In this heartfelt personal essay, artist Janyce Denise Glasper recalls the years of solid friendship she’s shared and enjoyed with writer Asia Aneka Anderson, the Angela Davis to her Toni Morrison.
There is strength in numbers. Even if that number is two.
Toni Morrison said, of one of her most cherished friends Angela Davis, “working with her was sui generis!”
And my unique best friend has that flowing deeply within – that sui generis quality shining through her thoughtful prose and poetry.
I was reading an inspiring Morrison and Davis interview on longtime friendship and creativity conducted by UC Santa Cruz writer Dan White almost seven years ago. Although White spoke to these brilliant women separately, they were incredibly in sync as well as highly supportive of the other. Without a shadow of doubt, my best friend is the revolutionary Angela Davis in our friendship. Her retotating hair color is a rainbow allegory shining brightly alongside a personality saturated in humor, warmth, generosity, and sweetness – a sweetness reserved for those close to her. She also happens to be one of the best writers known to me.
Almost twenty-one years ago, my best friend and I met in an Ohio high school long since bulldozed, relocated, and renamed. We were two alternative Black teenagers – misfits who found themselves drawn to pop music and literary/visual art. We set our own rhythm beyond the popularity contests and contrived notions of beauty between cheerleaders, athletes, and those striving to be them. While I grew up with four half siblings in a single parent home, my best friend had both a mother and a father – something I always dreamed of having. Yet somehow we connected, two Libras around the same age, our birthdays two days apart in early October.
She was the first to travel abroad to Australia, a trip that changed her life, before living in Chicago, briefly attending Columbia College, and working for Borders Books. We would talk primarily on social media, witnessing each other’s highs and lows – abusive relationships, great losses, drafty communication. I moved about to Cincinnati, then Philadelphia years later, and traveled independently to France, South Africa, the Netherlands, and Grenada. Still, we always remained in touch.
On the bright side visits back to Ohio, we were having lunches, watching cinema (like A Hard Day’s Night and she winning a prize for Beatles knowledge at The Neon), checking out the sole record store, and seeing the local art galleries. We read each other’s writing at Starbucks on Brown Street and submitted to several prose/fiction/poetry contests. The biggest prize was our friendship, its longevity tested only by distance and utterly significant circumstances that would change the courses of our individual lives.
Now we are both back in our city – a city hit by a tornado and gun violence in a single summer. Last year, the pandemic opened our eyes to what truly mattered in the world – who would be present when physicality is impossible, dangerous. It stands to see who in your inner circle cares about you and your well being. She checked in regularly. Despite all the growing turmoil and stress from family to unhealthy employment situations and slumlord apartments, her hello was a welcomed breath of fresh air. I always felt guilty; guilty for being the more unstable friend, the friend with internalized problems. My best friend was super generous to me, giving up a last ticket to a special free concert that we saw together (ah that amazing Stevie Wonder); taking time to drive us to the Halloween store and the secondhand bookshop, delivering a thousand presents on Christmas Eve. Sometimes it does feel like so much, too much. I am humbled by her kindness, especially right now during this terrifying time. She is another sister in my life, a precious sister. Always.
In the middle of the crisis, my best friend also obtained her Associate’s Degree in Creative Writing and I could not be prouder. I have the highest hopes for her and her writing journey. Her pen narrates a sharp, harrowing immediacy that incites readers into action, into gratification, into thinking critically. Yet her intimate self-reflections are tenderly rendered portraits that move and uplift the spirit.
Davis said of Morrison, “I see her as a person who made a conscious decision to use her literary talent to bring new ideas into the world, to change the world, absolutely. And often that happens more fundamentally, more profoundly, than the change that those of us who work at the political level envision. I don’t think that our notion of freedom would be what it is without the impact of Toni Morrison. She said that one cannot be free without freeing someone. Freedom is to free someone else.”
I believe in Morrison’s special branded activism, a philosophical heroism that she felt important as an editor when courageously bringing on fellow writers Toni Cade Bambera, Gayl Jones, and Davis to Random House. The bravest, most courageous thing that we seemingly insignificant people can do is to uplift a talented individual.
My best friend brilliantly, effortlessly uses writing as key instruments to overcoming tremendous odds. The world needs to read her stories. Her books belong on the shelves of bookstores, libraries, including the one we once worked at. Maybe her stories will then become films, become television pilots. Like Morrison for Davis, I hope to help showcase my best friend’s compelling storytelling in a real, meaningful way. I know it’s in her to rule the literary scene.
So look out soon for Asia Aneka Anderson, my longtime best friend and one of the most poignant writers writing today.
About Janyce Denise Glasper
Janyce Denise Glasper is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and independent scholar from Dayton, Ohio. She obtained a drawing emphasis BFA from the Art Academy of Cincinnati and a post baccalaureate certificate and MFA from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Her artworks have been exhibited in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine, Michigan, and New York, and her writings have been published in RaceBaitr, Wear Our Voice, Black Youth Project, midnight & indigo, SONKU Literary Magazine, Dayton City Paper, Soap Opera Digest, Decorating Dissidence, and Moonstone Art Press’s anthology, Philadelphia Celebrates Gwendolyn Brooks. She previously presented Metaphoric Idiosyncrasies: A Fable in the Vine at Black Portraiture[s] III: Reinventions: Strains of Histories and Cultures in Johannesburg, South Africa. Currently, she is a remote contributing writer for artblog in Philadelphia, runs AfroVeganChick, femfilmrogues, and Black Women Make Art (BWMA). Recently she spoke on The Power of Black Feminist Creatives in the Arts, an upcoming SXSW Online panel. Follow Janyce on Twitter @blackartwriter and on Instagram @janycedeniseglasper. For more information about Janyce see her website here: https://jdglasper.wixsite.com/artist-cv
This piece was commissioned for Disembodied Voices: Friendship during COVID-19
How we think of friendship, intimacy and closeness has radically altered during this period, perhaps irrevocably. Lockdown and quarantine has left us relishing time with friends and family, or dealing with feelings of isolation, anxiety and abandonment. WhatsApp, Zoom and social media are our new lifelines, changing the tone, register and channels through which we communicate. We’ve reached out to old friends and been turned away by new ones; rekindled old bonds and discarded others. There are friends who inspire and those who infuriate; there are relations we’ve failed and some who’ve come through for us, and shown love in a way we’ve never experienced before.
We wanted to curate a series of essays, interviews and stories on friendship, experienced during the time of COVID-19. We were keen to hear from marginalised perspectives, underrepresented voices and communities significantly impacted by the virus.
We were also open to submissions and pitches on the representation and concept of friendship more generally. How friendship is represented on television, film, and social media; in books, music and videos, before and during the pandemic, is also important and features in some of the work in Disembodied Voices.
For the full series, click here here.
Submissions are now closed for this series.
Aysha Abdulrazak and Samaya Kassim,
Guest Editors of Disembodied Voices.