Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Naomi Extra

First things first: yes, she'll say, that is her real name. 

Naomi Extra is a doctoral candidate in American Studies at Rutgers University, where she specializes in the way black women and girls relate to agency and pleasure, with a focus on erotica, street lit, and/or sex writing by women in the 1960s and 1970s. Or, as Naomi puts it while we are walking in Crown Heights, her favorite Brooklyn neighborhood, “I was like, ‘I want to know about black sex!’” 

While working on her Ph.D., she has written about the topic extensively for publications like Ms., Lenny Letter, Bitch, and more. In fact, I met Naomi when I invited her to read at The Miss Manhattan Non-Fiction Reading Series after enjoying her wonderful essay “On Love Jones and Searching for Black Desire Onscreen” in LitHub. In this essay, Extra describes her relationship to the film, writing that it was one of the first counterpoints she saw to the many teen romances starring white kids (like Dawson’s Creek) that had previously populated her visual experiences. 

Today at the cafe Lincoln Station, Naomi is perusing poetry by Anne Sexton and Dionne Brand, as well as a book called Blush: Faces of Shame by Elspeth Probyn. “There’s something in shame,” Naomi says to me, something worth discussing as it relates to sexuality, and she’s curious to see how these volumes can illuminate it. Golden light streams in through Lincoln Station’s yellow awning as Naomi simultaneously nibbles on avocado and eggs and pours over the texts, underlining phrases in black ballpoint pen, taking notes on a yellow legal pad. 

Naomi takes in a few more poems and we head over to the Brooklyn Museum. She’s excited about the exhibition “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85.” It fits perfectly with her time frame of study, and as we walk through works by influential artists like Emma Amos, Faith Ringgold, Beverly Buchanan, and Howardena Pindell, Naomi is filled with joy. “I want this in my house,” she says of Loïs Mailou Jones’s 1972 painting “Ubi Girl from Tai Region,” featuring a woman’s face partly painted white with a red X. She doesn’t so much look at it as absorb it, taking in every stroke. Standing in front of sculptor Barbara Chase-Riboud’s entirely black 1972 bronze, paint, and wool structure “Confessions for Myself,” done in memory of Malcolm X, Naomi smiles. “This one looks like my hair!” She stands back and looks at it deeply from multiple angles, considering it before moving on to a group of magazine articles assessing the black woman’s experience in the era’s Women’s Liberation movement. One is written by the extraordinary Toni Morrison, and Naomi softly gasps. “I have to find this in the library,” she says aloud, reminding herself for later. 

We leave the exhibition and Naomi is already eager to return another time. She brushes her hands over the beaded curtains in the lobby then exits through the glass revolving doors, the day in front of her.

Follow Naomi on Twitter and Instagram