Bezi Yohannes and Ravynn K. Stringfield
Bezi Yohannes is a bookstagrammer, writer and general SFF media nerd who reviews all things Black girl fantasy. She graduated with her masters in English literature from Georgetown University, where she wrote her thesis on the visibility of “colorblind” casting Black female protagonists in fantasy media. She currently works in digital marketing for children’s books at Penguin Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @beingabookwyrm.
Ravynn K. Stringfield is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at William & Mary, where she is working on her dissertation on Black women and girls in fantastic and digital new media narratives. When she’s not researching, Ravynn is also a novelist and artist, and she uses both forms to center Black girls. You can find out more by checking out her website, ravynnkstringfield.com, or following her on Twitter and Instagram, @RavynnKaMia on both.
Together, they are the hosts of Dreaming in the Dark, a podcast that brings the stories they wished they had as children to the forefront. Named after Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark, their podcast celebrates the creations that center those usually written in the margins of the fantastic.
What do you create?
Ravynn: My favorite thing about my creative practice is that it knows no bounds. My primary creative mode is writing — blog posts, personal essays, scholarly articles, and novels about Black girls and their magics. But I also explore that through other creative practices like art, crafting, and podcasting. I like to think everything I create is a vehicle to access the innermost crevices of my mind.
Bezi: I also primarily create by writing, these days mostly reviews for my bookstagram account @beingabookwyrm and other freelance writing, but I just graduated having written my thesis on Black princesses in mainstream fantasy media and I’m working on adapting pieces of that to show up in different, more accessible formats than an academic database. And of course, Ravynn and I have created our podcast, Dreaming in the Dark, to celebrate Black fantasy and Black girls in fantasy.
Why do you create?
Bezi: I create because it helps me better understand myself and the world around me; as I articulate ideas, I feel as if I am both explaining and shaping my reality. But I also create because I can’t stop myself; my brain is always re-imagining and evaluating what I read, watch, and consume, and in some way, shape or form, those evaluations will come spilling out of me, whether it’s in a rambling conversation with a friend or essay or Twitter thread.
Ravynn: I create because I have to; I don’t know that there’s a world in which I don’t create. It’s my way of engaging with the world. This engagement helps relieve the pressure that builds up inside of me as a response to the various happenings of the world. It helps me breathe.
Who is your audience?
Ravynn: Black girls, those who at any point identified with Black girlhood, and those who like to think about what it means to be a Black girl in this world.
Bezi: Seconded — particularly for me, working in publishing children’s books, young Black girls “coming of age” and Black women like me looking back and trying to unpack media and art they may have internalized during their coming of age, have been the audience I hope to talk to.
Why did you choose a podcast format to explore Black fantasy stories?
Ravynn: I won’t speak for Bezi, but I feel that Dreaming in the Dark came about as a realization that there was magic in the long, thoughtful conversations we were having about Black fantasy very early on. I loved the idea that we could bring folks into the conversation, so they could experience the magic for themselves. As much as I love writing, there was an infectious energy in our dialogue that I knew couldn’t be captured any other way.
Bezi: Yes! First and foremost, Dreaming in the Dark was our way of wanting to share our conversations as Black fantasy lovers and scholars with others who love or want to learn more about the genre. The field of Black SFF is wide open for play, and we wanted to bring our specific experiences into a broader discussion about Black audiences and creators.
Who or what inspired you to do what you do? Who or what continues to inspire you?
Ravynn: Toni Morrison and Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas definitely inspired Dreaming in the Dark in a big way. But we were also inspired by all of the creatives engaging Black fantasy in so many ways: Geneva Bowers in art, Bethany C. Morrow, Tracy Deonn, and Roseanne Brown in YA fiction, Stephanie Tolliver in scholarship, Moon Ferguson in film…the list goes on forever and three days.
Bezi: I know Ravynn already mentioned it, but I cannot emphasize enough how fundamentally Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark and Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’ The Dark Fantastic shaped both this podcast, my perspective on literature and media, and really my entire worldview as a Black woman. Reading their texts was absolutely life-changing. But, as Ravynn mentioned, I am inspired literally every day I discuss and promote new books by amazing Black authors like Bethany, Tracy, and Roseanne, as well as Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, L.L. McKinney, Justina Ireland, and so many more.
How do you balance creating with the rest of your life?
What is your favorite creation by a Black person, and why?
Bezi: That’s a great question that I’m still working on answering. Boundaries and rest are important to me, in the sense that, yes I always love thinking and talking about topics I love, but I also need content I won’t over-analyze and times I can give myself permission to “turn off” my brain. I’ve also gone through several major life transitions in the past year, and the ways I previously organized my time as a student don’t really work for this new stage of my life, so I’m still working on what a new normal will look like.
Ravynn: I don’t know that I have to balance necessarily; there’s a little bit of creating in every facet of my life. It’s what sustains me; it’s what keeps me going. I do, however, try to enforce boundaries about my time when I have responsibilities like teaching: I only create after business hours and on weekends during those moments, so I’m ready and available for my students. Whether or not that is effective remains to be seen.
Ravynn: There is so much great creative energy that how could you possibly choose?! I would probably change my mind every single time that I am asked this, but at the time of this interview, my favorite creation by a Black person is The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison, because her nonfiction speaks to me in a very particular way. I’m very engaged with it and it’s often very challenging work, so I had to read it very slowly over the course of several months while I wrestled with ideas. And I liked having to struggle with myself and why I thought and believed things as I read. It was a process of unlearning as much as it was about learning, which is, in some ways, equally, if not more, difficult.
Bezi: This is such an impossible question! What format? From what decade? Like Ravynn, and as I mentioned earlier, I would call The Source of Self-Regard as an anthology — especially the essay “Black Matters” from Playing in the Dark — my all-time favorite book by a Black person, just because of how fundamentally it changed my life. But depending on the stage of my life, different Black art in different mediums will resonate most deeply with me. As of right now, for example, I just finished doing a gallery wall above my home office area of Geneva Bowers’ art, because several of her creations are my favorite Black visual art pieces; just looking at them infuses me with a renewed burst of inspiration.
This February, we’re focused on magic & community, what are your favorite stories that center magic and community?
Bezi: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, and The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, off the top of my head! Communities and/or found families who are deeply flawed but who learn to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and work to make their world(s) better.
Ravynn: A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow and I will scream it until my lungs fall off, but also Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo by Ntozake Shange. I love a good story where sisterhood and magic are intertwined
What can we expect in the next season of Dreaming in the Dark?
We’re in the process of scheduling specific guests for the new season, but you can definitely look forward to a variety of incredible Black creators, and more conversations about Black characters and Black literature, media, and art between the two of us!
Any advice for new creators?
Ravynn: Keep pushing and keep creating. And when you’re ready to take the plunge and start submitting places to get your work out there, don’t wait for a response before you start your next big project. Use that time to propel yourself forward into your next big thing! Keep stacking your work, and make sure you have a community of folks who you trust to help you evaluate your own work to make it better.
Bezi: I think to go off of Ravynn’s advice, I’ve learned to be more open about my goals, because people can’t help me if they don’t know what I’m working towards. I’d also say the most important thing I’ve learned is to give yourself grace and time for rest. Set aside time to recharge so you can best bring your full self to your creation.
What are your current and future projects you’d like to plug?
Bezi: Besides our podcast, I continue to post book reviews on my bookstagram, but I also just started as a review contributor for Tor.com this year, so follow me on Twitter (also @beingabookwyrm) so you don’t miss those and any other articles as I hope to publish more writing online.
Ravynn: For me, I have a couple of short fiction pieces available now: “Watercolors” in midnight & indigo’s speculative issue and “Passage,” in Voyage, which won second place in their First Chapters Contest, judged by Dhonielle Clayton.