Congratulations to Hannah Skjellum-Salmon! They were recently selected for the 2023 Community Engagement Fellowship, awarded through the Carolina Center for Public Service. Skjellum-Salmon is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English and Comparative Literature and “a scholar of Black and African American literature and film of the 20th and 21st centuries with a scholarly focus on Black LGBTQ film, literature, and archives.”
Skjellum-Salmon will be using the fellowship for their project, “Come into the Black and Live: Black LGBTQ Re-Archiving of National Landscapes,” which they will complete in partnership with J. Clapp and Stormie Daie, local drag artists in Durham, NC.
Read more about Skjellum-Salmon’s exciting work in the interview below:
Can you give me a brief overview of your project’s context and goals? What do you hope the community will gain from this project?
This project to interview and collaborate with local, Black, LGBTQ drag queens in Durham, NC is a part of my larger dissertation project which concerns Black LGBTQ practices of maintaining and preserving their marginalized histories and lives. By working with J. Clapp and Stormie Daie, I hope to understand how they form communities and preserve Black LGBTQ histories amidst the growing waves of disenfranchisement and gentrification in Durham. While this project is beginning here with interviews that will appear in my dissertation chapter concerning Black trans and queer worldmaking, me and my collaborators are hoping this project can expand into a film, round table, or another public forum that will benefit the LGBTQ communities of Durham and the Triangle area at large.
How did you come to this project?
I’ve wanted to speak with J. Clapp and Stormie Daie (both members of the House of Coxx, a drag artist collective in Durham) forever! But the specific moment in which I began to think about reaching out to them and collaborating with them happened in June 2020. It was at a vigil for Black trans and queer people who had been lost to police and state-sanctioned violence, called the Lift Every Voice Vigil. The House of Coxx and Durham Beyond Policing co-hosted this event to create a space of celebration, mourning, and joy to commemorate our lost community members and friends. During this vigil, Stormie Daie, Naomi Dixx, and many other amazing Durham performers took the location of this vigil–the Durham County Courthouse—and transformed it from a space of anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ into a space of Black, queer, trans veneration. When I realized how their work was so crucial to my general study of Black LGBTQ methods of creating archives and protecting histories that are at risk of erasure, I made it my mission to reach out to them, find the money to pay them adequately for their work and time, and actually get to interview them for my dissertation! Can you tell I’m excited?
Can you tell me some about your partnership with J. Clapp and Stomie Daie? How did you come to work with them, and what is your working relationship?
I have known Clapp and Daie for a few years by working with them in community spaces, seeing them at community events, attending their performances, and connecting between mutual friends. The Durham LGBTQ scene is not so big that you don’t see Clapp and Daie, who both work as community activists and performers. I reached out to them in December 2022, when I finally thought I had a concrete dissertation idea, and they both agreed! While they were both happy to be interviewed for free, both they and I know how much Black LGBTQ life is exploited in the academy. So I made it my priority in our communications to emphasize that I would seek funds for their compensation. That equity is really key to our working relationships. I’ve known Daie both in and out of drag for a few years, and I’m blessed to know Clapp more because of their performance as Vivica C. Coxx (house mother of the House of Coxx) and also because I volunteer monthly at the LGBTQ Center of Durham.
What are you most excited about with this project?
I’m just so excited to have the chance to speak with these amazing activists, artists, and generally lovely people for this project. It feels like working with celebrities (which they are!), but celebrities that are actually putting in so much work for our community to preserve Black, LGBTQ Durham from the bulldozers and cranes that put up new, luxury condos every week.