“I wanted to show what it’s like to come together and show up for our community,” said Janelle Monáe on Monday, April 18, at Brooklyn Academy of Music.

That community she speaks of comprises the silenced, the stifled, the socially oppressed; those whose identities are often hidden in their dreams and imaginations. The non-binary, the sci-fi and the otherworldly, those suffocated by an expectation of how they should express while never fully expressing who they actually are. 

Sheree Renée Thomas, Danny Lore, Janelle Monae, The Memory Librarian

The groundbreaking musician, actor and now author, Janelle Monáe, was in Brooklyn as part of her book tour for The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer, an anthology oriented around afrofuturism, totalitarianism, time travel and rebellion.

The short stories in the brook bring to life Monáe’s critically acclaimed album Dirty Computer where we fast-forward to life in the New Dawn. In the New Dawn, authoritarianism rules and technology has been weaponized. Everyone’s memory has been wiped cleaned with the drug “Nevermind,” and so the memory librarian is the keeper of those latent secrets.

The book, so far, has gotten rave reviews.

Monáe was joined by her literary collaborators, Danny Lore and Sheree Renée Thomas for a conversation moderated by the book’s editor Kyle Dargan. It was a special moment for them all, as it was the first time she was meeting the co-authors in person. Up until that moment, they were collaborating virtually, through the pandemic.

However, the ad-hoc nature of the book talk couldn’t have been more fitting: For Janelle Monáe, a sci-fi person herself, What is time and space but ever-expanding, fluid concepts? And if everything is truly fluid, then the only thing that truly mattered was an acceptance of “the now.”

Sheree Renée Thomas, Danny Lore, Janelle Monae, The Memory Librarian
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – APRIL 18: (L-R) Danny Lore, Kyle Dargan, Janelle Monáe and Sheree Renée Thomas speak onstage during Janelle Monáe in conversation co-presented by BAM, Greenlight Bookstore, and The Lit. Bar at Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 18, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Brooklyn Academy of Music)

Each of the co-authors, including Dargan, helped guide Monáe, through her own memories and storytelling for the book– stories she said she channeled from a vivid dream she had right before the 2020 COVID pandemic.

Thomas worked on stories in the anthology about children “who were already who they were,” a sort of ideal existence, where there was no coming out. And Lore, a graphic novelist by trade, worked on stories around what it was like when people are truly seen.

Monáe said in writing the book, she made decisions around her own gender identity coming out as non-binary.

Born and raised in Kansas by a hardcore Christian family, Monáe’s decision to reclaim her identity had been delayed upon until then, she said, because her initial upstream battles had centered primarily around racial discrimination and artistic freedom.

In writing the book she found the mental safe space to explore how she would show up unapologetically and without needing to fight.

Sheree Renée Thomas, Danny Lore, Janelle Monae, The Memory Librarian
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – APRIL 18: A general view of atmosphere during Janelle Monáe in conversation co-presented by BAM, Greenlight Bookstore, and The Lit. Bar at Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 18, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Brooklyn Academy of Music)

“White supremacy distracts you from living the life that you should be living,” Monáe said.

“I’m now on my second earth life,” said Monáe, who, as a non-binary person, refers to herself as “everything,” but, more importantly, a human being.

And, perhaps, this is what the Memory Librarian gives its readers: A glimpse into a mirror of a very possible future, but also, an examination of what happens behind the mirror that allows us to reflect. 

“Read it, and get comfortable,” Monáe said. “Because we’re not going anywhere.”

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