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Meet Sai Isoke of Embers and Eons

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sai Isoke.

Sai, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am a Black, queer and genderqueer person who is passionate about how all of those aspects come in contact with my world and the world at large. I’m also a person who was fortunate to be brought up in a very pro-Black household so the Black history I wasn’t getting in school was definitely supplemented at home. However, I was never given any Black Feminist or LGBTQ history when I was growing up so when I came out, I had very little knowledge of where to place my desire and body in the history I was given. I wanted to be able to so badly! There is power in being able to see yourself in the past and future and I did everything in my power to get through those limitations–like study Black queer scholars in college and grad school.

I was recently enrolled in a Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Ph. D program where my research topics centered on Blackness, queerness, gender, pop culture (primarily T.V., film, and music). I’ve recently decided to take a break from the program but my interests and passions didn’t escape me.

One day last year, I was listening to music and came across Labi Siffre. I found him specifically because I was searching for queer artists to listen to from different eras. I’m listening to a song called “I Got The…” and I’m into it because the music is from the 70s and that’s pretty much all I need in order to enjoy a song. Kidding, but not kidding. After the song plays for a couple of minutes, the beat changes, and I recognize the sounds. Immediately. I start humming the lyrics to “My Name Is…” by Eminem. That’s where I recognize the sample from. I get excited as I do whenever I can recognize a sample on the spot but then something clicks: this song sampled an out Black gay man…and I never knew. Why didn’t I know? How did I not know? There is something to be said about hip-hop and sampling but there is another thing to be said about an out Black gay musician in the 70s that I wasn’t familiar within all of my years of musical obsession.

The excitement turned into anxiety which turned into sadness because how many times would I have this moment. How many times would Black queer and trans folks be confined to the shadows of pop culture, media, and art, only to be unearthed and celebrated by those who can venture into those shadows?

That’s when Embers and Eons clicked for me. I started Embers and Eons earlier this summer though the idea came to me in October of 2019. That was going to be my contribution to my communities. A place where we could guarantee that Blackness, queerness, and gender would converge in real-time, the past and the future. One of my favorite quotes from all time is “Black people have a fever for the archive” from Matt Richardson’s book, The Queer Limit of Black Memory. The name Embers and Eons is inspired by the fact that we’ve always been here and will always be here. We come before and after. We have created time and space where we were told we couldn’t. That’s so much of what I’ve experienced and witnessed of queer and trans communities of color and I want to celebrate that. (also you can read more about the name in our first issue!)

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Since Embers and Eons is new, I’d say network reach has been the biggest issue. The zine is small and the site is brand new so I don’t have all of the tools to expand our reach the way I want to but I’m learning and it’s being worked on and worked through!

Please tell us about Embers and Eons.
Embers and Eons is a zine and online space dedicated to the Black queer and trans histories, currents, and futures. The zine is bi-monthly and we encourage collaborations from Black, queer and trans members of our communities as well as folx who occupy other spaces in QT/BIPOC communities. Artists, writers, thinkers, feelers are welcome to submit to our community drop boxes or contact us to collaborate on a zine. We just want to put our voices out there.

The zine is the main focus as of now, though we are gearing up to do more with our website later this year to work towards a thriving online community. The first issue came out in July titled “Minding Our Minds” and it was dedicated to BIPOC Mental Health Month. The second issue comes out at the end of September and that is called “The Body Issue” as we will be decentering social standards of beauty and body representation and worshiping our own!

I am most proud of the fact that this exists for us and those around us. What sets us apart from others is that we are looking to build relationships and community with individuals. We think about sharing people’s stories, reflections, ideas, and feelings as collaboration. These are not only people who have platforms or who are building platforms but people who exist in our communities. So much care is there. The air of Embers and Eons is like ending up sitting on a bench next to someone you’ve lived on the same block as for years, and finally having that conversation that shows you how much you have in common and/or how much you can learn from just listening and sharing.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
The quality that is most important to my success in life and with Embers and Eons is my undying desire to know more and share more. I can’t stress enough how essential that is to marginalized experiences. It’s my lifeblood. It’s the thing that keeps me going.

The other aspect of my success that is most important to me is the people who have helped Embers and Eons really become a thing. I often say “we” when talking about Embers and Eons and even if I’m doing most of the leg work during any given issue or maintenance, I know that it will grow into something that includes a bigger team. I know that includes so many of my friends. I know that it includes the people I’ve collaborated with before. Shout out to Kea Butler Visuals who designed our website, Effrvscnce of Sourced who collaborated with us and helped sponsor the first issue, and visual artist Light Amor who is co-editing and contributing to the second issue!

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Image Credit:
Embers and Eons

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