“The Lonely, Triumphant, Angry, and Joyful Parts, Too”
By Hannah V. Sawyerr
All the Fighting Parts is a novel in verse that uses poetry, court transcripts, and mixed-media to amplify the voice of 16-year-old Amina before and after surviving an assault at the hands of a popular community figure and pastor. In the After the Assault sections of the novel, particularly the sections directly after the assault, the poetry shifts in form. The poems use more white space, more frequent line breaks, and take on different shapes. In these sections, we start to see Amina’s life unravel after the trauma she’s endured. The change in structure is meant to reflect the way her mind and body shift while she eventually learns to reclaim her voice.
I wrote All the Fighting Parts during a time when I felt particularly small while waiting for the trial against my abuser. When I first began writing All the Fighting Parts, my goal was to write a story about a girl who gains the courage to call out her abuser and loudly fight back. I initially wrote Amina’s story in an attempt to rewrite the parts of my own story that made me feel ashamed. In turn, the early drafts of the novel glossed over the messy and difficult parts of survival in favor of a story about a girl who fulfilled my definition of what a “strong” and “triumphant” survivor looked like. While Amina eventually learns to reclaim her narrative, it was during the revision process that my views on survival, what it means to be strong, and what it truly means to fight back changed. I realized that Amina, and all survivors of trauma, are strong because we survive despite the difficult times; and rather than trying to erase them, I began to embrace them.
With every revision of the novel, I found myself leaning more and more into the moments of Amina’s journey that are fearful and messy. Rather than writing a novel about a girl whose first instinct is to fight back vocally, I found myself wanting to embrace the lonely and complicated parts of survival, too. Eventually, I learned that all these moments are what makes up Amina’s fight, and the fight of survivors who face similar experiences. Amina’s emotional journey became more nuanced, and by leaning into these nuances, rather than avoiding them, I was able to let go of the shame that I carried.
Amina, myself, and many of the survivors I know, experience feeling like we didn’t “fight back” hard enough, as if we bear the blame that our abusers should carry. Over time, I realized how important it is to me to be honest about those experiences. The truth of the matter is that survival isn’t always loud. Or strong. Or bold. And Amina’s story is a direct reflection of that. Her journey to reclaim her narrative is a complicated one that intentionally embraces her low moments. Her story captures all of her fight. Including the lonely, triumphant, angry, and joyful parts, too.
POLICE INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:
Amina Conteh: I think I need a break now. Can we speak about something else please?
Katie Walbrook: You’re doing great, Amina. Let’s talk about who you’ve spoken to after that night in the church, but before coming here. Did you tell any friends about what happened before reporting today?
Amina Conteh: Just my best friend, Talia.
Katie Walbrook: When did you tell her about what happened?
Amina Conteh: Just a few days ago.
Katie Walbrook: Can you tell me a little bit about your friendship with her?
Amina Conteh: I guess so.
3 ½ WEEKS AFTER THE ASSAULT
that night at the church my spirit broke inside
all the quiet parts of me a m p l i f i e d
preacher made a mess of my body the silencing of my voice
as the world carried on the worship music played
the offering still collected he preaches every Sunday
on his tired-ass pulpits delivers the word of the Lord
. on that damned pulpit.
“Damn Mina, what’s been going on with you?”
Talia asks when Mr. Richard delivers our shakes.
The Shack the only restaurant in my neighborhood with
. a working jukebox.
Walls graced by pictures of musical legends like
Marvin Gaye Whitney Houston Aretha Franklin
The cash register graced by Holy-Holly,
who while wearing the same uniform as the rest of the staff,
still manages to spread the
Holy Tabernacle Love-of-the-Lord™
with her damn “Ask Me About Jesus” pin.
HOLY HOLLY HOLLY ROBERTSON
Whenever we step into The Shack,
we place our orders like everybody else,
but everyone knows if Mr. Richard is there
he always takes care of us—
everyone except Holy-Holly.
I pick a table closest to the window;
she comes rushing over grin stretching from ear to ear.
“Amina! I haven’t seen you since our Christmas event!
We’ve missed you so much! What can I get for you?”
RICHARD TO THE RESCUE
“Y’all behaving yourself in your classes?”
Mr. Richard asks before telling Holly he’ll take our order.
Talia and I used to go to The Shack almost every day after school,
and since Mr. Richard owns the place,
he used to look out with a free milkshake from time to time.
But after failing my first exam this semester,
my father’s been watching
my every move, and I can never leave my house for long.
I force a smile, avoiding Mr. Richard’s question.
I’ve learned that what people don’t know can’t hurt them,
and you won’t catch me lying to Mr. Richard.
Talia does the talking.
“We’ll have those Sinful Cinnamon shakes please.”
JULIA’S WORLD AND WE’RE JUST LIVING IN IT
“I wake up thirty minutes early to do my makeup
all for Julia to STILL not notice me!”
Whenever Talia comes close to her crush,
she gets quieter than a church mouse.
I roll my eyes and sip my shake,
letting the same
. Julia riddled tune play
GROWN-ASS MEN (PART 1)
At the other side of The Shack sits a group of four men,
who own about ten more years of age than Talia and me.
They whistle at us,
hollering about our tits and ass.
Mr. Richard yells at them,
snapping his faithful dishrag.
. “Take that shit out my shack!”
but these men are more relentless than the most stubborn of stove grease.
GROWN-ASS MEN (PART 2)
They lower their voices but not their gaze.
Staring at Talia and I like they have no home training.
Usually when this happens,
I respond with the stankest of stank faces
or with the clapbacks
I circle around my head like,
This is why your girl left your ashy ass!
The world would have been better
off if you were swallowed!
The devil could use men like you in hell!
This time, it’s as if my voice has been muted
and my stomach turns green-pack-skittle-sour.
The moment when I finally respond,
I mouth the words:
. Thank you.
SNOOPER’S GON’ SNOOP
Why didn’t you give those guys the stank face I know?
Are things at home between
you and your dad bad?
Are the two of you still not getting along?
I hit Talia with a
Don’t worry about it
for every question until she asks:
“Did something happen
that you’re not telling me about?”
TEARS WERE SHED
heard if you
roll your eyes back
far enough, you can stop
yourself from crying. I tried &
tears fell anyway. Talia will only say
you need to tell your dad. She doesn’t
know what it’s like, living in a home
where the only music that plays,
is a song of silence.
Hannah V. Sawyerr was recognized as the Youth Poet Laureate of Baltimore in 2016. Her spoken word has been featured on the BBC’s World Have Your Say program, as well as the National Education Association’s “Do You Hear Us?” campaign. Her written word has been included in gal-dem, Rookie, and xoNecole. She holds a BA in English from Morgan State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. Sawyerr is an English professor at Loyola Marymount University and lives in Los Angeles, California.