Exploring the art of prose


Author: Ra’Niqua Lee

Author’s Note

I began writing Frenzied, Desperate Birds because I wanted to go there. I was following the oft-quoted advice of Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Growing up, I read fiction as a means of escape, a way of coping with life without a lot of money or a lot of friends. My favorite books were the ones about young women coming to terms with themselves in rural America: milk farms in Wisconsin, vast deserts in Nevada, middle-of-nowhere towns all over the South. Most of these books did not feature Black people, a deep contradiction to my reality and the reality of the Black Belt. Writing Blackness into the Southern Georgia landscape felt like putting something right for myself.

The goal of these opening pages was to equally establish both the landscape of Blackshear, Georgia, and Anthem, my main character. With attention to spatiality as a goal, I treat place like a character. Setting has its own story arc, its own development. A less recognizable Morrison quote: “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” The landscape—the dirt, the water, the trees—contains the scars of the past. Place holds memory. One of my greatest challenges and greatest joys in writing is in shaping a world that feels as authentic and dynamic as the one we occupy. I write the past/present/future of space, which resists idealization, even as that idealization remains.

Anthem loves Blackshear, loves the peach orchard where she and her grandmother work, but her ideal of these spaces cannot persist unchanged in the face of some difficult truths about migrant labor in the South. Just this year, investigators uncovered a labor trafficking ring in Southern Georgia. Paired with the legacies of chattel slavery and Indigenous expulsion, the land is rife with the racial, cultural, and political struggle that is always at play alongside the beauty of its spaces. What does it mean to love a place without ignoring or erasing its diversity and its faults? How do we as writers bring our spaces to life enough for this reckoning? In this book, I turn to magic, premonition, and ghosts. I let the impossible speak the truths the land cannot.


RA’NIQUA LEE writes to share her particular visions of love and the South. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cream City Review, Split Lip Magazine, Indiana Review, Passages North, and elsewhere. Every word is in honor of her little sister, Nesha, who battled schizoaffective disorder until the very end. For her, always. Ra’Niqua’s flash collection For What Ails You is forthcoming with ELJ Editions in 2023. You can find her on Twitter @raniqualee and Instagram @muddahoney.