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Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Biography

Alexis Pauline Gumbs (she/they) is a Queer Black Troublemaker and Black Feminist Love Evangelist and an aspirational favorite cousin to all beings.  Her work in this lifetime is to facilitate infinite, unstoppable ancestral love in practice. She is an artist, poet, author, activist, and community-accountable scholar.

Alexis was born in 1982 in Plainfield, New Jersey to parents from West Indian families. Her parents did not participate in organized religion much as adults until Alexis, who loved school, wished to attend the “Sunday school” she learned about from her peers. Thus, they joined an Anglican/Episcopal church as their first formal religious community. Later on, when Alexis was about 6, Alexis’s parents met a Mormon family through Amway and started attending a Mormon church. Their experience in the Mormon church— a homophobic, colonial, and racist institution—fostered questions about institutional contradictions for Alexis. Her parents participated in and yet also critiqued the church and became close with a closeted lesbian couple who also often babysat Alexis and her siblings. 

Alexis’s first relationship with a woman came at the end of her college years. This was her “coming out,” but she was already a queer being before that. She cites her practice of listening to the universe as her initial queerness. According to her mother, since infancy in her crib, Alexis has listened and been in conversation with the divine or the unseen. In her adolescence, through growing up at Charis Bookstore in Atlanta, Georgia (the South’s oldest independent feminist bookstore) coupled with her parents’ belief that homophobia was not divine, Alexis felt affirmed and included in queer-centered spaces. In college, she took her first Feminist Philosophy course at Columbia University and discovered that the “late-bloomer” concept did not have to mean she (or anyone) was inherently straight. Continuing to intertwine her education and life path, Alexis completed a Ph.D. (to become a Sista Docta) in English, African and African American Studies and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University. She was the first scholar to research in the papers of Audre Lorde at Spelman College, June Jordan at Harvard University, and Lucille Clifton at Emory University for her Ph.D.

Fostered by Charis Bookstore, the eminent writings of James Baldwin and Audre Lorde were her initiation into the sacred texts of Black Feminism and served as the foundation of her young adult spirituality. Alexis identifies as a Black Feminist Love Evangelist, which means she believes that Black Feminism and the idea of interconnection and creating livable, lovable relations with the planet is salvation. She uses the term “evangelist” not to denote any exclusivity or narrowness of her practice, but rather indicating that she is always happy and willing to teach about Black Feminism at all times, in all places, and to all peoples and does so exuberantly. This name first came about from her public access show, part of her Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind project, when she noticed that the other people there in the production studio were religious evangelists sharing their beliefs— and she was too! She is trained as a community accountable scholar but the show gave her permission to acknowledge that this has been an intellectual and activist project as well as a spiritual project. In Alexis’s teachings, Audre Lorde’s writings are more than politically interesting and intellectually engaging because a passion runs through them as sacred texts.

In 2008, Alexis met Sangodare, her primary collaborator. Prior, Sangodare had created Queer Renaissance, a project about creating the world anew centered on queer people of color. By joining their creative forces, they created Mobile Homecoming together. Housed in a 1988 Winnebago, Mobile Homecoming was a national listening journey of Queer Black Feminist-centered elders outside of the archives. Through this intergenerational journey Alexis and Sangodare discovered that the elders they met were profound spiritual vessels, teachers, and leaders. They became so impactful in their communities due to their sense of their own spirit and various spiritual practices. To honor and celebrate each of these elders, Alexis wrote a praise poem, Sangodare composed a drum rhythm, and then Alexis would improvise a dance for them in their homes or wherever they met them. These performances were a vital ceremony to honor their spirit so they could express themselves freely, beyond the bounds of justifying their personhood as a Black queer person. With these incredible experiences and knowledges, the duo then created seven retreats and numerous events to further amplify the voices of Mobile Homecoming.

During the Mobile Homecoming journey Alexis and Sangodare met their Ifa godmother Iyanifa Ifalade Tashia Asanti and Alexis began to learn that her relationship to Black feminist ancestors is similar in form to ancestor-reverent traditional African religions.  She later participated in an initiation with Iyanifa Osunnike Anke, who she met at Asanti’s Women in Ifa Conference in Southern California.  Anke’s organization, Institute for Whole Life Healing, awarded Alexis and Sangodare their annual Enlightenment Through Service Award in 2022. 

Their other collaborations include Queer Black Sunday School and Black Feminist Film School. The former, in collaboration with HIV-activist and public health visionary Justin Smith as well, continued to read the texts of Black Feminism as sacred texts. This birthed Sangodare’s Queer Black Sunday School Choir Practice which gathered their community to sing, remember, and reconsider songs from the Black baptist tradition. Alexis and Sangodare were invited as celebrants-in-residence at Northstar Church of the Arts in Durham in 2019. They were asked to facilitate the last service of the year in December, then monthly in 2020. During the initial COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, at home, they switched their monthly services to weekly in order to address the needs of the community. Sangodare managed all the technology, preaching, and music while Alexis did the oracle and supported Sangodare.

Alexis is a prolific author and poet. Her prominent publications include: Undrowned: Black Feminist Lesson from Marine Mammals, Dub: Finding Ceremony, M Archive, Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity; and Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines.

Currently, Alexis is writing, sharing her new biography Survival is a Promise: The Eternal Life of Audre Lorde with the world and collaborating with Sangodare to shift the focus of their Mobile Homecoming project to focus on climate crisis survival wisdom gleaned by their communities. 

(This biographical statement was written by Elizabeth Herrick from an interview with Alexis Pauline Gumbs on February 28, 2024 and the www.alexispauline.com website and was edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs.)

Biography Date: June 2024

Additional Resources

Tags

Artist/musician/poet | Black | Feminism | Women's spirituality | Durham | North Carolina | Wallace, Sangodare | Gumbs, Alexis Pauline

Citation

“Alexis Pauline Gumbs | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed July 19, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/alexis-pauline-gumbs.

Remembrances

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