Black History Month Spotlight: African American Women Writers from East Texas
One of the current projects in the Heritage Research Center is researching various women writers from East Texas, where a large part of the region’s culture is influenced by the African American women who call the Piney Woods home. The unique perspective these women bring to the table allows their readers to understand a non-mainstream perspective of the East Texas experience. Therefore, we have decided to bring a few of the African American women writers from the region to light in order to celebrate their achievements. Their genres range from young adult to poetry to nonfiction, chronicling East Texas in a way that applies to all ages.
Dia Reeves, a librarian in Dallas, is a young adult author who fuses gothic elements with horror, dark fantasy, and romance to create her unique novels. Mostly set in the East Texas landscape in the imaginary town of Portero, Texas, Reeves explores the horrors that only East Texas settings can provide. She has five books to her name: Bleeding Violet (2010), Slice of Cherry (2011), short story collection Dark Side of the Moon (2018), Miscreated (2018), and Heartsick (2018). There is not a lot of available information about Reeves herself, but her writing is popular with young adults, and is becoming more popular with each publication. More information about her can be found on her website, diareeves.com.
Francine J. harris, originally from Detroit, now resides in Houston, Texas, where she is an associate professor of English at the University of Houston. A highly praised poet, harris has published three poetry collections, Here Is the Sweet Hand (2020), play dead (2016), and allegiance (2012). In 2012, her collection allegiance was a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and her individual poetry submissions to journals such as McSweeny’s, Ploughshares, Poetry, Meridian, Indiana Review, Callaloo, and Boston Review have won her the Boston Review Annual Poetry Contest and landed her an NEA fellowship in 2015. harris’ poetry reflects her own life experiences in the various regions in which she has lived and studied, and her more recent work can be seen as a reflection of the African American experience in Houston. Excerpts from her collections, individual submissions, and biographical information can be found at poetryfoundation.org/poets/francine-j-harris.
Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, artist, speaker, and teacher, is the first African American Poet Laureate of Houston, Texas. Originally from California, Mouton moved to Houston to continue her poetry career and became part of Houston’s Poetry Slam Team. Regarded as a “Literary Genius” by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Mouton discusses her experience through a cultural lens, using her talent to encourage the youth of Houston to embrace their culture and heritage and express it in their poetry. In 2018, she became the Executive Director of VIP Arts Houston, an organization focused on empowering marginalized voices through a variety of artistic outlets. She has many different poetry collections, including her newest, Newsworthy: Poems (2019), that have won literary acclaim. She also wrote the libretto for an upcoming opera to be premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in the spring of 2020. Additional information about Mouton can be found on her website, livelifedeep.com.
ReShonda Tate Billingsley dabbles in multiple literary genres, including teen fiction, adult fiction, and non-fiction. Formerly a television and radio news reporter, Billingsley now focuses on editing for the Houston Defender Newspaper and writing more than forty bestselling novels. One of her novels, Let the Church Say Amen (2004), was turned into one of BET’s highest rated original programs and is streaming now on Netflix. Her novel Say Amen Again (2011) won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature. Her acclaimed work has also landed her an induction into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame and the honor of a Texas Top Author. In addition to editing, writing, and sweeping literary awards, Billingsley is a cofounder of Brown Girls Books, a boutique publishing company that aims to express all voices, and WritersPro, a digital workshop database for established and fresh authors to develop their writing further. More about Billingsley can be found at reshondatatebillingsley.com.
Each of these women bring different perspectives about East Texas to the table through their award-winning literature. Their explorations of the region in an array of genres prove that there are creative ways to tell of the East Texas experience. This Black History Month, the Heritage Research Center is proud to highlight these women who share the love of the Piney Woods with us and spread this love to a new generation of readers.
Haley is a senior at Stephen F. Austin State University, majoring in English and minoring in Spanish and Linguistics. After graduation, she hopes to go to graduate school for a Master’s in English and become an editor.