Monday, September 16, 2013


Okay, then, week number three for Scission's new Cultural Mondays  is underway.

Speculative fiction has always been of interest to me.  It has the potential to lay out things political in a way that masses of folks can enjoy and at the same time help social activists experiment with ideas in a way that a straight line political piece just cannot.

I once took a course in college on Science Fiction and was asked to write a short story.  I came up with the now famous (yeah, right), get this, "Quotations from Mao Tse ?."  Hey, it was like 1972 or something.  I won't even go any further with that.

Now back to our story.

Octvia Butler is (actually she is now deceased) a well known African American female writer of socially important, progressive Science Fiction or Fantasy or Speculative Fiction, Visionary  (whatever you want to call it).  I've read a number of her works and found them to be outstanding. They are a fascinating read and politically (and philosophically) significant at the same time...and much better written than most works in the field.  She tackles issues most writers of fiction do not in a way almost none can and from a perspective which few in the world of Speculative fiction could possibly relate.  As ColorLines writes, "The late writer’s work often centers on black women who must navigate the politics of apocalypse."
Now along comes Adrienne Maree Brown.  Brown is a co-founder of the Ruckus Society and has participated in and helped to organize numerous direct actions in a variety of cities.  She also loves Science Fiction.  She has all co-hosted workshops on Octavia Butler an annual gathering of technology and media activists in Detroit.  ColorLines reports:


This summer, Brown and her allies wrapped up a remarkably successful crowd sourcing campaign and raised more than $17,000 to take their work on the road. The finished product will be “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories From Social Justice Movements,” an anthology of speculative fiction written by activists. The project is also the work of Walidah Imarisha, a writer and activist based in Portland. Along with the book, the editors and authors will also host writing workshops across the country.

“There have been great anthologies of explicitly political or identity-based sci-fi, but to our knowledge there hasn’t been a collection of original sci-fi from people who do social justice work,” Brown says. “And our work needs us to be so visionary so it’s an exercise and experiment.”

“A lot of our movements are shaped defensively, necessarily,” Brown says. “It can be easy to set our dreams only on the horizon of what seems possible in circumstances largely controlled by oppressive systems. It feels like radical work to actually stretch our imaginations and recenter ourselves in the long arc of what we need to survive.”

I really am looking forward to the end result.

So should you.

I am going to give you two posts again.  I know this is becoming a habit, but I promise it won't be.  I just couldn't figure which of the two below to leave out.  The first is an interview with one of those working with Brown on the project Walidah Imarisha found at Red Door Project.  The other is sort of a first for Scission.  It is actually a  A selection from the forthcoming anthology Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories From Social Justice Movements which I found at the Hooded Utalitarian.  I hope you enjoy it.

“All Organizing is Science Fiction:” Walidah Imarisha on Her New Crowdfunded Project, Octavia’s Brood

Walidah Imarisha is proud to be a nerd. The Portland-based writer, organizer, educator and performance poet is obsessed with sci-fi, and she’s equally passionate about social change. Those two interests collide in Walidah’s newest project with adrienne maree brown, Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, an anthology of visionary science fiction and speculative fiction written by organizers and activists, inspired by prominent science fiction writer Octavia Butler.

Octavia’s Brood reached its funding original goal on Indiegogo earlier this month, and is currently seeking contributions for stretch goals. You can read more about the project and contribute here.
We interviewed Walidah last week about Octavia’s Brood, her relationship with Butler’s work, and why it might be time for Uhura to give Captain Kirk a piece of her mind.

Matt Lurie: How has Octavia Butler influenced you?
Walidah Imarisha
Walidah Imarisha: I’ve been a science fiction nerd my entire life. My earliest memory is watching Star Trek at the age of 2, I tried to learn Klingon when I was in middle school, and used to try to do Princess Leia buns every Halloween… Afros and Princess Leia buns do not go together, unfortunately. [laughs]

So I’m biased, but I think everyone should read Octavia Butler. It’s been amazing working on this project and seeing everyone’s different entry points into radical science fiction—or what we like to call visionary fiction. The difference is that visionary fiction is aware of power dynamics, and may show a dystopian future, but focuses on ability of people, especially those that are marginalized, to make change and to become aware of power structures. We can explore these dystopian futures—that are very much based on the inequalities and oppressions that happen here, in the present—while empowering and showing folks that they have the potential to make change. Octavia Butler is a cornerstone for that type of story.

And it’s been interesting talking to many of our writers, who said things like, “I never liked science fiction because I never saw any reflection of me. I can’t make it to the future, so why would I wanna read that future?” For many folks it was really Octavia’s writing that was the first time that they saw themselves and their issues written into the future, in a way that felt hopeful—instead of the message we’re used to hearing. You know: “Sorry y’all got massacred, sucks to be you.” Uh, wow, really?

Octavia Brood is part of a legacy of visionary ancestors who, especially for marginalized and oppressed groups historically, are the ones who dreamed of us. For adrienne and me, as two black women, it’s important for us to remember that for our enslaved ancestors, dreaming of us without chains was science fiction. They had no conception or frame to understand that future, and yet being able to envision it made them able to work towards it. They literally bent reality to create us, and to create this world. That’s the importance and the power of science fiction. It’s the only genre that allows us to do that—to completely re-envision the future, to dream, and then to move towards making those dreams possible.

ML: That term, “visionary fiction,” is interesting, because it’s the opposite of what we’re used to seeing. I think, for a lot of people, modern science fiction is about all the terrible things that could happen, the dangerous, dystopian future we could find ourselves in if we’re not careful. Visionary fiction sounds like it’s more about making the future better than the present.

WI: And even when things aren’t great, people are working to make spaces great. We’ve been doing these short videos called Voices from Octavia’s Brood where we’ve been interviewing different writers for two or three minutes about Octavia or their work. One of the writers I was interviewing, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, was clear—she was like, “Octavia isn’t easy.”

Yeah, Octavia is hard. There’s no sugar with that medicine. She doesn’t give you what you want; she gives you what you need, and she doesn’t mess around when she gives it to you. For example, stories like Parable of the Sower. In their interviews, probably ninety percent said how hard it was to read that book because it is so close to where we are now—it is just a half step away—and it is so terrifying that it’s so close. So many people said things like, “I had to start it five or six times,” but when they got into it, there was this overwhelming feeling that, yes, this future is horrific and frightening, but even within this devastated landscape, if we are ready, if we are prepared, we can build. We can build a community, and out of this kernel, this “Earth Seed”—as Octavia calls it—something beautiful and huge can sprout.

ML: Even within this dark future, there’s a kernel of hope.

WI: Right, and for us, I think it’s about being realistic. Again, Star Trek is interesting, because so many people who watch it see this idealized, perfect future. I certainly didn’t believe it was perfect, because I identified with Uhura. And after three seasons, you really don’t know anything about her other than the fact that she answers the phone on the Enterprise.

ML: She’s a space secretary.

WI: “How may I direct your call, please?” [laughs] You know. And that said, it was incredibly important for me to even see her make it to the future, and she was an officer, and she could—in theory—take over the bridge if everyone else was wiped out. But I definitely feel like visionary fiction is about re-centering those folks who are on the margins, saying what would Star Trek look like through Uhura’s eyes? It would certainly not look like the idyllic landscape that Kirk sees. She’s like, “If I could just— I gotta think about my galactic pension. If I get it, I’d have some things to say to you, sir.” [laughs]

WEB Brown Imarisha
adrienne maree brown (left), Walidah Imarisha (right)
So I think that reality is important too. It’s really saying that, for so many people, the world has never been ideal. For oppressed and marginalized communities, it’s never been a hopeful time to have children. It’s never been a good time to have dreams for the future, because they’re so fragile and they could be crushed in an instant. And yet it’s only because folks triumph, and hold onto those dreams, and hold onto that hope that any of us are here for us today.

ML: Where do you see Octavia’s influence?

WI: I think she’s everywhere. She’s inspired an entire generation of people to dream and to remember to dream. Every radical person I know either loves Octavia Butler, and they were sci-fi nerds before they read her, or Octavia was was got them into science fiction. That reality can’t be denied, that she wrote so many complex stories that don’t have easy answers, and that appeals to people who live complicated lives. There’s no easy answer to creating transformative social change; there’s just the process. One of the things that Octavia says is that, from Earth Seed, “All that you touch you change. All you change changes you.”

God is change. Whether you believe in God or not, change is the only constant force, and it’s going to come, and you can be ready for it or not. You can get bulldozed, but it’s coming. For folks who organize, for people whose lives are institutionally unstable anyway, that’s comforting in some way, to know that it’s not just my life, it’s the constant force of the universe, and I can get ready for it. I can’t stop it, but I can be ready, so when that comes—like Lauren Olamina [from Parable of the Sower]—I can grab my survival bag, and run out while people are coming over the wall and destroying my little space of community that was my protective bubble. And now it’s gone, and that’s scary, but I prepared for it, and I’m ready for the lessons I’m going to learn along the way.

ML: What do you hope to accomplish with Octavia’s Brood?

WI: I’m just so happy that there’s been a resurgence in reclaiming, and holding and lifting up Octavia Butler. The Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network is an organization that was just recently started by Ayanna Jamieson. It started because Ayanna took a trip to Octavia’s grave and it was overgrown, neglected. People didn’t really know where she was buried and, especially for black women, this is a story that happens again and again. It makes me think of Zora Neale Hurston, who wrote these foundational stories that completely changed American literature, that shifted the black experience indelibly. She died penniless and alone, and people couldn’t even find her grave. So even if this larger society isn’t going to honor our visionaries, we’re going to honor our visionaries. That process is so powerful because it’s holding up Octavia as well as all those folks that Octavia acknowledged freely and happily and constantly that she was holding up.

So by holding up Octavia, there are all these layers. We’re holding up this lineage, and we’re also holding up the future. Alexis Pauline Gumbs quotes an interview Octavia did in the eighties, when someone asked “What does it feel like to be THE black female science fiction writer?” And Octavia said something like, “I never wanted that, I didn’t want it. I want there to be hundreds of black female science fiction writers, I want thousands of people writing themselves into the future. That’s why I started writing, because I wasn’t present in any of the futures, in any of the literature I’ve been seeing, and I want everyone to write themselves into the future.” This is the responsibility Octavia has placed on us, to continue this work. She has laid down the challenge to say, “Can you dream?” And it’s all our responsibility to echo back to the universe all of our complex, beautiful, challenging, complicated, contradictory, beautiful, ugly truths. And then work to make the future.

That’s why we wanted specifically to reach out to organizers and people who are creating social change. Many of the folks we reached out to at first we like, “You want me to write what now?” And I would say at least half of the initial response was, “No, I can’t do that.” So we said, “Okay, just sit with it, think about it, and we’ll get back to you.” And by and large, when we got back to folks, they said, “Oh my God, so I had this amazing idea, and I’ve written fifteen pages already! And I’m going to keep going, and how long of a submission can I submit?” I think it’s because to us, all organizing is science fiction. I mean, what does a world without prisons look like? What is a world without hunger? What is a world where there is justice and people have enough to eat and decent education… We don’t know! It’s science fiction.

ML: Mission statements are science fiction premises.

WI: Yeah, vision statements, mission statements, “We believe in a world where…” Once you start that, you are writing science fiction. All organizing is science fiction. Organizers should have the space to claim that.

A lot of times, we’re so focused on the strategic plan, and the next six months, and “what are our action steps?” And those are incredibly important to making change, but we rarely have the space to step back and take a minute to collectively dream. We found that when we offer these visionary organizers that chance, it’s mind-blowing what they come up with.

Learn more about and support Octavia’s Brood at its Indiegogo campaign page.

Excerpt from “Black Angels and Blue Roses”

[Note by Noah: This is an excerpt from a story by Walidah Imarisha which will be included in the anthology Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories From Social Justice Movements, edited by Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown. The book is a collection of sci-fi stories by social activist writers, inspired by the work of Octavia Butler. The editors are currently running a funding campaign on indiegogo, where you can find out more about the project.

Thanks to Walidah and Adrienne for running this excerpt here!

Octavia Butler

… The gang stayed for a few hours, drinking copious amounts of whiskey and making more noise than the rest of the bar put together.

Finally they started to trickle out. Tamee, who had to take a piss, was the last one out. He walked down Lennox on unsteady legs. Night still warm from the summer’s day heat, like the hood of a parked car. He looked up at the moon. It was blood red. Damn, Tamee thought. Rubbed his head. His fingers tracing the uneven scar that ran from the top of his cranium, down the right side of his forehead. Crossed the socket where his right eye used to be. Ended an inch or so under his bottom lid. Like a permanent tear.

The doctors said he was damn lucky. If his head had been turned just a few degrees up, it would have penetrated his brain. If it didn’t kill him, it would have left him a vegetable.

This is why you don’t try to take on five nazi skinheads all by yourself, he mused ruefully to himself. Especially not if one of them has a crowbar. His mother always said he was stubborn as a mule and had to learn everything the hardest way possible.

As if called into existence by his thought, Tamee caught sight of a nazi he knew sauntering on the other side of the street. Tamee didn’t know his real name, only knew the bonehead went by Joker. Tamee had had a number of run-ins with Joker and his crew. Tamee had come out the worse for wear on most of those too.

But not tonight, he thought grimly. Cracked his knuckles. Tonight was payback night.

Tamee started loping across the street after him, his long legs gazelle-like in their movements.

“Hey fuckwad!”

Joker’s turning face smashed into Tamee’s fist. Blood rained on the ground. Tamee hit him with a flurry of punches. A knee to the gut. Threw him up against the wall. Another combo to the face.

Tamee was so intent on administering the beating, he didn’t hear Joker’s three man crew approach from his right side. His blind side. And he was blindsided. A fist slammed into his skull right behind his ear. He didn’t see stars; he saw a nuclear bomb explode behind his eyelids.

The four nazis circled around Tamee. Boots fell like autumn leaves. Tamee was protecting his head, his face, his internal organs. But not for long. He knew they were just getting started. He wouldn’t be able to hold out long. Tamee could tell they didn’t mean to leave anything of him when they were done.

Just when Tamee felt his consciousness begin to slip away, A. rounded the corner. She stopped, took a couple seconds to assess the scene.

“Hey, get out of here! Get out of here, black bitch, if you know what’s good for you!’

A.’s eyes smoldered, but she turned to leave. Her eyes caught Tamee’s. His desperate, terrified, hopeless eyes. She had seen that look so many times before. That look had gotten her kicked out of heaven. That look had cost her everything. She would have nothing to do with that look.

But the nazis took her moment of reflection for defiance. Three of them peeled off. Menaced towards her. Circled her like jackals. One of them pulled out a knife.

“You shoulda left when you had the chance, bitch.”

She locked her eyes on them. She knew they couldn’t seriously injure her. They didn’t have the power. But they could hurt her. And she’d felt enough pain for three lifetimes.

And she just really really hated boneheads.

With one fluid motion, A. whipped her trenchcoat off. Her remaining wing was wrapped across her shoulder like a shawl. Tied down by a cord wrapped firmly around her waist. She ripped the cord free, and her wing, black as the night’s sky, snapped back and out with a five foot span. Reaching for the lost heavens.

“What the fuck???” The closest nazi to her scrambled backwards.

“Man, it’s kind of costume or something. Don’t be fucking stupid!” Joker yelled. “Fuck her up!”

The nazi nodded and charged A. She jumped in the air, flapping her wing while she did. She could not fly with only one wing, but she could jump much higher than humans, and descend slowly.

The nazi ran right under her, carried by his own momentum. As he passed, she kicked him with a boot to the back of his head. He sprawled on the concrete like split milk, unconscious.

She made short work of the other two who bellowed and ran at her, enraged. An elbow to the face. Flurry of punches. Broken nose. Blood. Silence.

Joker stared at her. Fear and loathing mixed in his eyes. He looked about to rush her. But he must have calculated his odds because instead he turned to run. A. leapt forward. Wrapped her wing around him. Squeezed. Squeezed until he stopped struggling and slumped to the ground, breathing shallowly.

She surveyed the five men sprawled on the ground, the nazis and Tamee, who had uncurled himself from a ball but had not moved during the fight. Frozen with amazement and awe. He felt absolutely no fear. He knew he was in the presence of something incredible. Exalted. Divine.

She looked down at Joker. She should just leave them all here for the cops to find and be done with it. This wasn’t her problem. She wouldn’t have gotten involved if they hadn’t pulled her into it. She shouldn’t have gotten involved at all. Why the fuck did she? she asked herself, disgusted. She glanced at Tamee, the cut on his forehead leaking blood into his good eye.

A. sighed. She had lived in Harlem long enough to know sending anyone into the criminal justice system did nothing but make them more damaged and desperate. She hid in the shadows, watched the police patrolling the streets. Not patrolling. Hunting. There was no mercy behind those shining badges. The scene played out over and over like a flickering film projected onto the city. And she had done nothing each time before, just waited for the reel to end.

She knelt down next to Joker. Like this, he looked so fragile. So breakable. She could end this right now. Do to him what he had planned to do to Tamee. She was an Angel, after all, even if she was fallen – she would be merciful.

A small voice in the recesses of her mind asked, Should I use the Voice? She stared down at this manchild she knew to be a killer. She could smell it on him; this was not his first attempt at taking a life, nor would it be his last if something wasn’t done. She shook her head, trying to clear the thought out, but it clung like a burr.

When she was an Angel, A. had used her Voice to change hearts. Sing humans good. There were no repercussions as an Angel, with a sanction from the Almighty. It had actually been a joyous communion, and the glow she felt had filled her with even more warmth and peace than she thought possible.

But God had taken that when he set fire to her and expelled her from Heaven. Sure, He had left her the Voice. But if she used it, she took on these humans’ pain. She had tried it only once, when she was first exiled. It was flames of the barrier between Heaven and Earth licking at her flesh again, biting and tearing until she could not take it. She had collapsed; it took days to recover fully. One of the many reasons she avoided interacting with humans when at all possible. She’d already suffered enough pain for them.

But now that this situation stared her in the face, she found she could not just walk away. Even though everything inside her screamed to. She could not shake the look in Tamee’s eyes, the plea for help. Mercy. Grace. It had been a long time since she had been reminded not only of the horror of humans, but the vulnerability.

A. opened her mouth. She began to sing. It was the most incredible sound Tamee had ever heard. Cool clean waterfalls cascading down into cool green valleys, his mother’s hands cool on his hot forehead, the beauty of a grove of olive trees bright in the sunshine in his stolen home of Palestine. His whole family, even the ones murdered and lost, gathered, arm and arm. Complete peace.

A golden light shone in A’s mouth, illuminating through her flesh. She leaned over Joker. The light cracked and rained down on his face. Soaked into his skin. At the same time, a murky darkness crept up the stream of light. Climbed into A. through her mouth. Darkened the glow emanating from her chest. She grimaced and her voice faltered, but she continued singing.

Joker’s face, twisted with hate and rage even when unconscious, began to relax. The lines of anger smoothed out. His face became serene. A child curled up in the arms of its mother, protected and safe.

A. turned and did the same to the others. The light in her chest almost entirely eclipsed by the smoky darkness from their mouths. She could barely reach the one furthest away, had to drag herself over, still singing but now her voice sounded like a small wounded animal.

When she finished with the last one, she leaned backwards. Wavered like a candle in a strong wind. She keeled over, her head hitting the ground with a sickening thud.

Tamee rushed forward to lift her up, despite the many injuries that screamed at him.

“Are you all right?” he stared down into her face. The color of coffee beans dusted with rose petals. Flawless like glass. Eyes like galaxies.

She was more beautiful than anything he could have ever imagined.

Her eyes focused on him. She jerked away and tried to stand up. She failed, and only accomplished rolling away onto her side.

“Get off.” Her voice, though thin, was infused with steel. Reached out her hand to try to lift herself up.

“I… I can’t believe you’re here. You exist. I never thought I would see something… someone like you…” Tamee sputtered.

A. gave up trying to stand. Laid there breathing shallowly for a while. Reached into her trenchcoat pocket. Pulled out a cigarette.

“So you think you know what I am.” The snap of the lighter.

“Of course I know what you are.” A touch of awe in his voice. “It’s been a minute since I touched the Qu’ran. Years since I went to masjid. But I would know you anywhere.

“You’re an angel.”

She paused, the look of pain on her face completely unconnected to her injuries.

After a long minute, she growled, “I used to be an Angel. Now I’m just like all of you. Scraping away on the face of this cesspool called a planet until you fucking die.”

“Wow… um, okay,” Tamee stuttered.

Silence. Her ragged exhale.

“Well, thanks. For saving me. I mean. I really appreciate it. Really,” he babbled.

“Don’t thank me.” Her tone stung more than a slap to the face. “If I’d had my way, I wouldn’t have done shit.”

Tamee was a little taken aback by her callousness. She didn’t sound much like an angel. For one thing, he had not imagined an angel would curse. He thought there would be more love and compassion. She wasn’t really at all how he imagined an angel.

She was a million times better.

A. reached into her pocket and pulled out some more black cord. She propped herself up against the brick of a building. Gingerly folded her wing forward across her shoulder. Began wrapping the cord around and around, until the wing was strapped down securely.

“So, what’s your name?” Tamee asked after a minute.

“Don’t have one.”

“Well, what did they call you back then? In… you know, in Heaven?”

“Nothing. Angels don’t have names. We know each other. We can… “
A. had no words to describe the flow of energy. The connected contentment that linked all of the Angels. God. Heaven itself. They were all one. Separate and one. There was a me, but there was no you. Everything was felt. A continuous feedback loop of perfect joy. There were no human words to describe it, because they could not even fathom the depths of beauty that come from being part of God. It made her angry to try to find words to explain the most painful loss she would or could ever have.

A. barked, “ We just feel each other, okay.”

“Okay, can I just call you Angel then?”

“No.” She threw her trenchcoat over her shoulders as she staggered to her feet. She began dragging herself away. Tamee sat, frozen, wanting to yell for her to wait, wanting to say something, anything, that would make her stay. Make her turn around so he could see her face one more time. But he could think of nothing. His heart contracted in his chest as he watched her limp away.

She stopped, hand on the dirty brick beside her. She turned her head slightly to the right. Enough for him to see her face in profile.

“You can call me A.

“Ain’t no Angels in Harlem.”

1 comment:

Psychologist in Alameda said...

Good job with the post!! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!