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Jana Ross

 African Diaspora Award
Grand Prize Winner

Me and My Hair, poetry selection

Protective Style

by Jana Ross


She is growing her hair like a blanket around her body
Moss Woman
hangs her head in a river
She has spent a lifetime learning about herself
And found that
She has to start by loving herself
This often means an investment in boundaries
After the current has cleansed her,
She casts a protection spell around her home
But the one beside her bed each night is a body of stone
And sinks into her room of dirt


This lover who watches her 

looks hungrily 

“Can you give me a thousand strands? 

That is but a limb to a tree” 

No, she replies, if I do, I shall bleed 

So the lover looks at the ground and rips up vines and leaves

I build my own”

But every handful of Earth, 

Each taking of life, 

Put a pain in her side 

Until she was curled around her crown 

And when the lover returned, 

Proud of the mimicry, 

Viewed not the limp body of the Moss Woman 

But instead, where she laid, a great Sycamore 

She had turned into a tree


Work Braids

by Jana Ross

She hauls long black braids over her shoulder with the swing of her neck
Like a crane raises its beak from rushing water
This movement is done without thinking
For weeks and months,
The braids watched her write and read
And cry and bleed
And scrub and sweat
And laugh and fret

Aunties by Jana Ross


Shrieking women
Are laughing
Are loving
And leaning
On each other

Are cleaning
And screaming
And heaving
And believing
In each other

With eyes closed
And hearts open
Ages young
Still bold
Old too
Still fun

I love these women


Clay People

by Jana Ross

We are clay people who bake under the sun
When the brown glistens, and
All I can see is your beautiful darkness
I forgot how brittle and hard we be
We, who began as a soft mould,
As life from the bottom of rivers,
Of water, the force of shape and change,
But now, no longer do you let softness in
For the elements set and stiffened arms,
Fingers, backs, and minds, too
Until the rinds of the heart met rigor mortis,
And skin withered to tough leather,
And touch became alien.
In these moments of hardness
Between us family

I remember these memories we relive,
When our ancestors had to lose trust
And instead gain caverns, boulder shells, and
Pluck for their hearts immovable stones
Submerged in an endless ocean,
They had to look for sunlight five thousand meters beneath the surface
Beneath the surface


Our mothers and fathers hid joy and panic
And instead emerged covered in the sand of the ocean floor
But their mud covering also hid what was only meant for special eyes
A beautiful coral held like bouquets
A calling to the sea I know now is a gift from them to me

I remember, too, the quiet smiles that pass through your eyes
The ones I hear in your laugh
And the watery tears slipping to the corners of your lips,
Letting slide a smile oceans wide
In those gentle moments,
When we hold each other and that is all we need,
I remind you softly to think of those before and next,
And ask for you to let go of these stone walls
Let dissolve this tough, old clay of armor
To wash gently away your pain,
Hold firmly for we are each other’s protectors

Jana Ross Edit_edited_edited.jpg

African Diaspora Award

Grand Prize Winner

Literary scholar Jana Ross has always kept diaries and journals as a child. As a young girl, she exchanged poetry journals with her best friend. The intimacy of community remains one of her most cherished aspects of poetry and sharing stories.

     Kinsman Quarterly reached out to Ross, the grand prize winner of the first annual African Diaspora Award, to find out what inspires her heartfelt poetry. 

      “Of course, my personal life experiences, from the tumult of emotions I try to sort out to just everyday thoughts, visuals, and interactions,” Ross shares. “I am inspired by the attempt to capture feelings through visual imagery, the collapse of grammar and form, and listening to the story my writing wants to tell (even when it may not align with what I initially thought I wanted).”

     Artists like Gwendolyn Brooks, Virginia Woolf, FKA Twigs, La Dispute are among those who inspire Ross’s work. But she also credits friends and family members. In particular, her auntie, Sharon Bridgforth, a writer that she recommends checking out, inspires her the most.

     Ross hopes to one day publish a book of her own and connect with other writers. She also intends to explore writing lengthier poems and various poetry forms. Her poetry collection, “Me and My Hair”, made a striking impact on the contest judge and poet Akin Jeje, who found “Clay People” to be his favorite in the top poems among the poetry of 30 nations. 

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