Shauna Barbosa

I grew up in a Cape Verdean community in Roxbury, Massachusetts. As a young girl, I learned that Cape Verdeans were fetishized because of our mixed Portuguese heritage, our curly hair, and as a friend once put it, “the exotic look” in our eyes. I believed those things made us unique. Until I discovered our land of literature. Warm brutal buried dreams of the Atlantic Ocean.

I spent the summer of 2014 in Cape Verde, and while browsing a travel guide, I came across a passage written by Cape Verdean poet Jorge Barbosa (no relation): “The sea, you enlarge our dreams and suffocate our desires.” In my own work, I write about the sea quite a bit. As refuge, as comfort, as the only arms with the ability to hold. I needed to know more about the man who penned these words. At a local library in Praia, a librarian made a copy of Barbosa’s collection of poems, Ambiente (Ambiance, Environment) for me. I read the poems, written solely in Portuguese, picking apart the words I knew. But ultimately, through academic translation, discovering Barbosa led to my rediscovery of my father’s homeland.

When I was putting together my debut poetry collection, Cape Verdean Blues, only then did I realize how much of my writing is rooted in identity, in the view of both Cape Verdean and Black American experience. From Jorge Barbosa, I learned to break away from the tradition of “what has been done, should be done” — and allow myself to imagine worlds, people, things, and eras that I can define through my own experience and the experiences of others.

I write because breaking the rules of language to understand the rights and wrongs of our tongues is how we signify everything. The sound and the fury.

 


 

When the task of writing grows inevitably arduous—and seemingly thankless—we must remember why we started. Inspired by George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Why I Write,” this introspective project highlights our motives for writing. Share your story and join the conversation. Live events are produced throughout the diverse cities of Orange County and feature author readings from curated essay submissions.

  1. Write a 500-word essay explaining why you write.
  2. Submit via Submittable.

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