M Kamara | 2021 Black History in the Making Recipient

March 17, 2021

M Kamara stands against a painted brick wall and smiles. The photo is cropped to a circle with a gold frame.M Kamara is a 22-year-old poet-writer-scholar and fourth-year English major, minoring in Creative Writing who will be graduating in December 2021. She was a member of the 2018 DC Youth Slam Team, the third-place winner of the Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Prize, is published in the online magazine The Quarry, is published in the VCU undergraduate magazine PWATEM, and is the first place winner of the VCU Undergraduate Poetry Prize Spring 2020. Currently, she is working on self-publishing a second chapbook collection hoping to be published by Summer 2021.

Congratulations, M, on receiving the Black History in the Making Award this year! Professors in the English department mentioned that your written work is “sophisticated and artful,” and you are a scholar-artist whose reading of literature "demonstrates wisdom and compassion." What does this award mean to you?

I’m currently working on a script about Zora Neale Hurston and the Harlem Renaissance for an independent study class I’m taking this semester. I often joke with my friends that if someone else doesn’t plan on starting Harlem Renaissance part two, I’ll get the ball rolling myself (post-COVID, of course). So, this award feels like it's the beginning of something really cool. It cements me in VCU history and at the same time proposes that I will be cemented in Black history in general. I think it’s really cool that after I do a bunch of awesome things in my life with a whole bunch of awesome people, someone could be researching me long after I’m gone, the way I’m currently researching Zora Neale Hurston, and see that I won this award and then went on to be Black history.

What do you like to read outside of class?

Comic books were my first love. I remember being dropped off at the library, or on days when my guardian couldn’t drop me off, taking the bus to the library and just combing through Marvel comics - I think that’s also where my love of cinema stems from seeing the comics come to life on screen. Today, I read fewer comic books and more graphic novels like Paper Girls (which is becoming a TV show soon and I’m very excited to see that come to life), Royal City, The Wicked and the Divine—and I’m always looking for recommendations. I also love poetry collections, of course. The last one I read was Danez Smith’s Homie and I got to see them in person in Feb 2020 in New York. That was the last trip I took to New York—which is one of my several homes as I fancy myself a nomad—right before COVID hit. I’m currently working my way through an anthology of Native American poets edited by Joy Harjo, When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through. I’m absolutely in love with magical realism - anything by Toni Morrison, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (and as long as we are talking about Cisneros—Caramelo is fantastic as well), Sabrina and Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine (which I can’t honestly say if it’s magical realism but hell it’s a fantastic book). I’ve been wanting to get into Gabriel Garcia Marquez but I think that I will have to wait till post-graduation as I’m inundated in new novels in every class.

Who have been your favorite professors in the major?

I’ve been so lucky to have so many amazing and inspiring professors that have allowed me to explore myself creatively: among those being Leslie Shiel who I would love to be adopted by she’s an amazing poet and was a brilliant professor; Paul Robertson who introduced me to so many new authors during the one semester I had him; Bryant Mangum who I would also gladly be adopted by—he is so very wholesome and we had amazing conversations; Clint McCown who’s been a great professor and amazing mentor and I hope I can reach his success of screenwriting one day; Joshua Eckhardt who’s just all around a great person and I just appreciate his energy both in and outside of the classroom; and, although she’s only been my professor for six weeks, Shelli Fowler who’s intentionality and vulnerability are the most inspiring things about her.

What would be your dream course within the English major?

I myself have dreams of maybe someday becoming a professor (if I ever choose to return to school once I leave cause, while I love learning, I don’t necessarily enjoy learning within the construct of academia) so I’m gonna take this from the perspective of what classes I would dream to teach and that’s three: Screenwriting for Animation based around the script of Ratatouille—which is the first movie I saw (at the age of eight) that inspired me to want to write for animation; Deconstructing Maya Angelou’s Works—I’ve often been compared to her and, while I’m not the fondest of comparisons because I am me and she is she, I am fond of this one cause... Maya Angelou so duh; and Black Queer Poetry because I love my Black Queer poets and so why not. A class I could not teach with justice but would love to see a Native American professor teach with absolute justice would be a Native American Poetry class.

What are your future goals?

I lived in a lot of different places as a child and each place has constructed my identity along with the people I lived with and the people I knew in those places - earlier I said I fancy myself a nomad and it took me a long time to get to this idea that simply because I don’t call one place a home doesn’t mean I have to find one just means I can fancy myself a nomad. I say this because I have A LOT of goals for my life so this is both an incredibly easy and incredibly hard question for me. Anytime someone asks what I wanna be after graduation I say I want to be a screenwriter which is very true I do want to be a screenwriter. I also want to open a rec center in a city and hire someone to paint the walls with different important figures from Black history and offer a whole bunch of different classes around poetry and screenwriting and singing and acting and just creating in general. I really want to work in a writer’s room for a TV show and make animated shorts about Black children doing whatever they want (think Doc McStuffins but on youtube and doing whatever). I think if I had to sum it all I would say I want to do a whole bunch of Black creative stuff - poems, movies, shorts, skits, etc - and teach a whole bunch of people about past Black creative stuff. So...teach and create - that’s what I wanna do.

Check out this video of M reading her original poem, "Me & My Funny" on the Department of English's Youtube!

Thank you so much for taking the time, M!