(ghost gestures)

THE BOOK: ( ghost gestures )


THE AUTHOR: Gabrielle Civil

THE EDITOR: Selected by Bhanu Kapil for the 2019 Gold Line Press Creative Nonfiction Chapbook Contest

THE PUBLISHER: Gold Line Press (University of Southern California)

SUMMARY: How can you return to where you’ve never been? This question is especially poignant for members of the African diaspora. ( ghost gestures ) conjures diaspora hauntings and traces black bodies across space and time. In Dakar and Banjul, Detroit and Montreal, Tlaxcala and Río Piédras, Gabrielle Civil showcases black bodies dancing, hiding, and re-emerging. In performance meditations, poetry and transcriptions, she invokes the doll, the queen, and the ghost as powerful icons of black women’s experience. Through these figures, she explores where black women have never and always been. Playing hide-and-seek with her own transforming body, this book tackles history, identity, art, and desire. Civil writes: “bring this here / bring this back / keep this here / bring us back / bring us here / bring us back to this.” Incorporating chants, notations, images, and scores( ghost gestures ) will spirit you away.

THE BACK STORY: ( ghost gestures ) is the third volume in a chronicle of performance body, my series of performance memoirs that includes Swallow the Fish (2017), Experiments in Joy (2019), the déjà vu (2022) and In & Out of Place (2022). This particular book archives sections of writing about Africa and the Caribbean that I cut from my Swallow the Fish, largely for length as I was struggling to get that first manuscript published. The absence of this writing from the final book haunted me and led me to think more about ghosts, the spectral, what is lost and what returns. In this way, ( ghost gestures ) is a bridge book. It links the past to the future—and even gives a premonition of my writing about Mexico, the topic of In & Out of Place. Even though comes third, ( ghost gestures ) also makes a great introduction to my writing. It’s not too long and you can just sit down, open the book and follow my footsteps as a black woman artist all around the world.

WHY THIS TITLE?: I loved the combination of material and immaterial in the title ( ghost gestures ). The book’s title comes specifically from a performance I did in The Gambia, West Africa, my first performance on the African continent, but it also speaks to the movement of people in the diaspora to find and reclaim our heritage.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Even if you don’t usually read poetry or go see performance art works, this book is accessible, thought-provoking, and will spark your imagination. It’s original and would make a good choice for a book club. There’s a lot to discuss with lots of room for different interpretations. ( ghost gestures ) is not information: it’s insight.


“(ghost gestures) is . . . an experience of world-contact through micro-movements, kinesthesia, the body’s trace as much as its on-going being . . . Yes. How do you choreograph notes so they magnetize their own columnar, prehensile order? Like this.” –Bhanu Kapil, 2019 Gold Line Press Nonfiction Chapbook Contest Judge

Read an interview with Gabrielle Civil about ( ghost gestures ) here: https://theoffingmag.com/interviews/qa-with-gabrielle-civil-author-of-ghost-gestures/

AUTHOR PROFILE: Gabrielle Civil is a black feminist performance artist, poet, and writer, originally from Detroit MI. She has premiered fifty original performance art works around the world including in Puerto Rico, The Gambia, Ghana, Canada, Zimbabwe, and Mexico where she lived as a Fulbright Fellow. She is the author of the performance memoirs Swallow the Fish (2017) and Experiments in Joy (2019). A 2019 Rema Hort Mann LA Emerging Artist, she teaches creative writing and critical studies at the California Institute of the Arts. The aim of her work is to open up space.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: My creative project is to contribute to and create an archive of black women’s creative expression. This particular book emphasizes the global aspect of black women’s experience: how we circulate throughout the world.

SAMPLE: Except from ( Dakar: Black Women Dancing in Mirrors )

“What do they see there? Dancing with their backs to the crowd, their faces absorbed in reflections. Women of Dakar dancing in mirrors, wearing tight, embroidered jeans, or short miniskirts with tall boots. Wearing thick lipstick, powder, and blush. Wearing wigs or weaves. Wearing elaborate braids. Women of Dakar, so stunning in their beauty, their style, their dark brown skin, their touch of haughtiness. Their gestures so precise, they are almost ceremonial.

A certain thrust, a powerful turn of the hip, done as if effort was no expense. And yet, that’s not true. Try to do it. Try to stand there and roll your hips, slowly, surely, with control, with beauty, looking only into your own eyes. And then when the song is right-—when Youssou N’Dour starts to wail-—and it’s 3 AM and everyone is finally there, gleaming, preening, steady cool, do it more, not necessarily faster but deeper, not necessarily harder but smoother. See the Women of Dakar, dancing in mirrors, dip their knees open in time. See how a hand swims up, a head turns, catches a glimpse of itself somewhere else. Catches a glimpse maybe of something else. Catches a glimpse of you, a country cousin.

Oumar has brought me here.
Says: if you came back here, you could learn Wolof
just like that! And when you wear the right clothes,
you could be one of us.
You are already one of us.
Across the water, your people were taken,
but we have the same ancestors, the same blood.
And you could even take one of our names.
My last name is Diaw. Now, you are Gabrielle Diaw.
Not so fast.
Not so easy.
That is not my name.

My gestures, larger, more expressionistic. My dancing takes up more space, holds my body in its own way. The Women in Dakar see themselves dancing in mirrors and they see me too. I know because when I dance, I can’t see their faces, but spy their reflections, winking, smirking, laughing back at me.” -Gabrielle Civil from ( ghost gestures )

LOCAL OUTLETS: My independent bookstore is Skylight Books, Los Angeles California.

https://www.skylightbooks.com/book/9781938900389 WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Small Press Distribution, Gold Line Press, Amazon

https://www.spdbooks.org/AdvancedSearch/DefaultWFilter.aspx?SearchTerm=Gabrielle+Civil https://dornsife.usc.edu/goldlinepress/ghostgestures/

PRICE: $12

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Instagram @gabrielle_civil or contact experimentsinjoy@gmail.com

Published by


Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s