afrofuturism and #blackspring (new school, #afroturismtns)

welcome to #blackspring!

today as we speak there are actions happening across the country, and here in new york, a massive round of future claiming.

we tend to think and speak of afrofuturism as the far off future, something beyond our current comprehension and planet. but now is the only moment. AND we hope things will be different in the next now. AND I must admit, i am excited about the near future.

what are we about to do after this winter of discontent?

we have been escalating tactics in the face of flagrant injustice.
escalating tactics because we charge genocide,
we charge homicide,
we say no more killing us,
we say no more reckless obstinate impunity,
We say no more white supremacy in governance,

because, we say, black lives matter!

an afrofuturist assertion.

because we see something other than the normative truths of this place…we see something that is NOT here…

we see the future, cast over this devastating present moment.

we see,
and we believe.
we know,
and we bend the world to assert and embody that black lives matter.

that, to me, is the heart of afrofuturism, as i choose to understand it. labels don’t excite me so much, but concepts turn me on. the concept of seeing and creating the future from a perspective that has the lineage of an african seed, of something older and other than western, feels healing to me.

we, of that displaced diasporic seed, who involuntarily reach back to the motherland in our dreams, have been scattered so far from each other.

and in spite of all the odds, we have been resilient.

i cannot speak emotionally about the journeys of the other seed clusters, though i am seeking stories all the time, reading nnedi okorafor and ben okri and credo mutwa and wanting to know more.

but i can speak of the grief stricken journey of the kidnapped african…

and the abused, raped, enslaved, lynched, uprising negro, or in the language of white supremacy, the ‘nigra, or nigger’;

the beaten, vilified, billyclubbed, legally unlovable, disobedient and organizing afro-american, or again ‘nigger’;

the tokenized, mistrusted, mistaken, misguided, self-loathing, entrepreneurial, hoodwinked and bamboozled, boot strapped, assimilating african american, or ‘nigger’;

and the divergent, underpaid, unemployed, sugar soothed, imprisoned, resistant, resilient, awakened, politicized black. Or ‘thug. or nigger’.

so this is a shout out to the uppity nigger beyond all space and time. all along this journey, those who some saw and see as particularly ‘uppity niggers’, i call afrofuturists.

they, we, have cast our lot forward.

lately I’ve been obsessing over the afrofuturism and justice orientation of slave era blacks, because our situation today feels so terrifying, and exhausting and sometimes hopeless, and there’s so much trauma and grief to bear, and yet we survived THAT.

not individually, but collectively.

not all of those black people were afrofuturists, but to focus on afrofuturists in the black social justice tradition, i would note that:

africans leaping off of slaver ships were afrofuturists.
slave era parents teaching their babies a foreign alphabet in the candlelit dirt were afrofuturists.
black women dissociating themselves through to tomorrow while being raped into motherhood were afrofuturists.
those who raised the children of violence and those who chose not to, all were predicting the future and articulating their choices.
slaves who ran to freedom, and slaves who ran to their deaths, were afrofuturists.

it is the emphasis on a tomorrow that centers the dignity of that seed, particularly in the face of extinction, that marks, for me, the afrofuturist.

and of course there are the big ones, whose names have made it through the erasers of history books, into our mouths – harriet, sojourner, frederick, john, malcolm, james, ella, martin, nina, june, toni.

octavia.

now it is our work, and the exciting thing about this time is that we are learning to name ourselves, our distinctions and solidarities. our afrofuturisms and black springs. developing enough of a common dream language that we can be that much more explicit about the real futures we are shaping into existence.

we are touching the future, reaching out across boundaries and post apocalyptic conditions to touch each other, to call each other out as family, as beloveds.

‘all that you touch, you change. all that you change, changes you.’

we are making ourselves vulnerable enough to be changed, which will of course change what black existence means.

octavia butler, who gave us that philosophical spirit poem of earthseed that I just quoted, is a bridge for many of us, between this world, and the narratives that pull us through to the next realm, or the parallel universe, or the future in which we are the protagonists.

this is the essence of octavia’s brood, the anthology of original science fiction from social justice movements which walidah imarisha and i had the honor of co-editing. walidah couldn’t be with us today because she is visiting the political prisoner sundiata acoli, but she sends her love.

what we are all up to, this changing the world willfully, is science fictional behavior.

because all organizing is science fiction.

we are creating a world we have never seen. we are whispering it to each other cuddled in the dark, and we are screaming it at people who are so scared of it that they dress themselves in war regalia to turn and face us.

because of our ancestors, because of us and because of the children we are raising, there will be a future without police and prisons.

yes.

there will be a future without rape.

without harrassment, and constant fear, and childhood sexual assault.

a future without war, hunger, violence.

with abundance.

where gender is a joyful spectrum.
where my nephew would not be bullied for his brilliant differentness.

where each of our bodies is treated like sacred ground, whether we have insurance or not…that one is very real for me right now as i am coming off of a surprise major surgery a couple weeks ago, and that, in addition to the urgency of our movements right now for black lives, and for the planet, all has me in a much closer consideration of the future.

octavia’s brood is 2 essays and 20 pieces of original and beautiful visionary fiction from largely hesitant and skeptical organizers, with breathtaking appearances from some folks who have been creating this kind of work long term – tananarive due, levar burton, mumia abu-jamal, and others.

visionary fiction, (a term which walidah coined, this was what made me start following her all over the internet til she said yes to this anthology) visionary fiction includes sci fi, speculative fiction, fantasy, magical realism, myth, all of it. in addition to this intentional genrecide, visionary fiction intentionally explores:

how change happens from the bottom up,
how change works in collective ways, disrupting the single white male hero narrative,
centering marginalized communities…meaning we are the center of the story, as opposed to the sexy and unbelievably stylish sidekick.
and visionary fiction is hard, and realistic, and hopeful.

it’s neither utopian nor dystopian, its more like life.

in real life, we may make it to a future full of gardens and bicycles, but we may not get to choose who is there with us, and we may never get to leave it.
we may get rid of gentrification but not without violence.
we may get to travel to parallel universes, but only by feeling completely insane in this one.
we may learn to use dissociation and other responses to trauma as a way to teleport and heal, but not without losing our families.
we may create the key to a liberated technofuture, but have to live a life on the run to keep it from being weaponized.
our black skin may become special and valued, but then we have to fight to keep it from those who realize melanin is better for surviving increased sunlight.
there might be angels, but what if the good ones get kicked out of heaven for trying to help us.

all of this and much more is explored in the book. these are writers who mostly didn’t identify as artists, as writers…and yet, we argued, their lives are acts of futurism and creation. when they returned to us on our deadline, and instead of the ten pages we begged for, there were 40-50 pages of new novels and character visitations.

the stories are beautiful. we went through 6-7 edits for each one, loving them up. sheree renee thomas, the editor of the dark matter collections, advised us and let us know they were great. john jennings crafted the cover for us – and created a glyph system, a glyph for each story which is incorporated into the cosmic space of octavia on the cover. i don’t have copies here but if you order online at ak press, use the code octaviafs and you will get free shipping through the end of may. octaviafs.

so…imagination is one of the spoils of colonization, which in many ways is claiming who gets to imagine the future for a given geography. losing our imagination is a symptom of trauma. reclaiming the right to dream the future, strengthening the muscle to imagine together as black people, is a revolutionary decolonizing activity.

when we were in the editing process, these narratives felt important and interconnected – now as i reread the book obsessively, the whole thing feels so audacious. it is massive, the visions of these organizers are in no way small.

and in that way we hope we honor octavia butler’s legacy. she never wrote us a small problem, or a small vision. she offered us nothing stagnant. to speak of her protagonists, i use the term emergent strategy – strategies that create and move complex systems and patterns through relatively simple interactions. if you have noticed a flock of starlings move through the air in a pluralistic dance, or seen geese share leadership moving south, you have seen my movement vision, and what i believe octavia offers one case study after another for:

leading that centers relationship,

decentralization and interdependence,

adaptation…or being in right relationship to change,

resilience, the capacity to accommodate and integrate change,

transformative justice – going to the root of the problem and transforming the conditions instead of just getting punitive and righteous about symptoms,

fractal (or the idea that patterns repeat across scale – the spiral on your finger echoes the spiral of the galaxy, how do we become the small,scale version of the large scale changes we seek?)

and finally creating more possibilities, as opposed to current strategies which seek to narrow options down to one path forward…

some of the key practices that show up in octavia butler’s work, and in octavia’s brood, are collaboration, compassion, curiosity, romantic and sensual and non-possessive love, play, mediation, and the patience that comes from seeing ourselves in a much longer arc of time than we are encouraged to see in the instantaneous culture of the modern world.

so along with touring the book and reading stories to people, we are offering workshops that blend visionary fiction and social justice, in ways we hope are elegant.

one is a training in science fiction and direction action, which we’ll be offering a taste of here. in this we plan actions in some of our favorite sci fi worlds and apply the lessons to our current work.

two is a collective sci fi writing workshop, where we use collaborative ideation to build a world that is a living solution or testing ground to work through a current local issue.

third, i have been offering trainings in emergent strategy, and emergent strategy facilitation. and on one level i am talking about adaptation and resilience and mushrooms and schools of fish and spirals and stardust and stuff.

but what i am really asking, what we are all really asking, what octavia was asking, is how do we who know the world needs to change begin to practice BEING different?

how do WE have to BE for justice to truly be transformative? not them, that massive amorphous them
that is also us,
in our heads and hearts,
or loves us,
or is tired of this shit but is family to us…not them, because maybe they don’t recognize yet that these changes are the key to human survival.

but us, us who are awake and awakening? how do we need to BE for black lives to matter? what do we need to HEAL in ourselves in order to offer a future of any real peace?

or to become the protagonists of this human story – and earn the flip of the page of all the sentient life in the universe?

to claim the future as a compelling place for our miracles?

this is everything.

science fiction is not fluffy stuff. afrofuturism is not just the coolest look that ever existed. the future is not an escapist place to occupy. all of it is the inevitable result of what we do today, and the more we take it in our hands, imagine it as a place of justice and pleasure, the more the future knows we want it, and that we aren’t letting go.

so. start this black spring, start with black lives matter. its the afrofuturist activity of this moment. embody the concept that black lives matter. no matter what your background is, no matter what your struggles are, let black lives matter fill you up, believe it, practice it being true.

all along the journey, all of the afrofuturists i named from movements before this time, all they have been is unapologetically black, uncompromising in their right to take up space. will you promise to do that?

i love you.
black love.

22 books in 21 days: my reading/writing retreat reviews/thoughts/reflections

2015 reading/writing retreat book thoughts/responses/reviews for the 22 books i’ve read this year:

1. herland, charlotte perkins gilman
this book is a collection of fascinating concepts embedded in dated writing that was hard to read at moments, particularly around race. the central concepts around what a society of only women would be like, what a mothering-based society would look like, are really quite lovely. it’s a quick read, i would recommend to folks looking at feminism and parenting in sci fi, to mothers.

2, 3, 4. saga volumes 1-3, fiona staples and brian k vaughan
this graphic novel may actually be the best thing i have ever encountered. the writing is gorgeous and visceral and hilarious, the visuals are emotive and stunning. i was moved to laughter and tears multiple times. i couldn’t put it down and i wanted to know that all of these complex characters were going to be ok. magnificent way of casting the world in a war vs peace question without feeling boring or earnest. can’t wait for more.

5. the secret history of las vegas, chris abani
subtle, strange, poetic. a good mystery with skilled reveals. particularly of interest for those considered freaks and outcasts by mainstream society – how is that condition, that distance from the center, survived, navigated? abani is a masterful writer, he creates a situation where you wouldn’t want to be in this world, but you can’t not see it.

6. a book of common prayer, joan didion
this book makes me want to release a particular little keening moan. didion writes about grief and pain in the most exquisite precise way. this story is very small and personal and a little mysterious…i can’t exactly put my finger on what she was telling us about other than heartache. but it’s enough. apparently it’s about to be a movie with the redhead from mad men – i anticipate.

7. chronicle of a death foretold, gabriel garcia marquez
garcia marquez could write about sitting on a toilet for 100 pages and i would be stunned by the beauty of it. this is a story of a murder, where the murderers are known, and the motive, and everything. but the exploration is around how the whole town handles it both before and after. his writing is poetic and objective and casts judgment without any accusation, simply with the information he offers.

8, 9. fifty shades trilogy (darker, and freed), e.l. james
i just had to know: what was the big deal about these books? as someone who doesn’t really read romance novels, there was a certain thrusting loin quality, where every brush of the knuckle against sensitive skin blooms an orgasm that felt beyond ridiculous. but what i was left with was a lot of discomfort, not from the kind of sex, but from the abusive relationship between this virgin and a possessive, traumatized, controlling man. i was glad to see the presentation of bdsm agreements and communication around sex that gets explored here. but the way sex was used to connect with someone so emotionally volatile and manipulative made me want to sit down with this girl and do some life coaching and mediation. i’m sure someone good has already written about this somewhere, but i hadn’t seen it. i kept rooting for her to put her foot down and say no, you can’t treat me this way. alas, they would instead fall into romantic throes again because she bit her lip and his manhood was involved. yay for bondage and consensual play, but all thumbs down for the presentation of this as any model of a sexy relationship.

10. positron episodes 1-3, margaret atwood
this is a hilarious dystopian future series. i didn’t realize it was an unfinished series when i started or i probably would have waited til it was done. but it’s funny enough, though not her best, not on par with the maddaddam trilogy. she is skilled and cynical, she makes me actually laugh out loud, and the idea is a brilliant critique of the modern prison system.

11. the blind assassin, margaret atwood
a tragedy, written in slow full detail. very different, sadder and more earthbound than anything else i’ve read of atwood’s work. this is a great family drama, and it’s quite cinematic. there is sci-fi in here but its tucked inside a world war 2 era tragedy that builds up to be very specifically of it’s time, the kind of tragedy that can only emerge out of deep shame and politeness.

12. kafka on the shore, haruki murakami
ahhhh. this book had so much magic, so many of the right fundamental questions, so much good taboo and sensuality…it is a perfect book, each character unlikely and compelling, the mysteries pulling you forward. there is a section of this story that actually feels impossible – an act of sexual violence that is somehow made part of the journey through innocence, that i have to note as a survivor, and also say i never thought anyone could write such a scene in a way that still felt safe, tender, forgivable and humane. the whole thing is brilliance. the story is paced perfectly, and there are things like having half of a shadow, or talking with cats, that make total sense here. i want to read a lot more of his work.

13. at night we walk in circles, daniel alarcon
this story really echoed garcia marquez’s chronicle of a death foretold in it’s pace, in telling of how scandal and love and youth happen in a small place, or in this case a series of small places where people are trying to make meaning of their lives. i love how daniel writes, and i love what feels like looking behind a curtain at the friendships and society of men, the immense quiet suffering, confusion and pride.

14. killing moon (dreamblood), n.k. jemisin
n.k. writes fantasies where the darkest skinned people are the divine presence, where romance is queer and crosses gender, sexuality, ability and species. there is tension, longing, principle, power play. she easily evokes and drops us into worlds that are fully formed and believable, and then she focuses in on tender interpersonal dynamics. this book really examines death – seeing it as something not to be feared, as a possible transition into ecstasy that i found very compelling.

15. the salt eaters, toni cade bambara
this book is difficult! there isn’t something clear to grab onto and hold as you enter the heart of this healing, and i found myself having to approach it as a spiritual journey rather than a narrative as i was moved, confused, annoyed, touched, witnessed and worked. i am grateful toni opened herself up to this one, and i know this isn’t my last time reading it.

16. americanah, chimimanda ngozi adichie
ahhhhhh. ah ah ahhhh. i saved this book for near the end of my trip because i had great expectations and i wanted to savor the anticipation. adichie delivers. she writes this book about all of these normal things – love, family, friendship, growing up, figuring out who you are and want to be – and she makes it all feel honest and meaningful. what is it like to be aware of yourself being difficult, or being silent in the face of injustice, or walking away from love? how many of us are moved by forces we can’t quite put our finger on, between choices that don’t offer clear and easy next steps? when i finished this book i hugged it, literally, with gratitude.

16. this is how you lose her, junot diaz
yunior! this book felt like it flew past, the voice moving so quickly, so of the world junot is documenting, that i wanted to make myself read it slower, but i couldn’t. i appreciate what feels like a shamelessness in this, the exposure of how straight men learn to speak to each other and think to themselves about women. and how much these women with their fears and care and needs actually mean to the men, in spite of the training to disregard love, to be greedy. i wanted it to go on.

17. how to slowly kill yourself and others in america, kiese laymon
i wrote some about how this book effected me in my delirious travel posting. i think kiese is writing a very particular voice that feels like the open vein of this political moment, wonderful and accessible and also hard to read. i love his southern black boy stance, i love reading him be vulnerable about what he has lost in trying to be tough, i love his relationship with his mama and the women who love him, i love that this collection of essays is designed to be read in one sitting – even though i took a break in the middle to have a spiritual enlightenment moment – and i love that it feels like there is so much more to come from him.

18. y the last man volume 1, brian k vaughan
after falling hard for saga people kept mentioning this work to me and it’s fantastic – the premise is like herland, a world of women, and the experience of a man/men traversing that world. vaughn writes characters you want to kick it with, want to kick the asses of, and want to see win at life. can’t wait to read more.

19. motherless brooklyn, jonathan lethem
this book was a find on the shelf where i was staying once i ran out of books. i grabbed it because it had incredible reviews, and i found it an interesting book – the lead character is a detective who lives with tourette’s and the most fascinating part of the book by far is being inside his tourette’s ticking mind – the self awareness of control and lack of control. made me think how much i take for granted the relationship between my mind and my body. the detective story was fine, but the journey into the protagonist’s brain was the reason to read this book. i’m excited to see ed norton take this on for film.

20. lion’s blood, steven barnes
wow. i wanted to read this book because i had heard about how steven flipped white supremacy in his head to the degree that in the book hard times are called ‘pale times’…i wanted to see this flip. this book is well researched and deeply plausible, and it really pushes the mind to see how clearly white supremacy works, where it is embedded and assumed. there was a point where i was reading and wanting to close the book because the account was so traumatizing, and then had to release a good cry because…that’s my lineage. this is a powerful, innovative and thorough alternate history.

21. healing sex, staci k haines
this book is so necessary. staci is my teacher in my somatics and social justice path, and i have been needing and fearing this book for a few years. i worked through it one chapter at a time and there was so much smart, nonjudgmental, ambitious and practical wisdom in here…i feel like i grew up a few years in my journey of sexual health and power with this book. i recommend it to anyone and everyone who has sex.

22. soul talk: the new spirituality of african american women, akasha gloria hull
this book, prescribed to me by dr alexis pauline gumbs, also got touched on in my delirious post, but i want to add that i thought it was brave of akasha to name that the book was a spiritual journey in and of itself, in addition to being a whisper across spirit between these women of the 80s and those of us reading and learning from their words today. this book is full of vulnerability, and not trying to condense or synthesize black creative and spiritual brilliance, but letting it be ethereal and precise and emotional and mystical. she helped me read the salt eaters, and moving through it one chapter at a time, it put me in contact with my ancestors in a way that feels precious and right.