by Emma Duvall, Graduate Writer and Photographer
UNC Chapel Hill alumna Ashley Harris recently published her first chapbook of poetry, If the Hero of Time Was Black (Weasel Press, 2018). Blending observations about race in America with pop culture, If the Hero of Time Was Black uses the video game Legend of Zelda to explore racism both within and through this popular video game. In a 2017 interview with Cartridge Lit, Harris asks, “…what would a black hero look like?” and answers herself saying, “That’s why I wrote my book.” The poems in her chapbook address the lack of representation and consideration for people of color in video game design, while also using Legend of Zelda as a lens through which to view contemporary society. Many of the poems in the collection maintain this dual perspective, simultaneously looking into the world of Legend of Zelda from the outside and considering the game itself as a character in the chapbook. As Sherayah Witcher of Thurston Howl Publications notes, “Harris not only explores the issues of race, but she directly addresses players of the game and implores them not to ignore striking similarities between the real and virtual worlds.”
Harris graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in the class of 2015 with a double major in Chemistry and Hispanic Literatures and Cultures, and a minor in Creative Writing. She states that she “aspires to be both a physician and a poet,” and “spends her time trying to turn medicine into poetry.” Reflecting on her time in the creative writing program at UNC, Harris notes “My studies at UNC in Creative Writing…reminded me that my sole purpose of writing was not just for audiences or scores, but for me. I was able to learn how I wanted to put my perspective and story together.”
Harris’ next project, a longer length work of poetry called Notes on the State of Virginia, brings together her interest in medicine and poetry. Harris says “This book will be more focused on how I was raised in Virginia, and the generation of women in my family raised there. There will also be reference to scientific, cultural and medical racism. I was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, a place where integration was difficult, and medical experimentation thrived up until post reconstruction. [The project] will also very much serve to mock and ridicule Thomas Jefferson, as I am not one who believes that the dead who oppress should be allowed to rest.”
After graduating from UNC, Harris won the Gerard Unk Fellowship Grant, which allowed her to travel to England and Panama to study the art and poetry of each place. Her poetry has been published in Event Horizon, Wusgood.black and the Yellow Chair Review, and her short story “Black Wall Street” was published in the bilingual magazine Aguas de Pozo. Currently, she is working with youths in creative writing workshops and runs a monthly open mic series through her poetry collective, Hear&After, at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. To stay updated on Harris’s readings, events, and new publications, click here.