“Loves music. Loves
Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit.
and food and
Loves the Folk.
–Alice Walker’s definition of Womanist, 1983
And loves when it all comes together.
Hi! I’m Mariam I. Williams, and in short, I’m a writer, dance fitness coach, educator, and historical consultant whose work centers Black women and Black Feminism. I meld my lived experience as a recovering academic with my lived experience as a Black, Christian woman born and raised in Kentucky by radical, creative, black and feminist parents and a churchgoing extended family to produce essays, choreography, workshops, and documentaries that affirm the fullness of black womanhood in all its complexity.
I was acing my graduate classes in Pan African and Women & Gender Studies but knew the scholarly life of circulating knowledge among other academics wasn’t for me—not when I knew that what I was learning could change lives.
So I left a promising academic path to pursue my creative passions and wouldn’t you know it—I found out what I had learned as an up-and-coming scholar was as vital as dance and writing are to conquering fear and shame about my body, affirming my black womanhood, telling my story, and helping other black women find their voice and freedom in the process.
As a graduate student, I researched and lectured on cultural activism; religion, black power, and black feminism in the U.S. and Trinidad; the Black Arts Movement, womanism, and Louisville’s African American Literary Series; civil rights history, activism, and contentions between black and white women; and black female literary authors’ use of precolonial African traditions to overcome slavery’s legacy. (Notice this paragraph is not in bold face.) My research boosted my position as second-in-command at the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research and propelled me to alternate in the competitive U.S. Fulbright Scholars Program in 2015.
Prior to entering graduate school, I was an op-ed columnist and blogger who unflinchingly assessed race, gender, politics, religion and history. For this work, I received numerous awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. My journalism continues in “At the Intersection,” my monthly column in National Catholic Reporter, where I write about intersectionality and living at intersections of race, gender, and faith.
I got my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a certificate in Public History in 2017. Submitted as an essay collection, my master’s thesis was a 30-something black woman’s exploration of the intersections of faith, family, and feminism in her own life (my life) and a meditation on black female sexuality within the culture of the southern black church. I tried to show how history and culture trickle down to affect Black women in real and intimate ways.
Since completing my MFA, Mariam I’ve published essays and poems in The Feminist Wire, Salon, EBONY.com, Longreads, The Common, and several other journals. I was a contributor to The Lemonade Syllabus and to the anthologies, Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay (White Cloud Press, Aug. 2015), Organize Your Own: The Politics and Poetics of Self-Determination Movements (Sobsercove Press, 2016), and Nothing to Lose but Our Chains: Black Voices on Activism, Resistance, and Love (Justice Matters Press, 2018). I also wrote the Emmy-winning special, Octavius V. Catto: A Legacy for the 21st Century (History Making Productions, 2017).
I’ve also returned to my first love: dance!!
I took formal dance training from ages 3 to 13 and returned to the art form in college, adding West African and ballroom dance to the mix. I loved it all–especially West African dance and tango. But after suffering a slipped disc at the age of 32, I feared I would never dance with the intensity I desired again. Physical, osteopathic, and cognitive therapy led me to rethink my relationship to my body, specifically as a Black and Christian woman.
Applying some of the research into Black Feminism I had done in graduate school, I finally understood: my body belongs to me, not to cultural expectations. When I added that knowledge to newer research into how movement helps us articulate language, I found new joy and healing in dance.
With the encouragement of dance fitness instructors at my YMCA, I went on to obtain certifications in Zumba, BodyJam, and general group fitness. I pack my classes by incorporating music and moves rooted in the African diaspora, and I love seeing the joy of movement on faces of women ages 20-something to forever vibrant.
For most of my life, I’ve tried to figure out how to combine my academic and artistic sides in a way that could contribute something positive to the world. I’m excited to help Black women reaffirm and recenter their identities as Black women and feel empowered to create change in themselves and in their families, professions, communities, and cultures.
MFA, Rutgers University-Camden
Public History Certificate, Rutgers University-Camden
Screenwriting Certificate, UCLA
Published In: Ninth Letter, The Common, Salon, EBONY, Bozalta, The Feminist Wire, National Catholic Reporter, Courier-Journal, Longreads, etc.
Teaching artist with: The ArtWell, Rutgers Early College Humanities (REaCH) Program, Art Sanctuary
Awarded by: Society of Professional Journalists – Louisville Chapter, Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Kentucky Foundation for Women, Kentucky Arts Council, Fulbright, University of Louisville Juneteenth Playwriting Festival, Rutgers University