, black and white everything, with leather couches, a big sound system with mad tapes and CDs, glass tables and a neon chandelier. Old-school and tasteful. They are two Black girls, slow-dancing, teen twin flames who loved each other. Inseparable.
I feel it.
Anyway, some people deny it, but when I look at pictures of young Robyn and Whitney and how they are smiling and close, a part of me thinks it’s true. I just do. I can totally see why Whitney loved her. She is cool and smooth, more swag than any of those cheesy, Jheri-curled dudes probably trying to push up on her. I also read that one time, Robyn also maybe whooped Bobby Brown’s butt. I wanna be like that—smooth like Robyn. Just a tender thug who Whitney would love.
Maybe Robyn was her true love. I wish she coulda stayed with her if that’s what she wanted, and they’d be in love forever. Maybe the world would’ve loved her if she was queer. I would’ve, no doubt. Whitney was an angel and what if Robyn could’ve been her bodyguard? Why did that basic-white-boy Kevin Costner, with no swag, have to save her? It should’ve been Robyn’s cool self. Ain’t Black women always saving everything anyway? Why can’t we save Whitney?