Alex is a creative writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She spent her formative years between the city of Meridian, Mississippi and her grandparents’ farm in Chunky, Mississippi – a region located about an hour away from Mississippi’s Choctaw Indian Reservation and three hours from the cotton-growing Delta. “We lived in a very poor area in which we were the only white party of two,” Alex recalls. Still, she has fond memories of her upbringing. “I think that my earliest feelings of happiness and inclusion in this place, juxtaposed with my knowledge of exclusion in conventional conversations on race, most influenced my writing,” she says.

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2015-07-26 09.32.57As is often the case, Alex’s cultural precocity was not always well received by her peers. At age 17, Alex wrote and published an article urging the local government to do away with the Confederate flag. This led to a string of hate mail and death threats – many from full-fledged adults. Perhaps this collision with societal conventions combined with an already culturally nuanced upbringing led to her aspiration to work for the State Department. At age 19, Alex packed her bags and moved to Barcelona to study Spanish and Catalan to hone her language skills and fulfill her dream. The following year, she relocated to Morocco to study Islam and document women’s stories there. Throughout her travels, Alex built the emotional and intellectual foundation for her unique writing style, palpable worldliness and subsequent degree in Gender and Cultural Studies.

AlexRiess-4Alas, Alex’s travels came to a halt when her grandmother passed away. This left an inexplicable void in her life. “For the first time I realized that I was raised by women only,” Alex recalls. “And [those same women] were dying.” A few weeks later, Alex had a dream in which her grandmother urged her to return to Mississippi. In a stroke of intuition, she left for home the next day. A few days upon her return to Mississippi, she met her husband.

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AlexRiess-26Alex writes poignantly as a woman who struggles to reconcile her world view as a “Southerner” and the socioeconomic theories attributed to her demographic. “The academy is deceptive because it understands the politics of your community but not the heart and soul of it,” she claims. Drawing much inspiration from post-colonial writers who, in her own words, “supersede the antiquated ideals of their settings while also paying tribute to them,” Alex strives to shed light on Southern identity and the intricate human dynamics that inform its rich, nuanced culture.

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2015-07-26 10.57.04Though Alex and I met over Instagram, we vibed instantly. Our shoot in this intimate studio was peppered with meaningful conversations about our childhoods as “outsiders,” the insularity of academia and Quechua villages in the Amazon basin. I can only hope that these photographs reveal even a sliver of her natural poise and intelligence. New York is lucky to have you, Alex.

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Photo Credit: The Denizen Co.