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'Literature for Justice'

April 2, 2021

ASU's Center for Imagination in the Borderlands hosts authors featured in National Book Foundation program

Given the sheer number of incarcerated individuals in the United States — the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world — it’s not uncommon to know someone who has either been affected by the prison system or who has experienced it for themselves.

Natalie Diaz knows two: her brother and her sister. And as she struggled to come to terms with what being incarcerated meant for them, for her and for the world in general, there were two books that guided her understanding.

“I found ‘Golden Gulag’ (by Ruth Wilson Gilmore) in grad school when I realized I needed more language for what was happening to my brother,” Diaz said. The other book, “Ossuaries,” by Dionne Brand, came to her later, when her sister was in prison.

Both of them, Diaz said, “remind us that we are a constellation of lives, homelands and waterways … that we must have the courage to ask impossible questions.” Questions like, “Whose freedom must I also imagine in imagining what freedom means to me?”

As fate would have it, Diaz had the opportunity to engage in a discussion with both Wilson Gilmore and Brand on March 31 as part one of a two-part virtual series led by the National Book Foundation’s Literature for Justice program, in partnership with Arizona State University's Center for Imagination in the Borderlands, for which Diaz serves as director.

For three years, the National Book Foundation’s Literature for Justice program has offered literature as a vehicle for conversations on the topic of mass incarceration, distributing selected books — which this year included “Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California” and “Ossuaries” — to prisons and detention centers across the U.S.

Part 2 of the series will take place Wednesday, April 7, wherein Diaz will be in conversation with Nicole R. Fleetwood, writer and curator of “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” and scholar Sarah Haley, author of “No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity,” for a discussion on the convergences and divergences of academia, archives and art in the carceral system.

Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU, praised Diaz for her work in furthering the mission of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands to broaden conversations around Indigeneity and catalyze change for the future.

“Through Natalie Diaz’s visionary leadership, the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands has been partnering with arts and literary partners nationally to bring about new possibilities,” he said. “The center’s work continually demonstrates the intimacy of creative writing to engendering a more just world. In collaboration with the National Book Foundation, Literature for Justice raises awareness of a crisis of our times: mass incarceration and the diminishing of the lives of those who find themselves within prison walls.”

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From left: Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of "Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California;" Natalie Diaz, director of ASU's Center for Imagination in the Borderlands; and Dionne Brand, author of "Ossuaries."

During the first part of the series, attendees were treated to readings from both Brand and Wilson Gilmore, followed by a discussion with Diaz. The first question she asked her guests to consider was how their notion of home — something Diaz sees as linked with incarceration — has changed over the past year due to the pandemic.

“I’m here in my homeland, which is also very near to the U.S.-Mexico border, and so when we think of the prison system … or mass incarceration, when we think of migration, these things are all very tethered,” Diaz said.

Brand agreed, sharing that as a Black woman, she has always felt an intimacy with water.

“Water is the first thing in my imagination,” she said. “Maybe that has something to do with the Middle PassageThe Middle Passage was the stage in the "triangular trade" in which millions of Africans were forcibly transported to the New World as part of the Atlantic slave trade. The triangular trade refers to the trade among Europe, Africa and the New World.. Well, not maybe, most definitely.”

Brand went on to explain that her feeling of belonging in water gives her a sense of connection to “the struggles of people for liberation from the regime of capitalism and the regime of racial capitalism. … That has been my touchstone for the solidarities that I’ve imagined and tried to write about. And the in-betweenness of sort of making those solidarities or making those imaginative spaces of freedom among people who were subjected to that racial regime, that regime of capitalism.”

The discussion zeroed in on that theme, looking at the term “relationality” in particular, and what it means to people who have been displaced and oppressed.

“It’s a term that’s important to Indigenous and Black people in the diaspora,” Diaz said. “Yet I also hear it being used in an un-complex way, to say that we’re all related because we’re all alive. But it requires work … it’s laborious in a lot of ways. … (Something I recall Ruth saying about solidarity is that) solidarity is made and remade; it never just is.”

At a point in time when the topic of solidarity is at the forefront of the minds of those who seek social justice, Wilson Gilmore took the opportunity to expand on what she believes makes true solidarity possible: something she calls “radical listening.”

“Listening is absolutely essential to understanding and creating and maintaining a language adequate to making the web of understanding, misunderstanding that enables solidarity to make and remake itself,” she said. “… Whatever size the ‘we’ is, there’s some kind of radical listening that has to go on.”

A video recording of the full discussion can be viewed on the National Book Foundation’s YouTube page for two weeks following the date of the event.

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Parenting in a pandemic

April 2, 2021

Two upcoming conferences to focus on parental, child health and wellness

Preparing for life after birth can be intimidating, but it’s a comfort to know there are others who have been through it before and can help guide you along the way. But preparing for life after birth during a pandemic? That’s a whole new ballgame.

As the founder of 4th Trimester Arizona, a nonprofit organization that provides community support for parents during and after pregnancy, Jennie Bever was ready and willing to step up to the plate.

An adjunct assistant research professor in ASU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Bever launched 4th Trimester Arizona in 2018 hoping to change the culture of new parenthood in a country that still does not mandate any paid leave for new parents and where postpartum depression rates in women have been estimated to be as high as one in five.

Over the past three years, the organization has grown in leaps and bounds. At the onset of 2020, Bever was preparing to expand 4th Trimester Arizona's support “villages” — groups of local parents who meet monthly to share experiences and resources — to three new locations across the Valley.

Then COVID-19 hit.

Not one to back down from a challenge, Bever rallied her staff, and together, they took the villages virtual. This year, 4th Trimester Arizona will also be hosting its annual conference online on Saturday, April 24, with workshops on everything from postpartum intimacy to redefining your identity after birth to self-care and holistic healing.

Ahead of that, from April 8-9, Bever’s colleague and research partner, ASU College of Health Solutions Associate Professor Meg Bruening, will be hosting the virtual Maternal and Child Health Conference for providers, researchers and stakeholders.

Along with Edson College Professor Elizabeth Reifsnider, Bever and Bruening have plans to study the effect of COVID-19 on women’s postpartum experiences over the past year.

ASU News spoke with Bever about the pros and cons of supporting a village virtually, the unique challenges of having a baby during a pandemic and how to get a handle on it all.

Question: What were some of the pros and cons of going virtual?

Answer: It’s hard to not have other people around you, especially when you’re a new mom. But for a lot of moms, this has become even more isolating. They were already alone, and now people can’t even come over, and almost all of the in-person support groups have shut down. So by going online, we were able to provide a place for people to come and talk. For us, as an organization, doing everything on Zoom while we’re at home with our own kids was a bit of a struggle, because we’re also just trying to manage their schedules and online school and everything else. But the cool thing is, it’s our village, too. So the moms are really understanding and supportive.

Q: In addition to your work with 4th Trimester, you’re also doing some research with professors Meg Bruening and Elizabeth Reifsnider, looking at the postpartum experience during COVID-19. Tell me about that.

A: Our first and second year of 4th Trimester, I was really convinced that people weren’t getting the full picture of what the postpartum experience was like. I had been in postpartum recently, and I had seen several patientsBever is also a practicing lactation consultant. who had struggled with it, and I’d also heard about it from moms at our conferences. We had what we called a “truth booth,” where we asked attendees to share their experiences of motherhood and just let them talk.

Since COVID, we all know something has changed, but as far as how that changed new motherhood and the postpartum experience, I don’t think we have a clear picture of that; I don’t think it’s being looked at. So we decided to come together and create a way to do that — safely, through Zoom, instead of in-person — especially with moms who had a baby in the last year. We just wanted to ask what that was like: How did you feed your family? How did you feed your baby? What did that look like? Because we don’t have a clear picture.

As we move forward as a country, even if COVID ended tomorrow, there are moms still living with PTSD. Moms who went into the hospital to give birth and had their husbands or partners taken away, or their doulas taken away. All these things that we know are really important were disrupted, and we need to start thinking about how to help them manage the fallout of that. So I’m really eager to see what we find.

Q: Aside from depression, what other concerns/issues might new moms be facing that COVID-19 exacerbates?

A: The biggest one is isolation. You might not be depressed, but it’s still tough to feel like you don’t have someone to help out or even just to talk to. A lot of new moms and dads aren’t comfortable having people come watch their kids right now, so they’re not getting rest either and they’re desperate for sleep solutions. There has been way more sleep training going on, in particular I’ve seen people having a lot of success with the SNOO Smart Sleeper, but that’s causing breastfeeding problems because then the baby doesn’t wake up to feed. But in general, people are just more exhausted because there isn’t anyone to come in and help out. Postpartum is also the time couples are most likely to get divorced, which is just exacerbated now because we’re all so isolated with no one else to talk to. People are also worried about their children getting socialized and how that’s going to impact their development.

Q: What advice do you have for people who know someone who has just had a baby during this time but can’t visit or help out in person?

A: No new parent will ever turn down a meal that is sent to them — or at least they shouldn’t. So DoorDash and Grubhub gift cards are the new great gift for parents. And try to think about things that the mom and her partner might need but might not have thought of. So instead of clothes for baby, maybe put together a postpartum care package for mom. It also helps to just call them on the phone and have a conversation, just to check in and let them talk. Because that isn’t something that’s happening right now, randomly meeting up with friends and talking. Something else we overlook a lot is just simple affirmations, things like saying, “You’re doing a great job.” Those aren’t things your baby tells you. Your baby just tells you, “I’m mad” or “I’m hungry.” They’re not giving you feedback that you’re doing a great job.

Q: Any advice for moms in general during COVID-19?

A: You’re doing great, and you’re not alone in this. So many of us are working to balance everything that’s going on right now, and if you just utilize the right resources, you can better take care of yourself and your family. Because if you burn out, you can’t take care of anyone.

So make sure to take some time for yourself. Build things into your day that you just do. Like, when your kid is fussy, go for a walk. Or maybe turn on the TV for the kids to watch for 30 minutes while you do something else. Because that’s OK; we might feel bad about it, but actually, then you have that much more energy for your kids when you finish what you were doing. I don’t think that’s even advice, I think that’s just a survival skill right now. We’re all just trying to survive, and you’ve got to make sure you’re being there for yourself, too, because you’re the end of the line.

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