Local author Junauda Petrus sources her creativity in healing

Junauda Petrus’s debut novel, “The Stars and the Blackness Between Them,” came out Sept. 17.

Courtesy of Junauda Petrus.

Courtesy of Junauda Petrus.

by Ksenia Gorinshteyn

Junauda Petrus can fluctuate between being an aerialist, a teacher or a writer, depending on when you catch her.

The local author effortlessly combines her many creative endeavors into an artistic identity that is based in empathy and connection. 

“I want to create these worlds where people as audience members can feel saturated in an engagement of a moment,” Petrus said. “Not just attending the show.”

Pulling people into a performance serves a purpose in Petrus’ work. Her installations, including a play about an incarcerated mother and a choreographed solo performance called “Black Solitude/Autonomous Wildness,” largely deal with healing.

“We are a part of human ecology, so part of how we navigate our own healing is a very personal thing but also ancestral,” Petrus said. “You’re healing for yourself, you’re healing for your parents, you’re healing for your grandparents.”

But recently, Petrus has put this creative power into something that pulls people in a different way — through words on a page.

“Once I got past shifting my life to really focusing on the book, it really became its own world, its own portal to different stories,” Petrus said. 

Her young adult novel, “The Stars and the Blackness Between Them,” was released on Sept. 17. It brings forward the narratives of queer black women in enchanting and poetic ways.

“As a queer black woman, I am also really hungry for this kind of media and I’m really excited to see myself and my story and the stories of folks that I love reflected in this book,” said Erin Sharkey, who co-founded the artistic partnership Free Black Dirt with Petrus. 

The book follows two black teens, one from Trinidad and one from Minneapolis, as they explore their relationship and love for one another. 

“I got very focused on not only the fact that I was telling this story, but I wanted it to be an accessible story,” Petrus said. “[I want] young people to feel like these characters reflect them and [for me to] feel like I’m writing in a way that wants to invite them in.”

The writing process began about four years ago as Petrus wrote snippets of the book before deciding to actually go for it. 

“It’s always been a therapeutic thing for me to write,” Petrus said. “I really started to feel all this gratitude for the process, and the journey of writing the book.”

Petrus traveled to Trinidad last year for a few weeks to gain a better understanding of the book’s characters and see where her mother came from.

“She was really glad she went there and did research for the book because there’s so much more she got from being there and talking to people,” said Petrus’ mother, Ingrid Richards.

The 320-page book was written practically in consultation with Petrus’ young self. It’s a culmination of her devotion to her work thus far in life and a marker of where she might be headed.

“I really wish that my father and grandfather were around to see her,” Richards said. “My grandfather never learned to read but he would always buy me the newspaper when he came home from work, and now his great-granddaughter is a writer.”

Creating these stories about identity and healing has brought Petrus to an understanding of her artistry. While this may grow and transform in the future, she’s proud of where she’s gotten so far.

“I’ve been grateful to grow up and find the value in my voice,” Petrus said. “And see the worthiness of living my life.”

What: “The Stars and the Blackness Between Them” Launch Party

When: Thursday, Sept. 19, 6-9 p.m.

Where: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave. S., Minneapolis