Spring Campaign Feature: Luther Hughes

Published: June 28, 2021

Categories: Featured | Spring Campaign

This week is your last chance to support our 2021 spring fundraising campaign! Throughout the campaign, we’ve spoken to artists all over Washington State about resilience, how they’ve changed in the past year, and what support artists need now and in the future. Our final feature is our very own Program Manager Luther Hughes. Luther is a writer and founder of Shade Literary Arts and the Queer Writers of Color Relief Fund. Luther’s support of artists through the pandemic and beyond has continuously inspired us. Read more below.

Our spring campaign ends on June 30, and we’re trying to reach our stretch goal of $75,000. We can’t do it without your help! Donate here. Thank you so much for your support.

About Shade Literary Arts and the Queer Writers of Color Fund:
Shade Literary Arts actually started as a blog I created in 2014 during undergrad. I had started reading a lot of poetry by queer writers of color and was like, “why hasn’t anyone told me about these poets?” I felt cheated, to be honest. So, I started a blog so queer young poets of color could have a place to read poets with who they can identify and build community with. It was a simple blog. Once a week, I would post a poem I loved and tweet about it, and let the poet know how much I loved their work. It was truly just me fangirling over poets for years.

In 2016, I transitioned the blog into a journal—The Shade Journal. As The Shade Journal, we published 5 issues. I’m saying “we” now because around issue 3, I hired two poetry readers and a book reviewer. The journal as is ran up until 2019, which is when we became Shade Literary Arts, a literary organization for queer writers of color. We switched from being just a journal to an “organization,” because I wanted Shade—that’s what we’re called shorthand or “Shade Lit”—to broaden our reach and do more for our community.

In addition to the journal, we have a column called “The Evergreen” that publishes work by queer writers of color in the Greater Seattle Area. We have a reading series called “Kick Your Feet Up” that features queer writers of color across the world. And I’m secretly working on a few other programs that will come to fruition later this year and into the next.

I guess it’d be remiss of me to mention the Queer Writers of Color Relief Fund, right? In March of 2020, I impulsively started the Queer Writers of Color Relief Fund. I say “impulsively,” because I really didn’t have a plan. I started a GoFundMe and was basically like, “please donate to this fund so we can help queer writers of color during this time.” The main goal was to help at least 100 writers. And we prioritized trans women of color and queer writers living with or having a disability. Basically, I saw a lot of people, a lot of my community lose gigs and funds, and was just completely heartbroken because I know how crucial it is to do book tours, readings, workshops, etc. to keep yourself afloat. So, I wanted to help in some way. And boom! the relief fund was born. Since its inception, we were able to distribute nearly $45,000 to 175 writers. That was the first round which ended in December 2020. We’re currently in our second round of funding thanks to the Philadelphia Assembly and In the Streets Money Initiative. In the second round, 40 queer writers of color will receive $250 each. And to tell you the truth, it was literally the community who did this. It was the community who shared and donated and got the word out. It was people helping people. All I did was create an account.

All in all, Shade was created to love on queer writers of color at all stages. The name comes from the idea of being comfortable in the shade, relax, to feel at home. I want any and all queer writers of color to feel welcome and to feel safe when thinking of Shade. I started it, yes, but it’s not for me, but for everyone else.

On the resilience of artists and what has inspired him:
If you would’ve asked me this a year ago, I would’ve said something like “resilience is when artists never stop making art” or “artists who are still making work during these times is resiliency.” But the more I think about it the more my idea of resilience broadens. Yes, I do think those who are able to make work and hustle and push through are resilient, but there are many different ways to be resilient. Sometimes resiliency is in the silence. Sometimes just breathing is an act of resiliency. Sometimes just waking up and cooking yourself breakfast is an act of resiliency. Last year, when all the uprisings happened, being resilient for me meant focusing on work and eating and tweeting and doing relief funds for both Shade and Artist Trust. It meant talking to my mom. It meant telling my boyfriend I loved him. I am truly in awe at anyone and everyone who was able to create last year and even this year. It’s inspiring, and yes, again, that’s resiliency. But I also need to call out that resiliency is more than creating artwork. It’s continuing to live when all around you there’s death.

What has inspired me or brought me hope is honestly the communities I’m part of. There’s something beautiful about seeing people come together and work hard to keep community going in a strictly virtual world. It’s inspiring to see poets laughing together on zoom or going wild in a chat for a poem or just talking on the phone about the latest poetry Twitter tea. All of these interactions have brought me hope and have reminded me that people will find ways to connect. That brings about hope.

How he’s different from a year ago:
A year ago, I was really hard on myself both artistic-wise and also just in general. I was sad on and off that I wasn’t able to write or read. I was tired because I was doing so much both in and outside of work. I was trying to do everything. Since then, I’ve learned and am still learning to give myself grace. Grace to not do anything. Grace to rest when I need it. Grace to say, “no.” Grace to say, “yes.” Grace to stop working in the middle of the day if I just can’t. Grace to work past my time because I love what I’m doing at the time. Grace to go outside to the roof and drink wine. Grace to have a hot toddy during a committee meeting if I think the meeting will be a stressful one. Grace to write a little here and there. Grace to read a little here and there. Grace to tweet. Grace to check my personal email. Grace to put “office hours” for my personal email—that has been great for me.

This year and moving forward is all about grace and slowing down for me. I can’t do anything if I’m too stressed or overwhelmed. So, I’m doing everything I can to make sure I’m okay mentally and emotionally. That’s first and foremost.

What support artists and artist communities need:
Money. I want to say that first because that’s important and money trickles into necessary resources like different types of insurances and care. We live in a society that devalues artists when it comes to monetary resources but values them most when we need hopefulness and documentation of history. And because we live in a capitalistic world, we determine value by a monetary transaction that benefits the economy.

Okay, got a little preachy there. In addition to money, artists need community. Art started in community and is built within community. Without community, nothing happens. Without community, we all fail. So, it’s important for art-serving organizations and art supporters to do all they/we can to make sure we’re providing artists with the community they need and deserve. This is the case now and needs to be the case two-three years from now when the pandemic is seemingly behind us.

It’s funny, really. I was looking at how all of these companies have changed their logo to the rainbow because of Pride Month and was wondering why it felt so weird this year; my boyfriend and I talked about this, too. We realized it was because this time last year we had the rise of Black Lives Matter and all of the protests, and at the time companies were focused on promoting their support for Black voices and people, and not on pride—which is fine, right, because of course, they should be reading the room. However, this year, a year later, companies seemed to have forgotten about Black Lives Matter because it’s not the thing right now; they don’t know the importance of continued support. Real support isn’t a one-and-done. Real support is refreshed annually and talked about annually. I’m saying this because, art-serving organizations sometimes fall into a capitalist mindset—whereas, what’s in right now is marketable and therefore we’re doing our part. That’s not true support and will never be enough. If we want to support artists and our communities now and moving forward, we need to do more work than what’s trending; the work we do needs to be generational and always refreshed for those to come.