Let’s Play

Curated by Rochelle Spencer 

Exhibition Dates: June 2 – June 29, 2017

Opening Reception: Friday, June 2, 2017, 6 – 9pm

Exhibiting Artists: Kiss My Black Arts Collective, Renee Alexander Craft, Jacqueline Bishop, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, James David Lee and Serenity House

Audio Testimonies: Jewelle Gomez, Kyla Marshell, Thaddues Howze, Sheree Renée Thomas, Dera Williams, Sharan Strange, and Victor LaValle

Recent Press: 

Let’s Play Considers Fun as an Act of Joyous Rebellion, East Bay Express 

Intuition, Imagination & Black Creativity, Poets & Writers

Let’s Play celebrates fun as a revolutionary event. Curated by Rochelle Spencer, this group exhibition highlights local artists and writers of color to examine how play intersects with urban life in Oakland. This exhibition is the culmination of Rochelle Spencer’s Studio Lab Curatorial Residency at Pro Arts.

Let’s Play demonstrates how play can disrupt conventional ways of thinking and serve as a form of rebellion through both joy and creativity. The exhibition explores AfroSurreal ideas about intuition and imagination featuring visual artwork as well as audio and digital projections.

Within the gallery, Kiss My Black Arts Collective will create a site-specific mural based on the idea of play in Oakland. This mural will symbolically place Oakland at the center of an international conversation on black people’s relationship to play and the environment.

Additional exhibited works include Rachel Eliza Griffith’s portrait photography of black life and Renee Alexander’s Craft’s digital projection piece on Carnival.

Let’s Play includes audio testimonials from Oakland Tales by writer and genealogist, Dera Williams and A Loser Love by creative writer, Kyla Marshell. There will also be audio excerpts from Sheree Renee Thomas’s The Origins of Black Music, Thaddeus Howze’s Hayward’s Reach, and Jewelle Gomez’s Televised. 

Let’s Play will also include a participatory wall of poetry inviting visitors to leave thoughts on their individual experiences of play in Oakland.

Image: Kiss My Black Arts Collective, We Are Not A Single Voice Community, mural


Rochelle Spencer is founder of the AfroSurreal Writers Workshop and co-editor of All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women Writers of Color (Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2014), which has been named a “must-read” feminist book of 2014 by Ms. Magazine. Rochelle has received fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center and the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, and her work appears in a variety of publications, including the African American Review, Poets and Writers, Eleven Eleven, the East Bay Review, Callaloo, the Carbon Culture Review, the LA Review, and Mosaic. Rochelle is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and a former board member of the Hurston Wright Foundation.


AfroSurreal Writers Workshop supports writers of color creating weird, surreal, or absurdist art. The AfroSurreal Writers Workshop fights for the rights of all marginalized people, including senior citizens, religious and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, the LGBITQ communities, members of poor and working class neighborhoods, and of course, PoC. The group holds an annual conference on AfroSurrealism at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland where we celebrate local writers and artists who create unusual art. An Eco-Arts Festival and Conference is taking the place of this year’s conference.



Collaboration is Key, Conversation is Necessary.

– Who We Are and What We Do!
– A well-organized community of artists that teach and demonstrate aspects of cultural expression through our art.
– We, the collective, should work together to have an overall agenda and help artists sell their work. We provide education within the collective.
– We do not practice racism or sexism.
– This is not a single voice community.
– We get jobs for artists and performers alike while producing art that fosters freedom of expression and speech.
– We commit to the push for social reform and demonstrate equitable sustainability. We exemplify each other in all areas of creativity.
– We Make art that doesn’t rely on, white supremacy or capitalism to exist.
– We Create art that articulates the realities of living in an unjust society.
– We Create art that envisions liberty for the unjust. At all times, we dismiss the parameters of defining creativity.
– Be a gangsta. Not the kind that abuses the community and those in it. When the time comes, help organize art shows and mural projects in your hood.
– Be an artist that dismantles stereotypes.


North Carolina native Renée Alexander Craft is an is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a joint appointment in the Department of Communication and Curriculum in Global Studies. She earned a BA in English Literature and an MA in Communication Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University. Since 2003, she has maintained an ongoing collaboration with Creative Currents: Art + Culture + Collaboration, an internationally focused arts organization committed to enhancing public engagement with the arts and cultures of Africa and the Black Diaspora.

For the past sixteen years, Alexander Craft’s research and creative projects have centered on an Afro-Latin community located in the small coastal town of Portobelo, Panama who call themselves and their carnival performance tradition “Congo.” She has completed both a manuscript and digital humanities project, which reflect this focus. The first is an ethnographic monograph titled When the Devil Knocks: The Congo Tradition and the Politics of Blackness in 20th Century Panama (The Ohio State University Press, January 2015). The second project, titled Digital Portobelo: Art + Scholarship + Cultural Preservation (digitalportobelo.org), is an interactive online collection of ethnographic interviews, photos, videos, artwork, and archival material that illuminate the rich culture and history of Portobelo, Panama. Digital Portobelo was initiated through an inaugural 2013-2014 UNC Digital Innovations Lab/Institute for the Arts and Humanities Fellowship and is currently supported by an inaugural 2016 Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship.


Jacqueline Bishop’s intricate renderings of flora and fauna reflect the absolute beauty and mystery of the natural world yet also impart a certain solemnity as she explores the complex connections between climate change, species extinction and migration. To reinforce the significance of the ecological issues presented, she often incorporates materials collected from the environment, specifically from the local Louisiana landscape as well as from years of travel in Central and South America.

Bishop is an award-winning photographer-painter-writer born and raised in Jamaica, who now lives and works in New York City (“Jamaica’s 15th Parish”). She has twice been awarded Fulbright Fellowships, including a year-long grant to Morocco; her work exhibits widely in North America, Europe and North Africa. She teaches in the Liberal Studies Program at New York University; is the founding editor of Calabash: A Journal of Caribbean Art & Letters; and author of The River’s Song, a novel about growing up in Jamaica.


Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet and photographer. She received the MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. A Cave Canem and Kimbilio Fellow, she is the recipient of fellowships including Yaddo, Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, The Millay Colony, and others. In 2011, Griffiths appeared in the first ever poetry issue in Oprah’s O Magazine.

She is widely known for her literary portraits, fine art photography, and lyric videos. Griffiths recently completed her first extensive video project, P.O.P (Poets on Poetry), an intimate series of micro-interviews, which gathers nearly 100 contemporary poets in conversation, is featured online at the Academy of American Poets’ website. Recently, Griffiths was selected by the Poetry Society of America to curate the Poetry Walk, featuring the poetry of Octavio Paz, for the New York Botanical Garden’s exhibit, Frida Kahlo: Art Garden Life. 


James David Lee is a painter and installation artist based in San Francisco who explores ideas of ambiguity and latency – especially as inspired by philosophical Daoism. He received a bachelors degree in art history from Yale University and a law degree from Stanford Law School. His work is in the collections of the Yale University Arts of the Book Collection, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and the Book Club of California.

JUNOT DIAZ was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed DrownThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award.  A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the cofounder of Voices of Our Nation Workshop.

DAWNIE WALTON is a fiction writer and journalist whose work explores identity, place, and the influence of pop culture. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she is currently working on her first novel. Previously she has worked as an editor for EssenceEntertainment Weekly, and LIFE.com.


Serenity House is an Oakland organization that works with women and transitional aged youth who have been victims of sexual assault, childhood abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, and human trafficking, and who struggle with substance abuse.  They provide them with housing, counseling, and all the tools necessary for them to heal and transform their lives. They also work to implement change and make our community a safe and peaceful place to live.

Serenity House serves women who are tired of living their lives carrying unresolved issues caused by emotional, physical, mental and sexual trauma. The majority of the women who come through their doors have been raped or molested as little girls. With the help of Serenity House, many are now living full, joyful lives. Our daily groups include Anger Management, Forgiveness, Relapse Prevention, Inner Child Work, Incident Writing, Life Skills, 12 Steps to Recovery and Relationships.




Dera is a writer, editor, genealogist, writing mentor, researcher, and family historian, and she is active in local literary and national literary events. She was co-coordinator of Marcus Book Store Book Club’s 2008 tenth anniversary and was a panelist at the Romance Slam Jam in Houston, TX. She is the keeper of family stories, archivist and helps coordinate the Rowland (maternal) family reunions in southern Arkansas. Dera is a member of the Board of Directors of the African American Genealogical Society of Northern California and the recording secretary for the general membership.

Dera is an award-winning writer whose background includes novel writing, short story writing, academic writing, essayist, memoir, and blogging. She has been a book reviewer since 1997 for Affaire de Coeur magazine where she conducts author interviews and contributes articles. She is also a reviewer and co-editor for APOOO Exchange, a division of APOOO (A Place of Our Own) literary group. She has co-edited an anthology and has contributed profiles for encyclopedias. She is in the process of compiling a collection of childhood memories, Southern Roots/Cali Girl: My Coming of Age Story (several have already been published) for which she is seeking publication. Dera has three novels in the works which are in various stages of writing and revision. She is researching and writing her family history as well as researching the history of her mother’s hometown in southern Arkansas. Proud of her southern roots, she hears the ancestors whispering their stories to her.


Jewelle Gomez is a writer and activist and the author of the double Lambda Award-winning novel, THE GILDA STORIES from Firebrand Books. Her adaptation of the book for the stage “BONES & ASH: A GILDA STORY,” was performed by the Urban Bush Women company in 13 U.S. cities.  The script was published as a Triangle Classic by the Paperback Book Club.

She is the recipient of a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; two California Arts Council fellowships and an Individual Artist Commission from the San Francisco Arts Commission.

She has served on literature panels for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council and the California Arts Council.


Thaddeus Howze was a New York native and found his way to the West Coast as a consequence of his military service. He’s a California-based technology executive and author whose non-fiction and online journalism has appeared in publications such as The Enemy, Black Enterprise Online, Urban Times, the Good Men Project, and Astronaut.com. Thaddeus Howze has published two books, Hayward’s Reach (2011) and Broken Glass (2013). He maintains a nonfiction blog on science and technology at A Matter of Scale. He writes speculative fiction at hubcityblues.com. 


Kyla Marshell is a creative writer whose poems, essays, articles and interviews have appeared in Bookforum, Calyx, Ebony.com, ESPNw, Gawker,The Guardian, O, the Oprah Magazine, the Poetry Foundation, REVIVE Music, Sarah Lawrence Magazine,  SPOOK Magazine, Vinyl Poetry, and elsewhere. She has earned an Academy of American Poets College Prize, Cave Canem and Jacob K. Javits fellowships and multiple residencies to the Vermont Studio Center. In 2013, Ebony.com named  her one of “7 Young Black Writers You Should Know.”

Currently, Kyla is at work on a memoir that examines the meaning of family through the lens of her distant relatives. She is a graduate of Spelman College with a B.A. in English, and Sarah Lawrence College with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Originally from Boston, she grew up in Silver Spring, MD, Morehead, KY, and Portland, ME, and now lives in New York.


Thomas is the editor of the Dark Matter anthology (2000), in which are collected works by some of the best African-American writers in the genres of science fiction, horror and fantasy. Among the many notable authors included are Samuel R. Delany, Octavia E. Butler, Charles R. Saunders, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Jewelle Gomez, Ishmael Reed, Kalamu ya Salaam, Robert Fleming, Nalo Hopkinson, George S. Schuyler and W. E. B. Du Bois. Dark Matter was honored with the 2005 and the 2001 World Fantasy Award and named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

Thomas is the publisher of Wanganegresse Press, and has contributed to national publications including; The Washington Post “Book World”, Black Issues Book Review, QBR, and Hip Mama. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Ishmael Reed’s Konch, Drumvoices Revue, Obsidian III, African Voices, storySouth, and other literary journals, and has received Honorable Mention in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, 16th and 17th annual collections. A native of Memphis, she lives in New York City


She grew up in Orangeburg, South Carolina. She was educated at Harvard College, and received an MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College.

She served as a contributing and advisory editor of Callaloo, and co-founder of the Dark Room Collective (1988-1998) and co-curator of the Dark Room Reading Series. The Dark Room Collective had a mission of forming a community of new African American writers. Strange can be quoted as saying “It was the sustaining practice of writing in community just as much as the activism of building a community-based reading series for writers of color that kept us engaged in collectivity.

Strange has been a writer-in-residence at Fisk University, Spelman College, Wheaton College, the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, the University of California at Davis, California Institute of the Arts, and Georgia Institute of Technology. She currently teaches writing at Spelman College.


Victor LaValle  is an American author. He is the author of a short-story collection, Slapboxing with Jesus and three novels, The Ecstatic, Big Machine and The Devil in Silver. LaValle writes fiction primarily, though he has also written essays and book reviews for GQ, Essence Magazine, The Fader, and The Washington Post, among others.

LaValle was raised in the Flushing and Rosedale neighborhoods of Queens, New York. He graduated with a degree in English from Cornell University and a Master of Fine Arts Program of Creative Writing at Columbia University.

Rochelle Spencer’s Studio Lab Curatorial Residency is made possible, in part, through the support of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  Let’s Play exhibition and related public programs are supported by a generous grant from the Zellberbach Family Foundation, The Fleishhacker Foundation and The City of Oakland’s Cultural Funding Program.





OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, June 2, 6 – 9pm

This event will feature live readings by Johnnia Davis + Serenity House, Jewelle Gomez, Dera Williams, Jon Woodson and readers from the AfroSurreal Writers Workshop

In celebration of Black Music Month, there will be also by a DJ performance by SoulBeatz Oakland in between readings.

CURATOR + ARTIST TALK: Thursday, June 22, 6 – 8pm

Join curator, Rochelle Spencer and local participating  artists to discuss the inspiration for Let’s Play and the work produced.