dear haileigh: about the color purple? thank you.

i believe i have inside of me everything that i need to live a bountiful life. with all the love alive in me i’ll stand as tall as the tallest tree. and i’m thankful for every day that i’m given. both the easy and hard ones i’m livin’. but most of all i’m thankful for,  lovin’ who i really am. i’m beautiful. yes i’m beautiful. and i’m here.
— celie, the color purple the musical

dear haileigh,

do you remember  when we were transitioning into and out of college, respectively, and realizing (in the solitude of our minds) that we fell somewhere on the queer side of the sexuality spectrum, and feeling all of the terror and uncertainty and loneliness that comes with that? i wish we had known to talk to each other. that we could have confided in one another. and i wish that we had known how our blackness and existence and magic would be threatened and assaulted by this world in the years to come. i'm compelled to think we would have huddled closer to one another. that we would have learned to hold each other in case the folx around us couldn't. i’m grateful that, since those days, we’ve begun to learn what it means to hold one another close.

when i started thinking about creating radically tender, i talked a lot about salt. and reflected on salt. and reread salt. i still talk a lot about salt. when i’m trying to explain this project to people. or trying to explain myself. nayyirah waheed’s poetry has become something like a point of reference for me. handing over a book of poetry to a stranger and saying, here, this will help you to understand me. but, in actuality, i think the beginnings of this project started with the color purple. the musical. cynthia erivo. black girl magic. which means that it started with you.

do you remember when i was visiting you in new york for the first time, in april of last year, and we were walking through times square? that was when you mentioned the color purple to me for the first time. the streets were breathing. shouting. fighting to be seen. and heard. but their noise could not come close to competing with you in that moment. you were a black womxn inspired. you had seen yourself, i think, on that stage. and you wanted the same opportunity for me. which made me want it too.

i read the color purple nearly a decade ago (damn. how?) in my high school english class. with a white teacher. which is perhaps a reflection for another time. but, the fact is, i never really got it. what all the excitement was about. but i remember walking through times square with my sister and my parents, on our way to the theater last year, and feeling like my life was about to be changed.

and it was.

it’s beyond words. or maybe the words just haven’t been created yet. or discovered. or they’re found in a language that is not the one i have learned in this country. but it was that feeling of being so fucking proud to be black. a feeling that i had not really encountered until a few months prior. the feeling that comes when you see yourself on stage. when you witness the excellence of black womxn in their element. black womxn taking up space. black womxn telling their stories. writing their stories. owning their stories. black womxn as tender. black womxn wrapped in flowers. black womxn learning their worth. from each other. and rediscovering it every time they look in the mirror.

and it was radical.

i don't always have the words to describe the show to other people, but i do have the most visceral experience listening to the soundtrack these days: i can feel it building in my chest. that feeling of being understood. of kinship. and community. the memory of communicating with you after the show in expletives and sound effects (i.e. wtf, ahhh, etc.), because, really, the magic stays with you. and the awe and joy and energy was all-consuming.

about half a year later, after reading salt, and starting therapy, i recognized this theme writing itself into my story: i needed to start showing up for myself. i needed to listen to my body when it was trembling from that anxiety that feels like winter. i needed to hold me. i needed to learn something about self-love. and flower work. and tenderness.

so, today, as i continue navigating my story and unfolding my vision for radically tender, i’m grateful for cynthia erivo. and the color purple. and you. it seems, fitting, doesn’t it, that my project started because a black womxn that i adore insisted on sharing something profound with me?

you’ve given me such a gift.

with love, and tenderness,

kristen