Naomi Extra is many things – a writer, a poet, an activist, and a doctoral student in the American Studies program at the Graduate School - Newark.
Extra, who has written for Glamour, Zora, Ms. Magazine, Lit Hub, Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic, and more, was recently awarded the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship in History Education. And her collection of poetry, Ratchet Supreme, won the 2019 BOAAT Chapbook Contest.
“I would say that the one thing since the beginning of my studies that’s really huge has been the public humanities dimension of the American Studies program,” she said.
Extra said she felt a welcome reception for her writing at Rutgers-Newark, unlike a previous institution she attended that frowned on her writing about “street lit” (also known as urban fiction or hip-hop fiction) that often deals with subversive themes and sex, violence, and crime.
“Then I got to Rutgers, there seemed to be this big boom in black women’s writing on sexuality right when I got there,” she recalled. “I knew I wanted to write about sex and there was all this writing that was making it seem more interesting and there was all this pop culture like films and television that explored (sex) in interesting ways.” “I’ve been exploring themes of sexuality and sexual trauma in my poetry as well. It’s a topic that’s very personal to me.”
Extra says her Rutgers-Newark professors introduced her to additional learning opportunities, including becoming part of the Queer Newark Oral History Project. “This was a really big thing to me. I learned how to do oral histories and community-based work. It was a real model for how scholars can work with communities to share history.”
Since coming to Rutgers-Newark, Extra has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Jack Jones Literary Arts, Crescendo Literary, and the African American Intellectual History Society.
“My research has been growing and transforming since I started the program,” she said. “My work looks at working-class, queer, black, feminist writers and their involvement in the pro-sex movement in the 60s and 70s.” Extra, who said she has plans for a book, added that her literary project combines literature and history to include voices that are otherwise overlooked. In particular, she is interested in drawing attention to how trans and queer black writers impacted literary traditions.
As part of her Mellon Fellowship, Extra is partnered with the Museum of the City of New York and will be giving a public lecture this spring related to her dissertation work: Voices that Matter: NYC & Black Feminist Underground Literature of the 1960s & 70s workshops.
In October, she gave a tour of New York City showcasing musicians and writers in the 1920s during the Harlem Renaissance, and writers from the 1940s and 1950s, including poets. Extra said she’s looking forward to continuing this work during her fellowship, “I get to bring together everything, which is so rare. Somebody who writes poems and essays and studies gender and sexuality and black feminism and would get to combine all that. It’s very, very exciting.”
Extra said besides working on her dissertation, it is important to her to also continue working on writing that is meaningful to the broader world, “I write essays and my poetry and it’s all about black women, black girls, sexual agency and pleasure . . . I try to write broadly and bring it in different spaces with my poetry and bring it to my community, and beyond my community.”