Facing Race: A National Conference in St. Louis, MO — November 20-22, 2024

R. Cielo Cruz

Founder | Racial Justice Reads
Pronouns: they/them

R. Cielo Cruz is a writer, parent, racial justice facilitator, cultural organizer, intersectional feminist and tgnc witch. They have lived in and loved New Orleans, Louisiana for the last 22 years. Essays by Cruz have been published in hipMama, Bridge the Gulf Project, Colorlines and the anthology Mamaphonic. Cruz is a 2017 and 2020 VONA Voices Fellow. Their fiction has been published in Black Warrior Review and their writing practice is now centered on Speculative Fiction and Afro-Futurist influenced Magical Realism. They are the founder of Racial Justice Reads. You can follow Cielo on twitter, instagram or at rosanacruz.com

Twitter: @RCieloCruz

Presentations from Facing Race 2022

Between Starshine and Clay: Narratives of Black Bodily Autonomy

One can describe the novels of Robert Jones, Jr. and Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa as historical fiction, set in 19th-century plantations in Mississippi and Puerto Rico respectively. Jones Jr.’s 2021 award winning novel, The Prophets, centers on two male lovers, Isaiah and Samuel, carving out space for their own heart’s desires. Llanos-Figueroa’s two novels revolve around enslaved women and their descendants, insisting on liberation on their own terms. While the brutality of slavery besieges the lives of the protagonists, their stories center on deep spiritual agency, physical rebellion, and the beautiful, stubborn exercise of will. In this moderated panel with Racial Justice Reads founder, R. Cielo Cruz, these two powerful novelists and cultural commentators will share excerpts from their works, answer questions, and discuss the shared themes in their fiction.

Moderator(s): R. Cielo Cruz Speakers: Robert Jones Jr., Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

Reimagining Destinies with Nnedi Okorafor

NY Times best-selling author Nnedi Okorafor has said that "Science Fiction is the only genre that enables African writers to envision a future from our African perspective." Having penned dozens of titles in a variety of genres, Okorafor repeatedly puts African women and girls at the center of world-changing moments within complex fictional universes. From outer space travel to cybernetic quests for justice, Okorafor’s heroines take the reader through borderlands and beyond outer limits, of nations, of planets, of the human body. They traverse from belonging to exile, endure isolation and find love and triumph, all while expanding their own possibilities, at times to their own surprise. In a live reading and q&a moderated by Racial Justice Reads founder, R. Cielo Cruz, participants will visit these African futures and learn the origins of the intrepid protagonists who shape them.

Moderator(s): R. Cielo Cruz Speakers: Nnedi Okorafor

Presentations from Facing Race 2020

Black Histories, Black Fiction, Black Futures: Writing Paths to Freedom

Toni Cade Bambara once wrote: “Words set things in motion. I’ve seen them doing it. Words set up atmospheres, electrical fields, charges. I’ve felt them doing it. Words conjure.” Indeed, perhaps nowhere is this most evident today than in the world-building words of Black writers of Speculative Fiction. Amidst the looping history of Black resistance, Rivers Solomon and Tananarive Due have each woven new visions of the past, present and futures. Straddling multiple genres and timelines, these authors who weave stories from the threads of Black history. Through their writings, they voice reckonings, reveal true world horrors and carve new possibilities. Their books are a salve against the wounds of racist lies, and warning signs against the doom of repeating the past.

Due, best known for her horror work on the page and now on the screen, draws from her family’s roots in the struggle for Civil Rights. Solomon plumbs the depths of the ocean, outer space and the human mind to re-examine the ravages that Black people have survived. In a live, moderated conversation with Racial Justice Reads founder, Rosana “RC” Cruz, these brilliant visionaries share their inspirations, influences, histories and hopes and ground justice discourse in the legacy of Black authors who write towards liberation.

Moderator(s): R. Cielo Cruz Speakers: Tananarive Due, Rivers Solomon

Spells, Songs and Prayers: Magic Words for a Just Tomorrow

For hundreds of years, the people of the African Diaspora have lit paths towards liberation across the Western Hemisphere, lighting the way for each other with spiritual and cultural power. Black people birthed new traditions rooted in the art and religious practices brought from the continent, informed by new environments, and fashioned against the evils of slavery, colonization and systemic racism. Today, in the legacy of that repression, the resistance continues on all fronts. Black artists and writers lead the cultural charge to innovate and hew new freedom, new futures in our imaginations as well as on the streets.

Authors, song writers, vocalists, priestesses and witches, our three panelists will discuss the words, songs and spirits that have come forth in the art and their freedom work. Each a cultural icon of Black feminist creativity in their own right, their ground-breaking conversation will explore histories, personal and collective, survey some of the contents in their current tool kit and offer future visions. In this moderated plenary, Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, Michaela Harrison and adrienne maree brown will delve into the spiritual technologies of music and magic that they create to bring protection, healing and justice to the earth, their communities and themselves. Racial Justice Reads founder, Rosana “RC” Cruz will moderate, to proffer questions and support the panelists as they weave their magic.

Moderator(s): R. Cielo Cruz Speakers: Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, adrienne maree brown, Michaela Harrison

Place, Personal, Political: Blackness on the Map and the Mind

Where we are can fundamentally shape who we are and what we become. For decades, Black writers have examined the complex influence that place has on their identities, particularly around race. From James Baldwin in Paris, to Piri Thomas in Harlem to Jaquira Diaz in Miami, place and movement featured prominently in the personal stories that offer deep political meaning. Whether the influence is one of growing up in criminalized communities in the US, the particular impact of race on migration, or the reality of global anti-Blackness, the stories bear out a deep thread of how the personal is political.

Nadia Owusu, in her forthcoming memoir Aftershocks, “grapples with the fault lines of identity, the meaning of home, black womanhood and the ripple effects, both personal and generational, of emotional trauma.” Marlon Peterson’s Bird Uncaged, to be published in 2021, "exposes the hollowness of the American Dream… and reveals the many cages — physical and metaphorical — created and maintained by American society.” In his 2019 What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker, Damon Young, “pulls readers into his world, showing them his vulnerability, hitting them with unflinching honesty about the state of race relations in this country.” In a live, moderated conversation with Racial Justice Reads founder, Rosana “RC” Cruz, these three authors examine the themes of identity, belonging, family, survival and resilience.

Moderator(s): R. Cielo Cruz Speakers: Nadia Owusu, Marlon Peterson

Presentations from Facing Race 2022

Remapping the Center with Rebecca Roanhorse

Toni Morrison wrote: “I stood at the border, stood at the edge and claimed it as central. l claimed it as central, and let the rest of the world move over to where I was.” Following Morrison, Rebecca Roanhorse is creating worlds where Black and Indigenous People of Color, particularly women and queer folks, are at the very center. In her most recently published Between Earth and Sky series, this award-winning NYTimes Bestselling author brings readers through a fictional world that rejects the Eurocentric and patriarchal concerns that preoccupy the dominant culture. Instead, she begins her story with the foregone conclusion that women and nonbinary people of color lead, love, and risk to make decisions that swing the fate of nations. In conversation with Racial Justice Reads founder, R. Cielo Cruz, the author will discuss her experience crossing literary genres, building new imagined landscapes, and folding some of the most pressing questions of our political lives into action-packed, magical narratives that leave readers hungry for more.

Speakers: Rebecca Roanhorse, R. Cielo Cruz

Whose “American” Words to Transform(N)ations

From the “American Dream” to the “Nation of Immigrants,” the United States’ defining myths have planted and maintained a racist and selective history in the common imagination. What does it mean to become an “American," to claim belonging in a country built on genocide and enslavement? Racial Justice Reads 2022 opens with this stimulating panel of three attorneys turned authors who have taken up these types of questions in three very different genres. Deepa Iyer is author of We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future, and the forthcoming Social Change Now: A Guide for Reflection and Connection. Kung Li Sun has—after years of tireless advocacy on the national and southern regional level—written Begin the World over, a “fictional alternate history of how the Founders’ greatest fear—that Black and indigenous people might join forces to undo the newly formed United States—comes true.” Sofia Ali Khan recently published her first book A Good Country: My Life in Twelve Towns and the Devastating Battle for a White America, which can be seen as a memoir of both a person and place. Together with Racial Justice Reads founder R. Cielo Cruz, this panel will delve into the personal and political struggles of telling an “American” story.

Speakers: Kung Li Sun, Deepa Iyer, Sofia Ali Khan, R. Cielo Cruz