Artist You Should Know: A.A. Vincent
Sometimes, as much as you love a place and its people—in this case, Chicago, and all the memories it holds for me—it can’t hold all of who you are. And that’s okay.
September 30th, 2021. The day I landed back in the Bay Area after having moved back to my hometown of Chicago for the previous year. And although I met parts of myself I didn’t know, I needed other things. Honestly, when I left due to the pandemic, I didn’t think (or truly know) that I would miss the Bay as much as I wound up realizing. After all, I had moved to the Bay Area for graduate school, to study and write poetry—why should I return? I know that most everyone likes to brag that their city (especially if it’s a major one or adjacent to one) is the best and that there’s nothing like it. Which, if you’ve ever been to Chicago, in particular the South Side, you’d be right. There truly is nothing like the South Side with its Blackness, and Southern-ness, its role in the Black Panther Party, rappers, and politicians alike. So why would I leave Chicago and move back?
In 2018, I left the Midwest for graduate school and admittedly because of the allure of the Bay’s weather and the fact it was San Francisco. A place I’d only seen on a map and in movies. It was after a couple of years working at a quite understatedly dead-end, thankless job that I decided to apply to grad school. When I got in, I packed up my little garden studio, sold or gave away everything I could, and boarded plane for a city 2,000 miles away. While I was here then, I learned how to structure poems and essays; I attended workshops and seminars, guest lectures and in doing so I found a community of writers. Not only that, I ended up finding my community of queer writers, artists, and creatives. It was a summer day in 2019 that my courage to name myself queer, to name myself for me, came spilling out in a form a text to a friend. I still remember that day, full of sunshine and warmth. And my friend’s (another queer writer) response was one of acceptance and joy for me.
Though I was nervous, deep down I knew that my friends saw me for who I was. I think— no, I know—that the Bay unconsciously gave me the space it knew I needed to step into myself. As a transplant, I noticed then as I do now that it has a certain openness not found in other parts of the country. There’s a kind of ease here that made and continues to make it easier for me to breathe, to be.
In writing, there’s a freedom not found in other mediums, and many of the writers I studied and read while in school were queer. I don’t think that’s by accident. Many Bay Area writers are not just Black or POC, they’re also queer. There’s a long history of queer writers on both sides of the Bridge that I didn’t know before I arrived, and it seems fitting that the pieces of the person I’m currently becoming dovetailed here. The history of queer writers in the Bay doesn’t end with those long gone but continues through my peers and other contemporary writers I keep company with. Reading other queer poets’ work and being close friends and contemporaries, enabled me to invite my queerness to the forefront, which genuinely saved me from much of the anxiety involved in daily life and being authentic with myself.
So why I did move back, a second time? The Bay gave me more than just better ways to write poetry and essays. It said: here’s some tangible, people-centered community; it may not be big, but it’ll show up for you, save you a seat when you’re running late (as you often do), and continually tell you they’re there for you, and not who others wished you were (accent notwithstanding. Ha!). Sure it’s not perfect (what place is?), but you’ll no longer have to conceal or skirt around your true, queer self to survive.
The Bay is a haven for me. Its materialization and importance in my life cannot be referenced enough. Like many of those who came before me, I found true camaraderie here, and that is reason enough to keep—and hold on to—the Bay Area’s writing and queer life.
A.A. Vincent is a queer, Black and disabled, Bay Area writer originally from Chicago. Their first book, Person, Perceived Girl was published in 2022 by Barrow Street Press.