Author, commentator and activist Walidah Imarisha has argued that “Whenever we try to envision a world without war, without violence, without prisons, without capitalism, we are engaging in speculative fiction. All organising is science fiction.” The refracting of the present and the exploration of possibilities, both terrifying and liberating, is what gives speculative and science fiction their potential to provide activists with visions of change and opportunities to imagine and explore the means to reach them.
On February 26th and 27th, 2022 City Lights Bookshop hosted a two-day online symposium taking its cues from the book Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1986. The videos below include some of the sessions that particularly focused on the links between sci-fi and forms of activism.
Imagining New Worlds – What Activists Can and Have Learnt From Sci-Fi
In conversation with Iain McIntyre, Shelley Streeby and Annalee Newitz discuss the ability of science fiction to help us envision different futures and come up with creative strategies to achieve them.
Annalee Newitz is a journalist, editor, and author of both fiction and nonfiction, who has written for the periodicals Popular Science and Wired. From 1999 to 2008 Newitz wrote a syndicated weekly column called Techsploitation, and from 2000 to 2004 was the culture editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. In 2004 Newitz became a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. With Charlie Jane Anders, they also co-founded Other magazine, a periodical that ran from 2002 to 2007. From 2008 to 2015 Newitz was Editor-in-Chief of Gawker-owned media venture io9, and subsequently its direct descendant Gizmodo, Gawker’s design and technology blog. As of 2019, Newitz is a contributing opinion writer at The New York Times. She is the author of numerous books of fiction and non-fiction, her latest book being Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age (W.W. Norton, 2021)
Shelley Streeby is Professor of Ethnic Studies and Literature at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of American Sensations: Class, Empire, and the Production of Popular Culture and a coeditor of Empire and the Literature of Sensation: An Anthology of Nineteenth-Century Popular Fiction. Her most recent book is Imagining the Future of Climate Change: World Making Through Science Fiction and Activism. Since 2010, she is Director of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop at UCSD. She is also on the Internal Board of UCSD’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.
Iain McIntyre is a Melbourne-based author, musician, and community radio broadcaster who has written a variety of books on activism, history, and music. He is the co-editor with Andrew Nette of Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1986 (PM Press, 2021).
Wild Seed: Reflecting on the work and impact of Octavia Butler
Mimi Mondal joins Alexis Pauline Gumbs and adrienne maree brown for a discussion about how the ground-breaking work of Octavia Butler continues to inform visions of social and environmental justice today.
Monidipa “Mimi” Mondal is Hugo and Nebula Award-nominated author of science fiction and fantasy, and a columnist writing about history, politics, technology and futures. She writes in many genres, including science fiction. Mondal is the co-editor of Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler, an anthology of letters and essays, which received a Locus Award in 2018. Mimi has also been the Poetry and Reprint Editor of Uncanny Magazine, a three-times-Hugo-Award-winning magazine of science fiction and fantasy, and an editor at Penguin Random House India.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a writer, independent scholar, poet, dramaturge, activist and educator based in Durham, North Carolina. Ms. Gumbs was the Winton Chair in the Liberal Arts in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota (2017–2019). She is the Founder and Director of Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind and founder of BrokenBeautiful Press. She is the dramaturge for “dat Black Mermaid Man Lady”, a performance by Sharon Bridgforth.
adrienne maree brown is a writer, doula, activist and Black feminist. From 2006 to 2010, she was the executive director of the Ruckus Society. She is the authors of the books Emergent Strategy, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, and We Will Not Cancel Us. She has served as a social justice facilitator at the World Social Forum and worked extensively with social justice organizations in the Detroit area. In 2010, she published the Octavia Butler Strategic Reader with Alexis Pauline Gumbs and in 2013, she received a Detroit Knight Arts Challenge Award to run a series of Octavia Butler-based science fiction writing workshops.
Bursting Through The Boundaries – Queering SF
Rebecca Baumann hosts a conversation with Meg Elison and Maitland McDonagh about queer sci-fi from the 1960s to the present.
Rebecca Baumann is the Head of Public Services at the Lilly Library. They have worked in a number of positions at the Lilly Library since 2012, sharing the library’s eclectic and wide-ranging collections with visitors of all sorts. As Head of Public Services, they coordinate and actively participate in reference services, instruction, outreach, exhibitions, and social media. During their tenure at the Lilly, they have taught over 600 individual class sessions on the library’s collections, covering topics from medieval manuscripts to modern poetry. As adjunct faculty with the Department of Information and Library Science, Rebecca also teaches semester-long courses on The History of the Book, 1450 to the Present; Rare Book Librarianship; and Rare Book Curatorship.
Meg Elison is a San Francisco Bay Area author. Her debut novel, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award and was a Tiptree longlist mention that same year. It was reissued in 2016 and was on the Best of the Year lists from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, PBS, and more. Her second novel was also a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award. Elison was the spring 2019 Clayton B. Ofstad endowed distinguished writer-in-residence at Truman State University, and is a co-producer of the monthly reading series Cliterary Salon.
Maitland McDonagh is an American film critic and the author of several books about cinema. She is the author of Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento and works of erotic fiction and erotic cinema, as well as providing DVD commentary. Her essays have appeared in numerous anthologies. She is also the founder of 120 Days Books, which became an imprint of Riverdale Avenue Books.
Dangerous Visions: The Forever War: Vietnam’s Impact on Sci-Fi
Andrew Nette joins Marge Piercy and Terry Bisson for a conversation about their activism from the 1960s onwards as well as how resistance to the Vietnam War shaped their fiction.
Marge Piercy is an award winning poet, novelist, and activist. She is the author of seventeen novels including The New York Times Bestseller Gone To Soldiers; the National Bestsellers Braided Lives and The Longings of Women and the classic Woman on the Edge of Time. She has produced seventeen volumes of poetry; and a critically acclaimed memoir Sleeping with Cats. Born in center-city Detroit, educated at the University of Michigan, and the recipient of four honorary doctorates, she has been a key player in many of the major progressive political battles of our time, including the anti-Vietnam war and the women’s movement, and more recently an active participant in the resistance to the war in Iraq. Praised as one of the few American writers who are accomplished poets as well as novelists — Piercy is one of the country’s bestselling poets — she is also the master of many genres: historical novels, science fiction (for which she won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction in the United Kingdom), novels of social comment and contemporary entertainments. She has taught, lectured, and performed her work at well over 400 universities around the world.
Terry Bisson is an award winning science fiction and fantasy author. He is best known for his short stories, including “Bears Discover Fire”, which won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award, and “They’re Made Out of Meat”. He is the author of numerous novels and his short fiction has appeared in countless anthologies. For many years he was a Kentuckian living in New York City, is now a New Yorker living in California.
Andrew Nette is a writer of fiction and nonfiction based in Melbourne, Australia. He is the coeditor of Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980 (2017) and Sticking it to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1956 to 1980 (2019), as well as the author of a monograph on Norman Jewison’s 1975 dystopian science fiction film Rollerball, published by the independent film and media studies publisher Auteur in 2018. He has contributed reviews and nonfiction to the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sight and Sound, Australian Book Review, the British Film Institute, and Australian Centre for the Moving Image. He has written two novels, Ghost Money (2012), a crime story set in Cambodia in the mid-90s, and Gunshine State (2016), and his short fiction has appeared in numerous print and online publications.
- Videos – Watch more sessions from the symposium.
- Book – Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1986 can be purchased from PM Press.