Shaping Change Conference

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The Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network's Shaping Change Conference was held from June 3-5, 2016 at the University of California San Diego. Brandon, Ben, and John Halstead attended to learn about how some of Octavia Butler's other fans, mainly people of color, approach her work. a mixture of literary criticism paper presentations, readings of original fiction and poetry, workshops, and student projects from an "Imagining the Future" course at UCSD's Sixth College.

Contents

Conference Sessions

Welcome

  • Shelley Streeby, Director of Clarion and UCSD prof
  • Ayana Jamieson, founder of OEB Legacy Network
    • This is like an Earthseed gathering, and we are seeking justice/survival
  • M. Asli Dukan, producer, Invisible Universe documentary
    • History of black people in SF – emergence of a black SF network/movements
      • No longer invisible these days, and stereotyping is much harder because there are so many black people doing great work
    • Political struggle and speculation go hand in hand
    • OEB, from clip: “I liked reading good popular science and playing with it”
      • Had to go to secondhand bookstores b/c the library wouldn’t let her look at non-children’s books until she was 14 – also got SF magazines at the grocery store
      • In grad school, she joined a Screenwriters Guild workshop, where Harlan Ellison was a teacher; he told her about Clarion

Panel: Latin* Futurisms

  • Curtis Marez, chair of UCSD Ethnic Studies dept
    • Consider Butler’s LA and Pasadena as part of the Global South
    • Parable of the Sower and the farmworkers movement
      • Despite the farmworker marches and boycotts in the 60s, conditions hadn’t improved by the 80s
      • Corporate “plantation town” in the book
      • Some farm work camps became WWII internment camps
      • Octavia studied KKK, which in CA was anti-Mexican
      • A Marxist muckraker coined the term “farm fascism” for places where police work for agribusiness
        • See description of “well-armed” Salinas in the book
        • See also “sundown town” where black people aren’t welcome at sundown
      • A location in the book, San Juan Bautista, is home to a farmworkers’ theatrical group (El Teatro Latino?)
      • Royal Chicano Airforce art group: reimagine the crop-dusting airplane as a utopian vehicle of transcendence, sometimes into space
        • Painting “UFW Cooperative Space Station #Uno”
        • Beatrice Pita and Rosaura Santos, researchers who wrote a novel Lunar Braceros
    • “Blood Child” and works by Trujillo Muñoz and Schwartz: rejection of notions of a positive future, but still ambiguous
      • Critique of capitalism rather than just political oppression
      • Mix of submission and resistance: negotiated/transactional survival
    • SF is not always progressive in an uplifting, revolutionary, and/or anti-hegemonic way
      • SF narratives do always help train us to imagine worlds that work differently from our present one
    • OEB story “Speech Sounds” gives a sense of possibility of recovery from an illness that might otherwise de-evolve humans, and a transition from self-protection to protection of children
    • Muñoz story about post-WWIII world and escape from an autocratic city to a location where the leaders have started rumors that the rebels live, even though they “know” that life is impossible there due to radiation – but that was a lie they got from a double agent
    • Mauricio-José Schwartz story about HR detectives looking for handicapped people who are the mental age of 12 to hire, in a company where everyone is big fans of real-detective fiction; a detective’s brother tries to fake the handicap to get a job
    • Stories of accommodation with hegemonic aliens
      • OEB, “Blood Child”: humans seem to have almost familial relationship with the aliens despite being treated as lab animals or livestock
      • Story where Borg-like invaders who settle in Earth deserts and hire human workers, humans teach them sign language, a woman is tortured for info about them, people are farmed out to “subcontractor” borganisms – the woman finds employment with the invaders better than what other humans do to her
      • Story about a woman who finds imprisonment by aliens much better than her previous life as a poor scavenger, and thinks she can’t afford to think collectively
    • None of these stories seem to contemplate large-scale collective action
        • Pepe Rojo, writer from Tijuana
    • Ricardo Flores Magon, national hero kicked out of Mexico, formed a multiethnic army that took over Tijuana in 1911 and raised what later became Zapata’s flag, “Tierra y Libertad”
      • Propaganda to the Tijuanans: “this army will sell you to the US”
      • Military base in San Diego was established thereafter – reaction to effort to form a cross-border anarchist commune?
    • Pepe and a colleague Grant Leuning tried taking 200 “Tierra y Libertad” flags out into the street, because it creates cognitive estrangement – Grant: the flag is an alien
      • Walked through the historic sites
      • Had an event to gather blankets for the homeless, another one with Food Not Bombs
      • Some people couldn’t believe it was an SF exercise, not a real political party
      • Tomorrow we’re planting those flags on the border!
    • “Land” is an easy materialist concept, “Freedom/Agency” is harder and invites a default to standard white liberalism
      • Autonomy is about more than just individual agency
      • It’s not about choice or discernment or judgment

Freshman 350-person class where you make media about the world of 2066

  • Comics, video, design an object
  • Early exercise: design a superhero
  • OEB was the biggest inspiration; Dawn and Parable of the Sower were readings, as well as Octavia’s Brood
  • Alex Rivera US-Mexico border story Cybraceros, Ted Chiang heterotopia “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”
  • Vidding/remixes, esp. of OEB works like Parables
  • Anh Vo, “Shaping Changes Through the Faults of Our Present” – Genetic engineering for 2066
    • Parable of the Sower: Adapting to better suit our environment
    • Researched Henrietta Lacks cell-line that was unethically used for commercial research
    • Imagining an organization for collective, humanistic GE research, and a government agency to regulate it
  • Gavin (?), “Is Hnads-On Learning the Future of Higher Education?”
    • “Speech Sounds” and Parable of the Sower focus on the importance of literacy and education
    • Imagine a quasi-internship program building career skills
      • Harvey Mudd and Duke are doing stuff like this already
  • Samantha Sze, story about a new parasite called SIN that solves major problems but may not be the savior it appears to be
    • “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”: Life logs eliminate organic memory
    • Parasite cures disease, can mutate people to help them gather more types of food (“gluttony” variant), etc
    • At first only the rich can afford the parasite; then the poor get it but can’t afford the cure
    • Main characters have Illyria Syndrome, which causes disabilities but cures the parasite
    • Moral: medical science is great only if coupled with compassion and understanding
  • Jack Cowan, VR implants and how they change our relationship with the world
    • At first I viewed technology itself as the problem, e.g. changing history through Photoshop
    • Researched content moderators, ppl paid low wages to filter out content that’s illegal, pornographic, or politically problematic
      • Imagine this replaced by AI
    • Dialogue about responsible use of our devices is needed
  • Athena, story about a captured asteroid
    • A-type, made largely of olivine, a gemstone material with magnesium that can be used for farming
    • People escaping from global warming go live on the asteroid and 3D-print Romanesque palaces, but there’s nothing to do there
    • Main character returns to Earth and finds refugees on a roof
      • Offers them a nanobot that injects ions into neurons to make them work faster
      • Refugees reject this and send her back to the asteroid
  •  ?, beauty bots: surrogates that let you live in a beautiful “body”
    • Copy the appearance of celebrities
    • Use white bodies so no one knows you’re not white
  • Andrew Johnson, comic about super-koala fighting for queer rights
    • US is divided into East and West countries, with a big wall to “keep the gays out”
    • Parable of the Sower imagines that queer issues are much less of an issue even though racism is still a huge problem
    • Ted Chiang story about human-AI sexual relationships
    • Researched nonhuman animals in comics
  • Lauren Matsumoto, “Our Emotions and Identity in 2066”
    • Tech to regulate our emotions and suppress the negative ones
      • Automatic mode: tech decides what you feel
      • Social media does this today?
    • Inspired by hyperempathy syndrome, and by how negative experiences like grandfather’s internment in WWII change how you view yourself
    • Identity Control Theory: negative input from society changes how you want to appear
  • Aragon, contact lenses and brain implant control for communication between humans and advanced [bio]tech
    • Inspirations: Dawn; Avatar; Black Mirror, season 1, episode 3
    • You could send your current emotion to someone else and enable them to experience it
      • Could be abused as a drug
  • Mengying Li: “Future Intelligent Transportation System under a Polarized Social Structure”
    • Relationships between people, and between people and tech
    • Land is limited, so we need more vertical cities, with self-driving levitation pods to move between skyscrapers at any distance above the ground
      • But higher floors will be for rich people and conditions near the ground will be worse, perhaps still reliant on aging transportation systems from today

Ted Chiang, many-award-winning SF author

  • Police may be the first large segment of society that does life logging
    • But teens are already doing something kind of similar with social media
  • Imagine a device that records video of everything you do and is only accessible by you
    • You can search on anything you said, heard, or saw
    • Is this a perfect memory?
  • Tech has already impaired our ability to remember
    • Many people can no longer remember phone numbers or how to navigate their own city
    • Study showed that people don’t remember stuff as well when they know they can look it up later
  • Imperfect memory examples:
    • Samuel Delaney misremembered the year of his father’s death, perhaps because he couldn’t associate it with the memories of starting college even though that happened a month earlier
    • Isaac Asimov’s mom didn’t remember beating him with a rope, in a time when that was acceptable, when he talked to her about it decades later when it wasn’t anymore
    • People replace memories of what actually happened with memories of the stories they tell about it
      • Life logs prevent such evolution, which is good in the case of crimes or accidents
      • Consistency bias and change bias: people edit memories to fit their current beliefs, or to believe that more growth has happened over the years
      • In limited quantities, lying to yourself can be good for you – it can help promote high self-esteem
        • But the benefits of truthfulness to those around you may outweigh the cost of being unable to lie to yourself
    • Quantified Self movement could evolve to include fact-checking
      • Consistency of belief-driven behavior doesn’t make as much sense if driven by software reminders
    • Many stories we tell about history are just to make sense of the way things are now, not meant mainly as literal description of what happened

Panel: The Borderlands of Science and Fiction

  • Elizabeth Losh, William & Mary prof
    • Build a paper prototype of a survival tool!
  • Dagmar Van Engen
    • “Learn and run” in Dawn compared with movement to “steal from universities” if you don’t want to participate in their reproduction of white capitalist culture
    •  ?: quote “You can’t use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house”
      • Nalo Hopkinson: Maybe use them to build a new house and at least subvert the old one
  • Lauren Marie Taylor and Alan Clark
    • News from 1961 that may have influenced Butler after Devil Girl from Mars
      • Stories of Freedom Riders, e.g. a group that was attacked by KKK and police in Birmingham
      • Prime Minister Lumumba of the DRC, which had provided uranium for the US nuclear weapons program, fought for and achieved independence, but was replaced and executed due to CIA interference
      • Vietnam: Japan freed the region from French control, but US reintroduced the landlord system from French rule
      • Cold War nuclear fears
      • Division of Berlin and standoff of tanks at the only gate in the Wall
      • The trial of Adolf Eichmann was the first to receive end-to-end TV coverage and may have helped drive the US antiwar movement
      • 1957, I.G.Y., was also the dawn of the space age and the fairly friendly space race
      • Gene therapy
      • UFO abduction story by interracial couple Betty and Barney Hill, partly “recovered” under hypnosis by a therapist (who thought it was fantasy), made into a movie by James Earl Jones
    • Butler’s conclusion: the dialectical unification of individual and collective must be achieved, or any restructuring of society will just reinvent the same hierarchical (capitalist?) problems
      • The profound changes needed are represented through physical changes in the human form in Xenogenesis
    • Aliens as projection of cultural uncertainties
  • Kim Kirkpatrik
    • Voice as a location for change in 3 OEB stories: “Speech Sounds,” “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” and “Blood Child”
    • Main character of “Speech Sounds” can’t read or write, and many others can’t speak
      • People want to destroy what they can’t have, which the main character both suffers from in others, having to remain silent, and experiences toward another character who can read
    • Disease in “The Evening and the Morning and the Night” causes obsessive focus on the self, leading to self-mutilation and suicide
      • A carrier who hasn’t quite gone that far can use her voice to heal other sufferers
    • Main character of “Blood Child” says the right things at the right times to make political change
    • Escaping safe personal silence, using words to change the world, then bringing other people out of silence
  •  ?: How do you relate to Octavia being a woman of color?
    • Lauren: I never “become the main character” when reading her work
    • Alan: As a black human, I really appreciate any story that says black people get to live in the future – in far too many SF stories, we’re extinct
    • Emily Rose Schwab: My scholarship is not my own – I’m building on others’ work, and I try to bring youth and community members into my scholarship
    • Kim: Try not to position myself or whoever I’m reading as trapped inside a boundary
    • Dagmar: I don’t assume that her experiences are my own, and I try to share her work because it’s so important to issues of queerness and feminism
    • Elizabeth: I’m also from Pasadena, but OEB grew up in a different Pasadena – my prep school was founded by eugenics-movement leaders

Clarion OEB Memorial Fellows panel

  • Administered by the Carl Brandon Society, whose mission is to further the presence of people of color in SF
  • Lisa Bolekaja, now part of the steering committee for the scholarship
    • There are other scholarships, like ones for UCSD students and people over 40
    • The previous year OEB scholars are the ones who decide
    • Clarion people really are a tribe
  • Sophia Echavarria
    • Octavia gave me permission to write SF as a black woman
    • I was in the Seed School, a charter boarding school in D.C.
    • My junior thesis at Princeton: “OEB’s daywalker vampire as metaphor for being biracial”
    • Senior thesis: “miscegenajtion” – offspring (like me) can destroy a hierarchy where one group has power over another, and have a duty to advocate on behalf of the oppressed group
  • Amin Chehelnabi (via Skype from Australia)
    • I was rejected from Clarion 5 times; I didn’t know about OEB’s work at the time
    • I got fired from a bookstore and used the redundancy payment for Worlcon and a trip to New York, so when I was finally accepted I didn’t have the money
    • Iranians like me are typically not very outspoken, so the validation that my words matter was inspiring, as was the discovery of OEB’s writing about people of color and her essay about positive obsession
      • I was afraid of submitting one of my application stories about the relocation of Muhammad’s grave, but I’m now looking at selling it even though it potentially could cause risks to my safety
      • Story or reality? Iran gov’t forces gay people to undergo a sex change to make their relationship legal
  • Melanie West, scholar from last year
    • Words have a tangible material power
      • Story “The Book of Martha”: main character is assigned by God to do one thing that will better the human race, which takes the form of dreams that make people less susceptible to lies, peer pressure, and self-delusion
        • The goal of writing is to transform others, not to provide stability for ourselves
        •  ?: She was working on a similar story about a lineage of archivists with the power to write the world
      • “Positive Obsession”: you should be allowed to have the doubts society imposes on you as a person/woman of color, but a positive obsession means you can’t stop no matter what your doubts

Fiction and poetry readings

  • Anna Joy Springer, Ben Doller, Pepe Rojo, Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi, Tae Whang and Melinda Barnadas, Paola Capo-Garcia, Amanda Solomon, Shelley Streeby, Sandra and Ben Doller
  • Many of these were very emotionally powerful.
  • One "reading" was actually an interactive exercise from a dystopian future where we played the role of a marketing team creating concepts for a TV show centered around selling a drug.

Grad student panel: Resistance and Revolution: Post-Apocalyptic Yearnings

  • Esther Choi, author of the book The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, on the "Nonprofit-Industrial Complex"
    • Nonprofits pretend to represent diverse activist communities
    • Nonprofits contribute 5.4% of GDP
    • Foundations' wealth ($800 billion): Profit sheltered from taxes, thus "twice stolen"
    • Nonprofit-Industrial Complex "absorbs movements into the state," e.g. the anticapitalist black movement in the 1960s
      • But it also moves social service work from the state to nonprofits
    • Example of a good alternative: the Landless Workers' Movement in Brazil
  • Jeanelle Horcasitas
    • In OEB's short story "Speech Sounds," the only common language is body language
      • And clothing/appearance, ex. second main character wears an LAPD uniform although the LAPD no longer exists
      • Sex helps the two main characters connection
    • Video of a dance project based on the story and on Orisha dance
  • Jeanine Webb
    • OEB's fantasy novel Wild Seed and vampire novel Fledgling: monsters redefined as bodies that resistance
      • Wild Seed quote: "I became a leopard [to scare my tribe]. They believe in such things, but do not like to see them proved."
      • Anyanwu resist's Doro's breeding program for people with paranormal abilities
      • Fledgling features mutualism between vampires and humans, and a vampire-human hybrid main character
    • Frankenstein's Monster theorizes his own oppression, and Mary Shelley herself being an author was perceived as "against the order of gender"
      • In some movie versions, the monster has no voice
    • Queers are often described as monstrous imitations of "real" men and women
    • A book about animacy connects this to the "policed" boundary between human and animals
    • Jeanine's personal experience of chemotherapy makes her feel "a little vampire[-like]"
  • Clayton Colmon
    • Utopia is both tied to and unmoored from the present
    • OEB: "My utopia would be someone else's hell"
    • OEB's Patternist series: eugenics leads to telepathy and social stratification
      • The program doesn't consider the price of its failures
    • Posthumanism can consider the human body as obsolete or as growing and changing
    • Doro feared change and prevented malleable bodies like Anyanwu's from continuing/multiplying into the future books
    • Utopia has to include change
    • Remembering a "malleable" past helps give us agency
    •  ? response: individuals in utopia should get to express their uniqueness in ways that accord with the group

Panel: Applications of Black Women's Futurist Thought

  • Adrienne Marie Brown and Walidah Imarisha, editors of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements
    • Made crowdfunding videos for self-publishing, which got the attention of the Institute for Anarchist Studies
    • It's hard to be principled in the midst of hardship, but it's still possible to build communities of justice in an apocalyptic era
    • One goal of the Octavia's Brood project was to teach people to dream collaboratively
      • Stories needed to be balanced and interact with each other well to reflect intersectionality between all aspects of the movement
        • Some writers wrote about the work they do, others went more broad
        • Imagine them all as thrown-together partners with somewhat differing views, like Lauren's group on the highway in Parable of the Sower (e.g. some still wonder about revolution vs. reform)
    • Walidah is trying to stop referring to herself as "a human being" to be ready when the aliens come
  • Krista Franklin, writer and visual artist from Ohio and now Chicago
    • Family was very black working class, so becoming a writer and visual artist was impossible to imagine
    • John Jude Palenkar did a lot of OEB’s early book covers
    • SEED (The Book of Eve): Krista's visual (collage) responses to OEB novels
    • Master's thesis "The 2013 Narratives of Naima Brown" is about a shapeshifter who leaves residue when she shifts, like hair and feathers, and responds to seeing black women's hair on the ground, trying to imagine more positive explanations for it
  • Rasheeda Phillips, lawyer, director of Afrofuturist Affair costume ball, soundscape maker, writer, mom
    • Concepts of linear time are bound up with Western culture
      • Colonialism = "appropriation of the future"
      • See also the Longitude Problem (not sure if this was something she said or just a thought Ben had)
    • Time-travel paradoxes assume linearity
    • Black women's internal notions of time help establish personal importance
    • African culture often views time as cyclical, views the past as present and the non-immediate future as No-Time, created by events not clocks
    • Rasheeda worked with elementary school kids to make a time machine zine
    • In Black Quantum Futurism, past and future aren't cut off from the present
    • North Philadelphia Community Futurisms project related to eminent domain on 1300 properties
  • Olaronke Akinmowo, production designer for film and TV, founder of the Free Black Women's Library in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy)
    • No money, copyright or other legal BS (every grant application has been rejected)
    • 420 books so far, got the first 100 in 3 weeks
    • Give a book, take a book
    • Books as escape, healing, imagination catalyst
    • Library travels all over Bed-Stuy as resistance to gentrification, opens for 5 hours once a month
      • e.g. at a pride festival, community garden, museums, playgrounds, small clothing stores
      • Each opening has a theme and a book discussion?
    • Building community: book clubs and writing collaborations have started there
      • But some people spend their whole visit reading, not interacting
      • Students come to get books and share their ideas
      • A bike girl collective stops at the Library on their tours
    • Books are moved using Uber and cabs
    • Many genres/categories; the only rule is they have to be written by black women
      • Looking for organization help from a library scientist
  • Walidah lives in Portland, Oregon, the whitest major city in America, and is working on the Rural Organizing Project
    • Oregon black history work: the state used to ban black people
      • "39 lashes every six months until you leave"
    • Some of that language was in the state Constitution until 2001
    • Exploring the past is also futuristic

Panel on Transforming Humanity

  • Alexis Lothian, professor at University of Maryland, cofounder of the #TransformDH (Digital Humanities) movement
    • Scholars of Digital Humanities moved from writing papers to writing code
    • Are we complicit with the neoliberal restructuring of humanities education?
      • Use knowledge production outside the U to transform the U?
    • Fandom communities organized around objects: what's left when you commoditize literary criticism work?
      • Alexis just came from the 40-year-old feminist fan convention WisCon
      • Fans love manufactured mass-culture objects by making them "real"
        • Mashup Parable video casts a character from the TV show Charlie Jade as Lauren
          • It's one of several shows set after the collapse of industrial civilization
          • Couldn't find images of a community like Acorn, among other things
    • Limits of Lauren's space-travel vision: Earthseed as a wealthy group creating a means of escape from Earth for a privileged few
      • OEB shows we never escape the machinery of culture and power
  • Aimee Bahng, professor at Dartmouth who was unjustly denied tenure
    • Was busy writing her dissertation, now a book, when OEB died
    • OEB wrote a note on slime mold cells' transformation into a multicell organism in 1988, New Years Eve (a moment for thinking about futures)
      • The note contains the new pronoun "itselves"
      • The early theory about slime mold self-organization was replaced during the 60s and 70s with a baseless hypothesis of "pacemaker" leader cells
        • Imposing on nature the stories mainstream culture wants to heard
      • Evelyn Fox Keller overturned that hypothesis with her work on chemotaxis (slime mold cells creating and following chemical trails)
      • Possible inspiration for Oankali puberty? (but the note was toward the end of writing the Xenogenesis trilogy, start of working on the Parables books)
    • Late 80s financialization of science
      • But OEB did her research at public libraries and on buses
        •  ?: Which she rode because she thought her dyslexia made it unsafe for her to drive
      • Of course now telecom companies are using slime molds to design networks for maximum efficiency
    • Science defines anti-hierarchical parenting as causing "brain damage" in the parents, because you have to break ingrained patterns
    • Trans-species solidarity
      • Both slime molds and people of color have been victims of experimentation
      • Sylvia Winters talks about the formation of the category "human" during the enlightenment
        • Vs. being 90% bacteria
      • Allies often forget the power imbalance between their group and the one fighting for its own liberation (e.g. Black Lives Matter)
        • We also must not forget that we've been the primary destroyers of other species

Panel on the Huntington Library Archive of OEB's papers

  • Sami Schalk, Moya Bailey, Cassandra Jones, Ayana Jamieson
  • Huntington Library is a very hierarchical space with almost all white scholars
  • What Theri Pickens, fellow at the Huntington Museum and Libraries (until next month), sent:
    • How did OEB characterize disability, esp. mental illness?
    • Unfinished manuscript “Spiritus,” chase story about transmigrating spirit
    • Missed lunch meeting with Junot Diaz
  • Moya was the 3rd person to go into the archive, which is freezing cold, but she had emotional responses to OEB’s and her mother’s journals that made her feel hot
    • Her mom & mom’s older brother changed their birth years
    • OEB’s fiction uses a lot of things that happened to her and her mom
  • Sami was reading OEB’s journals leading up to her death, and looked at an entry about “by age 60 I want to accomplish X, Y, and Z,” and had to go cry in the bathroom
    • Tisa was the only black person I saw inside the archive – San Marino (the most affluent community in CA) has no black people, although surrounding Pasadena does
    • If you go in, have a plan, read the 500-page finding aid before you start
  • Cassandra was struck by the absolute whiteness of the space, far more so than her native community in Ohio, full of busts of famous white men
    • They did have one black librarian for a while
    • I had lost a lot of white friends over Black Lives Matter, and this was her first visit to the western US, so it was really hard
    • On top of that, the Charleston shooting happened while I was there, and I’m from SC
      • Reading about OEB’s response to Dr. King’s assassination helped
  • Ayana: female bodies are not acceptable in the academe – when I went in while pregnant, people were extremely nervous that I’d disrupt the space by giving birth
    • OEB let the Huntington be the steward of her papers intentionally, so black people would start redefining the space to include themselves
    • Don’t ever ask for one folder, always ask for the box and look at what’s next to the things you’re looking for
      • I discovered that OEB paid off her mother’s mortgage and imagined what that would have been like, given their working-class history
      • OEB took notes on pregnancy and her mother had miscarriages
    • I’m working on what ppl can do to form a group like Lauren’s in case of apocalypse
  • Latino audience member
    • The Huntington has the history of Mexican CA, and its gardens were a huge “eugenics” experiment on how best to exploit laborers of color
    • But at the lunchroom, “The Footnote,” readers are forced to mix with the staff, which is still largely Latino (especially garden staff) and other people of color
  • Ayana and Moya are working on a biography
    • As a Californian, Ayana understands well how her writings relate to CA history
  • They also co-edited a volume of palimpsest journals
  • Ayana and Shelley are working on a new collection
  • Sami wrote two chapters on disability in OEB’s books and is working on an article about disability in a short story
    • Moya and Their also work in black disability studies
    • OEB, Sam Delaney and Tobias Buckell are all dyslexic
  •  ?: How did OEB’s life change when she got the MacArthur fellowship?
    • She had to avoid disclosing it to the public at first, so she pretended it was a person helping her
    • Older recipients get more funds; the money didn’t make that much difference in her life
    • Stephen Potts: She was looking forward to having more time between novels
    • Sami: She didn’t want her face published with any stories about the grant, b/c when it was published in an article about Kindred, her house was robbed twice
      • Her mail was also stolen, so she had to use a P.O. box
  •  ?: Anything about love and sex in the journals?
    • Yes, but we’re still confused about her sexual orientation
  • Ayana got funding from Huntington to do an OEB Studies conference there on June 23rd next year

Katie Seitz, technician at the National Archives

  • I’ve worked in many archives as well as on personal and grassroots archiving
  • OEB’s work helps me question the point of institutional archives and whether we should save our own histories instead, especially as marginalized peoples
  • Two main principles of institutional archiving: Original Order, Provenance
    • It requires some privilege to have the space to arrange your stuff and not have it lost or disarranged by traumatic life events
  • Community archives can challenge all this
    • Lesbian Herstory Archives has principles “we will be involved in the political struggle” and “someone will always live in the building where the archive is kept”
    • South Asian American Digital Archives is well-funded, takes oral histories of people’s first day in America
    • But these archives can replicate intra-community inequality, and of course they often lack money and depend on volunteers
  • A Dark Archive is the backup of materials that remain largely untouched, not accessible to the public, useful for disaster recovery
  • 5 Laws of Library Science include “the library is a growing organism” – this has quite another meaning in Xenogenesis!
  • Archivists usually don’t worry much about disasters like government persecution, eviction, etc that OEB’s characters face

Monica Hand, bookmaker

  • I support numbering the pages of your diary so you can index it
  • I teach/use intuitive, non-measurement-based bookmaking techniques
    • I chose a material that feels like skin for the Dawn journal because the series is so sensuous
  • I sometimes make Coptic-bound writing journals
  • I made a physical version of the Books of the Living, a bunch of small books with handwritten verses all bound together, as well as a God is Change journal

Reimagining Family and Genealogy

  • Katherine Agard, creative writing student from Trinidad, and Murktarat Yussuff, American-born Yoruba Ph.D. student in communications via Skype from London===
  • Katherine: reconsidering place as maybe more than just “a place to move to for what it can provide you”
  • Murktarat: reclaiming Yoruba heritage
    • Made a graphic using the Shell logo
    • Examples of other Nigerians’ art using repurposed materials
      • “Anything used by humans has a history” (see also “Whatever you touch, you change”)
  • Katherine: stepping out of linear time is a theme running through OEB’s work
    • Reimagining certain moments from our past
  • Murktarat: Combine all of the SF questions, starting with “What if” and “If only” and continuing to “If this goes on,” potential futures of this work and how it could expand its impact
    • My project is about oka-abikus, heart-mind consciousness of people between worlds who haunt parents by being born, dying, and being born from the same mother again
      • My grandmother gave birth 13 times and 8 were abiku who passed away within their first month – she suspected sickle-cell anemia as the cause
        • I also have sickle-cell anemia
      • In the West, illness and different abilities are usually described in a framework of lack and loss
        • I use abiku as a way of understanding my illness as enabling access to a liminal space
        • Using materials shaped into sickle cell shapes, and using medicine bottles as materials, helps process trauma from my illness and reframe myself as not disposable
      • Muddling dichotomies: abled vs. disabled, Western vs. non-Western modes of being and art-making
      • José Muñoz quote: queerness as rejection of the here and now in favor of a different future – “If only”
      • Hopefully this will lead to a whole collection of clothes based on alternative subjectivities
        • Katherine: Also working out of the idea of lack of a proper body, in this case the history of miscegenation and light skin corresponding to worth
    • When growing up in Trinidad, my worth was based on my mother’s claim to be a royal African
      • She was told she was going to Trinidad for two weeks for a funeral, then the return ticket was torn up and she didn’t go back home to Ghana for 50 years
      • I found out that growing up, she had never know if her Ghanaian father was her biological father
    • I’m part Lebanese, both the enslaved and the enslaver
      • My great grandfather owned a lot of land in Trinidad, according to a will I recently found, and was deeded to a lot of wives
      • Family story: one of his lovers cursed the land so no one but her child could have it
      • I found out that others are using that land today – Trinidad squatters rights mean that if they’ve been there for 10 years, the land is theirs
      • Seeds grow on the land without documentation – “What if we looked to the example of plants as a way of creating a legacy of material?”

Ella Maria Ray, maker of masks and quilts made from fired clay

  • “Reading and writing” using clay as paper and art as text
    • Grog: bits of fired clay mixed into the softer clay
    • Which bodies of clay will tolerate multiple firings, etc
    • Some clay turns white when fired; Cassius clay is brown and gets darker when fired at high heat
    • Firing is like the Middle Passage: will you be cracked, and if so, will you remain whole anyway?
    • I use all kinds of finish, from tempura paint to crayon, colored pencil, and watercolor
  • OEB is a griot (West African traveling storyteller)
  • Collapse past present and future into a simultaneous circular experience
  • I’m going to transform all of OEB’s novels into quilts over the next year (sabbatical)
    • Quilts document marriages, new babies, traumas – a way for communities to write
  • I also make African masks
    • You’re supposed to have the costume, music, masquerade, and audience too, but…
    • I bring out pictures of these masks when teaching black women writers and Africana Studies students
  • Adinkra symbols and Akua’ba figures both have a diaspora – symbols with multiple layered meaning
  • Cowrie shells: feminine, the divine, protection, abundance of wealth
  • Keeper of Earthseed mask
    • Is based on the Biblical Parable of the Sower
    • Shows a path going north, as in both the novel and the Underground Railroad
    • Uses a symbol of the seed of the wawa tree, which requires reaching a place with the right conditions to grow
    • Another symbol says “there’s nothing to fear except God” – being fearless in the face of being afraid
  • Wild Seed mask
    • Centered on a community/family to care for
    • Layered finishes to represent main character’s age
    • Ghanaian symbol of Queenmother, who can speak to the king about his decisions, as with how she talks to Doro
  • Kinship chart for “Near Kin”
  • “Lack of…” quilt for “Near Kin”
    • Learning to quilt clay squares
    • Fusing multiple symbols
    • Adinkra symbol of a heart means love but also patience
  • “Us” quilt for “Near Kin”
    • Represents a photo of the father’s sister, mother, and daughter
    • Four-pointed star shape with two negative-space squares with hung clay cowrie shells in them
  • “Legacy” quilt for “Near Kin”
    • 20 cowrie shells in negative space representing the money from the mother’s will, alternated with pebbled green-white squares representing the land

Kim Hester Williams, prof at Sedona State U

  • 20 years of academic conferences – none holds a candle to this one
    • Expressions of black female fugitivity
  • I taught a class on Hurricane Katrina, “The Poetics of Disaster,” partly using Parable of the Sower
    • Lauren’s journal as intervention, and asking students what they would do to save the world, humans and other beings – longest debate was over “Do you believe humanity should be saved?”
    • Note from a student on his final exam: gratitude for being introduced to Lauren’s Journal “because I haven’t seen anything similar written by someone of my generation,” “My Earthseed Bible/Koran is Carl Sagan’s Cosmos”
  • Lucille Clifton’s poem about wild life blooming in a field of bones
  • What to do about people of color who work in agriculture & food services but suffer from food deserts etc, in the context of climate disruption?
    • Climate Apartheid?
  • 1739 Stono (sp?) rebellion in SC deepened the suffering of slaves
  • Reenvisioning the relationship between race and nature
    • Opening scene of The Book of Eli: Eli reading the Bible is a magical-Negro Christ figure who has to sacrifice himself to save humanity from extinction
      • Since the only other nonwhite person in the film is killed immediately after we meet him, this is redemption for whites only
    • He confronts scarcity and hoarding
    • Blues aesthetic, which is about racial memory, particularly of black slavery
    • Scarring on his back is parallel to scarring of the land and its state of captivity
  • Rasanblaj: reassembly into collective revealing the way of spirit
  • OEB’s fiction confronts dialectical unity of individual and collective, vs. Hollywood images of lone survivors or lone heroes
    • OEB doesn’t diminish the power of the “supreme self” but sees it as bound to other selves and collective reflexivity
    • Parables: Redemption by renewal of life that extends to the stars, rather than by heroic self-sacrifice
      • Hyperempathy as parable of mutuality, a new way of feeling (without the need for telepathy) in reaction to the loss of connection in modern society
    • Wild Seed: Anyanwu is expressly described as an oracle through whom God speaks
      • First scene is her tending a garden of medicinal herbs
      • Many arguments with Doro about respecting all life, esp. when she transforms into a dolphin
  • Stephano Harney and Fred Moten’s Undercommons theory talks about the importance of touch or “hapticality” as a way to describe love
    • Related to a “return to the embrace of nature?”

Ola Akinmowo, Lauren Olamina's Life Tips

  • Like Lauren Olamina, we live in a world of trauma, violence, and addiction
    • But she is still able to build her envisioned community
  • The first time I read the book, I was so caught up in the horror that I didn’t see the lessons
  • Lauren’s life tips
    • Practice pleasure – find ways to make sure you feel human and loved
    • Be prepared – grab-and-run emergency bag of things that make you feel safe (and whole, happy, affirmed?)
    • Manage your feelings – pick your battles (may require hiding your feeli=-ngs), don’t get caught up in how you feel about a situation to the point where you react without thinking
    • Stay focused – example: not looking at all the suffering people when Lauren is biking to the church to get baptized
    • Know your struggle – example: Lauren has learned how to collapse in shared pain without hurting herself – real-world example: have practiced ways of guarding yourself when people attack your beliefs
    • Defy gender – be done with assumptions about “things that men do, things that women do” – people who really saw Lauren cared about her ideas and her providing access to safety, not her gender
    • Study, research, recognize your resources – “I intend to learn everything I can while I can” to survive
    • Archive, journal – keep track of what you’re learning, successes, challenges – see The Artist’s Way, which involves journaling every morning
    • Keep it real – say what you mean, don’t beat around the bush – example: clear requirements for living in Acorn
    • Trust your intuition – I suggest taking time every morning to sit with your breath

Allison Simon, manifestation and meditation coach, first in her family to even consider going to college

  • As I got deeper into my spiritual practice, I eventually realized that manifestation wasn’t about getting stuff, but about what I want to do with my life
    • I was motivated to really get into this by my sister’s death in a car crash
  • 3 basics: Intention, Alignment, Openness
  • Start by understanding where you currently are
  • Affirmations in OEB journals: “My books will all be bestsellers,”* “I will help poor black youngsters”
  • Countering blocking thoughts, e.g. * “whether I ever get another award or not”
    • Blocking thoughts are self-protection against having to do the work of making our big dreams happen
  • Alignment: how is your intention providing a higher good for humanity as well as yourself?
  • Don’t assume you need qualifications other than your life experiences
  •  ? (Ayana): How to do positive, uplifting things in the midst of grief and trauma and poverty? How can we talk to people who have constant concerns over getting food to eat about the SF idea of realizing big dreams?
    • Each individual needs to start with themselves before going out to try to change those things
    •  ?: Forgive myself for times when I have not managed my feelings
    • Acknowledge when you are feeling angry, frustrated, grieving etc
  •  ?: The need may be to manifest as a group, not just as individuals
    •  ?: It’s only the Western 20th-century version of manifestation that became about individuals
  •  ?: Social justice activists care for others but not for ourselves, because we feel ashamed about doing stuff for ourselves – I learned to tell people on Facebook when I’m having a hard time and need support
  •  ?: Trauma can make community break apart – we have to remember that “I am because we are and we are because I am”
  •  ? (Aimee): Black Lives Matter course students did a project about self-care and how it can sometimes fold us back into individualism
  •  ?: We keep trying to form community even though every time we’ve tried, over the past couple of centuries, it’s been destroyed
  • When looking at trauma, it often feels to me as if I’ve caused it
  • Openness
    • OEB: Begin with the end in mind
    • Release an attachment to achieving the goal within your lifetime
  •  ?: I want to manifest a return to listening – social media has given us an overly self-important view of our own opinions and worldviews
  •  ?: I’m working on a book that comes out in February about emergent systems in humans and other species (flocking, schooling)

Followups

Some things Ben thinks we should do:

  • Plan trip to the Huntington Archive to look at Parable of the Trickster – contact Moya Bailey for a letter
  • Post on Facebook with the #BecauseOfOctavia tag
  • Read the Cosmos Latinos and Three Messages and a Warning SF collections
  • Ben, at least, should read the Nisi Shawl book Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction to help with his Flight in a Cage novel project
  • Read Nisi Shawl's upcoming steampunk alternate-history anti-colonialist utopian novel, Everfair, which comes out this September
  • Read Adrienne Marie Brown's upcoming book, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds from AK Press, which comes out next February
  • Watch the TV series based on Dawn, first book in OEB's Xenogenesis series, coming out sometime next year
  • Find out if there's any way to get a look at Krista Franklin's art project, SEED (The Book of Eve)
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