INTERVIEW | Krystal A. Smith: To Exist in One Place
Cover Art: Mirlande Jean-Gilles
Cover Design: Lauren Curry
Krystal A. Smith's debut collection of short stories, Two Moons, is "the realization that Blackness, femmeness, and queerness can all exist beautifully and powerfully in one place..."
The work was published in 2018 and was a 31st Annual Lammy finalist and selected for the Over the Rainbow Book List in 2019. Two Moons was published by BLF Press, founded by scholar and writer Dr. Stephanie Andre Allen.
Allen tweeted that she started BLF, "because I believe Black women's stories matter."
It was refreshing to see so many different Black queer women and femmes in one space, and in this work, Smith gives her character's permission to breathe within that space. Here, Black Girl Magic is no longer denied.
A while back, I reviewed the work, stating that, "All these stories seem to be around this idea of passing obstacles, difficulties, and Smith crafts a way to navigate those barriers through imagination. There are stories about shapeshifters and coming face to face with a chatty and obsessive heart repeatedly stating, 'you are loved. You are enough. Between your head and heart you will feel right much. But you are loved in this universe and in the next. You are enough,' highlighting the pain behind vulnerability. There are also stories about goddesses that give life in the most unthinkable ways and goddesses that sprout life through nature."
When I wrote about Smith's work the first time I felt her speak of survival, of using the speculative to talk and address painful and difficult experiences.
After speaking personally with Smith a few weeks back, I began to realize that these stories are not only survival--giving us characters who are forced to reckon and adjust to trauma--but these stories are also about healing.
Through Smith's beautiful and sensual storytelling, Black queer women and femmes are granted permission to "guide [their] hands to where the healing [needs] to happen."
Shiane: So, this is your first book, Two Moons: Stories, which was published in 2018. Although it’s been out for a while, in what ways do you think your work is still relevant and necessary for readers?
Krystal: Well, I hope it will be relevant for a long time to come. I think while there are some sad/traumatic moments in a few of the stories, I hope the happiness and joy and strength come through. People need to see that. People need to see that Black stories aren't all trauma and sadness all the time. So, I think in that way this book, these particular stories are necessary.
S: How has the feedback been for this book?
K: I think overall it’s been wonderful. Two Moons was a 2019 Lammy finalist. It’s been reviewed widely and has been allowed to be its own thing. I’ve not heard anyone say it’s a Black version of X, or it’s a mix between thing-A and thing-B already in existence which feels good. I think I created something somewhat new in many of the stories.
S: I want to talk about your first story, “Search.” I think this story is doing a lot of things; it’s very femme, speculative, and Black, and it seems to be allowing the reader to accept these certain parts of themselves. It’s so surreal and vibrant and lush. Could you discuss a little bit about your intentions for this piece, and what you were trying to bring about?
K: Yes! It's all of those things. That’s exactly what I wanted it to be. The realization that Blackness, femmeness, queerness can all exist beautifully and powerfully in one place is important. No matter how many times it’s pointed out we still need to see it, hear it, feel it. “Search” is a call to accept all of who you are, to use all of who you are every moment you can.
S: In the story “Two Moons” named after the collection, you write about this curiosity of the unknown, but there is such certainty and a beautiful love story between the moon and a woman. It’s a story about distance, barriers, and longing to reach past those barriers. Was this a story to address the barriers that Black femmes and women often face, in not only the literary world but also around queerness?
K: So, the collection was named after the story “Two Moons” and was first printed in Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction (BLF Press 2016) and the collection was built around this one story more or less. I absolutely adore this piece and what happens in it because it is so sentimental and uplifting and tender. I love that you mention barriers and distance and Black femmes. None of those things were in the foreground of my mind while I was writing this story and yet they are so deeply embedded and layered throughout. I do love that this story can be about all those things you mention. I also think Black people/POC need love stories. Period. We have to continually remind ourselves that we are worthy of love and to seek it in all forms and that love is a possibility for us.
S: I think this work mirrors a lot of queer relationships and addresses the problematic notion of queerness as “unnatural.” You play with a lot of metaphors of what is natural, strangeness as desirability and there are stories tied to nature, life, and the earth. I see this in “Two Moons” and especially the story, “Harvest.” Can you talk about these stories bringing in this conversation of nature and queerness?
K: I think nature is so audacious! It’s bright and vibrant, not always what you may imagine it to be, and it always finds a way to continue. Queerness is the same! We are so capable and purposeful. We find our way. We are grand and spectacular!
S: What was the process like of thinking about and writing these stories?
K: While I was in the process it was so scary, intimidating. I wanted to create something fresh. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I think all creatives want that and thus put more pressure on ourselves than is necessary. Thinking back though, the process was incredible! My publisher and I would have these amazing check-in meetings, we’d go over the drafts, dig into what could happen. She’d rec stories for me to read, different perspectives to view my characters from and then turn me loose.
S: Yes, your work was very fun to read, and I think it’s also very serious and delves into conversations of depression, survival, and trauma. Do you feel as though the speculative genre provides space to talk about these discussions?
K: Oh, yeah, most definitely. We should all be able to talk about these things, but there is often so much shame or guilt for feeling what we feel or acknowledging what we’ve experienced, not just to ourselves, but to others too. I think the speculative genre helps shake off some of that and lets us expand in a different way. It also gives us a chance to think about the help we can seek and what that can look like.
S: I’ve never read anything like this before. I often struggle with this in my writing; thinking, wait, this is too strange, no one has ever done this before, am I doing this right? Have you felt anything similar to that?
K: I had those very same thoughts with each story I crafted. I was so concerned about how the differences in my stories would be perceived. It helps to have people around you that you trust and who understand what you’re trying to do even if it doesn’t work. You just have to go for it. Everyone isn’t going to like what you write, or get it. But that’s okay.
S: How would you describe your writing? I have found that it’s very speculative, Black, and queer. Something that I always look for, and something that I think a lot of people are hungry for, especially those whose stories have been excluded for a long time. How did you present your work to editors and publishers?
K: Because “Two Moons” was in the Lez Talk anthology with another story of mine, the publisher of that anthology, BLF Press, actually reached out to me about putting a collection together. This was a spectacular moment because it showed that they believed in my work and saw something in it. This is why it's so important to send work out to lit magazines/journals, anywhere you think might be a good fit. Just by doing the work you enjoy you can catch a break. Someone might see something they really like and give you an opportunity. I also have to say my writing is all those things you mentioned--Black, queer, speculative. I’d also say it’s soft. My work comes from a place inside of me that is tender and a little bit kooky. That probably sounds cheesy, but I’m soft and tender and kooky.
S: What motivates you to write?
K: The fact that I really love it. I get something out of it regardless if anyone else does.
S: What authors and/or books have inspired you as a writer?
K: It all started with Nikki Giovanni’s poem “Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why).”
S: Is there any lasting response you wish to give up-and-coming writers?
K: Keep reading, keep writing, and taking chances. When you start to worry that your work is too out there/weird/different, know that you are onto something. It may not work at first, but you can revise and polish it! And find your writing group, your writing people and encourage each other. That will make a huge impact on your writing life.
S: Thank you so much for this wonderful interview with Puerto del Sol.
K: Thank you!
A North Carolina native, Krystal A. Smith (i.e. K.A. Smith) is a Black lesbian writer of poetry and speculative fiction. Her poems have appeared in Tulips Touching (2011) and recent short stories have appeared in Ladylit Publishing’s Summer Love: Stories of Lesbian Holiday Romance (2015) and Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Fiction (2016). Her debut collection Two Moons: Stories was released from BLF Press (2018). Krystal holds an M.A. in English from Western Carolina University, and a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University.
Smith's work has recently been published in Puerto del Sol's 2020 Space Issue.
Shiane D. Jacocks is the prose editor for Puerto del Sol and current MFA student and graduate assistant at New Mexico State University, with a minor in gender & sexuality. They are interested in pop culture and queer, feminist speculative and activist work, particularly on the Black diaspora. They have been published in The Pacific Review, The FEM, IE Voice, Black Voice News, and Ventanas. They are currently working on a collection of short stories.