ear Robyn, Dear Leanne,

I wrote the letter below last year but I am later than late in sending it along to you. It is June and the anthropocene has produced the pyrocene. Canada is emblazoned in wildfire and the plumes have reached Manhattan. The sky is orange; it is the worst day for air in the city’s recorded history. 400 AQI or whatever. Is this a rehearsal? I am never more grateful for transnational feminist bonds of imagination and determination; never more grateful for your vision. I am thinking of letters, Baldwin’s (1970: p. 18) to Davis: if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night. I am thinking of Prince’s purple sky. I hear Chaka Khan’s (1984) voice in my head over and over. No better time to think of your work, no better time to send a note of love and appreciation for your knowledge, affection, inspiration.

To the wire, to the limit (through the fire), Through the fire, through whatever…

From November 12, 2022. National Women’s Studies Conference:

These days the edges of everyday life are indeed, as you say, sharp. Your irresistible, concerted togetherness cuts the despair that we fight each day. It is puncturing optimism, puncturing determination. I wanted to see the letters in that problematic way that historians sometimes relate to the records of the past as property. But also in the way of someone with an abiding love for paper and pencils and old things, and things that I know will age beautifully. Vintage.

Dear Robyn, Dear Leanne, Dear Harsha, and Dear Andrea, thank you for letting me be with you today as it is a joy to witness the closeness of your circle; thanks for letting me crash it for an hour or so. I have admired each of you from afar, or as with Andrea, always seemingly in passing and never with the time to sit down and talk. And so these letters are about the making of time. The book a directive: make time for writing, for friendship, for political friendship, for the right kind of work, for naps. Queer temporality moves in so many stunning ways in this book and I want to consider three such ways in my reflection celebration today. Recursive time, which is to say the time of haunting; seizing time, which is to say the time of making Black and Indigenous radicalisms; and epistolary time, which is the time of feminist friendship and counter-archival refusal.

One: Recursive Time  

In Ghostly Matters (2008: p. xvi) Avery Gordon argues, “what’s distinctive about haunting is that it is an animated state in which a repressed or unresolved social violence is making itself known, sometimes very directly, sometimes more obliquely. I used the term haunting to describe those singular yet repetitive instances when home becomes unfamiliar, when your bearings on the world lose direction, when the over-and-done-with comes alive, when what’s been in your blind spot comes into view.” Your letters rework time to elucidate what settler domination represses, what white supremacist violence disavows but which emerges in apparition (Hong 2015). Such violence and manifestation is rendered in complex ways in your book; you elaborate the category “we” to allow for difference and sameness, the ancestors and descendants of property and genocide. Leanne to Robyn: And so here Black and Indigenous communities are once again.  

Another crisis amongst a multitude of crisis, from police and carceral violence to pipelines

and global warming to the missing and murdered to opioids, and the list goes on and on. Later, Leanne to Robyn (p. 128): “We were talking about the pandemic and how, as Indigenous peoples, this crisis and this pandemic are not unprecedented. We have been ‘here’ many times ‘before’.”

Indigenous critical theory and politics teaches us that time is a place and place is time and all are constituted by beings; such a queer apparitional temporal politics contests forgetting and produces survival and elucidates recrudescence. Your letters to each other so powerfully delineated the contours of recurrent time enacted and accented in the repetition of salutation over time, sometimes more or less formal:  

Dear Leanne,


Hi Leanne!,


Hi Leanne,


Dear Leanne,


Dear Leanne,


Dear Leanne,


We readers, spying or prying on your rapport, are steadied by this repetition and drawn in by the alternating mood and spirit of the openings and the intimacies. Robin to Leanne: “Dear Leanne, In taking in your words and NourbeSe’s — breathing for another — I am also thinking about the state of your lungs. I’ve been wondering if the smoke of the forest fires has made its way up to your bush school and am thinking about your respiratory cilia. The world is on fire, again” (p. 237). Rehearsals enacts the again and again and again and again of so much pain even before Leanne announces, on page 140, that dispossession is not only expansive, but also recursive.

This recalls the ditto ditto ditto of the million little antiblack earthwakes that Christina Sharpe details. Or the refusals prominent in the repetition of wake in her introduction; eight is the number of times that Robyn (p. 204) recites: “Everything they do is to destroy the land” in one of the latter letters to Leanne, a beautiful and scorching piece of writing on abolition and the land (see also pages 204, 205, 206, 207, 209, 211, 215). But, of course, the book as a form collected under the framework of rehearsal insists on that other repetition. Of this thing called life. Rehearsal: the action or fact of recounting or reciting something, or of repeating something previously heard, written, or spoken; narration, recital, repetition; the mental or oral repetition of information in order to commit it to memory. We readers will remember the way the form of the book weaves moments and millennia, announces agonies of past and present and insists on the verge of days marked by organizing and creating and waking up and doing it all again. Because your letters not only discuss time, they seize it.

Two: Seizing Time

Rehearsals seizes time in that Black radical tradition way (Dear Angela, Dear George, Dear Jimmy, Dear James, Dear Audre, Dear June, Dear Claudia, Dear Langston, Dear Lorraine). The epistolary form of Rehearsals is a spark of Black Indigenous relationality; theory by way of relationality; relation of theft of place and theft of the object of property; of genocide and unrelenting terror; of sweeping and recalcitrant and gorgeous intellectual formations that differently genre the human and imagine otherpocenes, or nonpocenes, organic socialisms; commonses comprised of canoe theory economics grounded in material life, history, culture, and speculation. I am awed by the book’s sweeping scope. But if there was one place-time that the letters dwell in, it’s the time and place at the end of the world.  

Robyn to Leanne (p. 17): “These are some of the questions I am thinking of with and alongside you at the end of the world. If you feel inclined to write me back, please feel free to answer them. Or ignore them entirely. The future feels daunting. Maybe writing together, walking together, witnessing these times together in this way will help us to forge ahead differently.” From Denise Ferreira da Silva (2014: p. 84): “The radical force of Blackness lies at the turn of thought — Blackness knowing and studying announces the End of the World as we know it.” Saidiya Hartman (2019: p. 366) has interpreted this work from da Silva as a definition of Black feminism, writing: “Black feminism is the desire for the end of the world as we know it.” Rehearsals shows us that such desire is amply contained in the convergence of Black and Indigenous queer feminisms in the grasping and burning of history and subjection that such convergence creates. This is a seizing of intellectual and political time too, so presciently drawing from a friend of the book, Ruthie Gilmore, in her definition of abolition as life in rehearsal. I remember seeing the book’s announcement and thinking how extraordinary that a book not yet published helped give life to this one.  

Three: Epistolary Time

From Paul D by way of Morrison (1987: p. 272) in Beloved: She is a friend of my mind.  She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.” From Leanne, The Wake: “Hello my friend. I’ve come…to see you again. Everything we tried…to grow this year has died.  You’ve tripped inside my head.” The book too has the feeling of mourning and rumination, that lump in your throat feeling as you read it (and especially as you read it while listening to the beauty of Leanne’s extraordinary Theory of Ice).

Anyway… you two are friends in a way that opens otherwise relation and will make me write more letters. With pencils. And paper. Your time of friendship is also archival time. It is time that counters the archive as mortuary. In my research I mostly dig around in archival crates searching for traces of criminalized Black women, searching for something more than their death announcements and injury and annihilation. The historian’s search for Black and Indigenous women’s end of the world desire and ideas is almost always a search for an epistolary form. It is so often elusive. The letter never written or never saved or destroyed in that apartment fire or ripped apart by that cop or intercepted by that guard or thought of and the 15 minute break was from work was not enough to jot it down or that letter that ended up in the bottom of the bag and stamped but never mailed because the day or the week or the month or the year was just too much. That elusive letter of political life and imaginaries and rage and craving and razor-sharp edges of diagnosis and practice and contradiction and plotting and the and and and letters that almost never turn up.  

The desire on the part of a scholar who imagines herself a comrade of those in the past despite being 100 years is not unproblematic and always complicated. But I guess I’m trying to say that your book of letters provides temporally nuanced ways of relating, and your book of letters breaches the gendered and patriarchal and racist disavowal that the extant records of the past produce, a disavowal of the lives of those who exist under the domain of dungeons and empire and ravishment and elimination. For this I am eternally grateful. I am grateful too for offerings of small things that made me over-identify with Robyn and her multitasking and sweater drag and shyness. It is no small thing to publish this inner life. It is brave and encourages bravery.

Dear Leanne, Dear Robyn, Dear Andrea, Dear Harsha, Dear friends in this conversation: Dear Alisa, Leanne, Angela, Romarilyn. In taking in your words and work I worry. There is so much restlessness in this book. It is so hard to sleep and even harder to rest but I hope it is a little easier in the days to come knowing that you have made the end of this world so much more present, so much closer to now. Dear Robyn, Dear Leanne, Dear Andrea, Dear Harsha, thank you for this gleaming work.  

Through the fire, through whatever,



Baldwin, J (1970/1971) “An Open Letter to My Sister, Angela,” in Angela Y. Davis If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance. New York: Third Press, pp 13-18.
Da Silva, DF (2014) “Toward a Black Feminist Poethics: The Quest(ion) of Blackness Toward the End of the World.” The Black Scholar Vol. 44 (No. 2), 81-97  
Gordon, A(2008) Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Second Edition.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Hartman, S (2019) Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments; Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Hong, GK (2015) Death Beyond Disavowal: The Impossible Politics of Difference. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Khan, C (1984) “Through the Fire” I Feel For You. Los Angeles: Warner Records.
Maynard R, Simpson LB Simpson (2022) Rehearsals for Living. Chicago IL: Haymarket Books.
Morrison, T(1887) Beloved. New York: Random House.
Sharpe, C (2016) In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham: Duke University Press.
Simpson, LB (2021) “The Wake” Theory of Ice, Toronto: You’ve Changed Records.

Sarah Haley is a Black feminist researcher and writer who works in the areas of U.S. gender history, carceral history, feminist and queer theory, prison abolition, and feminist historical methods. She is the author of No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity and organizes with Scholars for Social Justice.