The Black Tribbles speak with writer Adrienne Maree Brown about recognizing the science fiction aspect of the many social justice movements of the last few years.
The Black Tribbles dedicated the entire month of April to remembering the life, works and legacy of noted science fiction author Octavia Butler. The prolific writer of Afrofuturistic tales such as “Kindred,” “Fledgling” and “Lilith’s Brood (Xenogenesis)” passed away suddenly in 2006 only to give rise to a star whose light beckons a legion of scribes, poets, musicians and activists to continue her exploration of race, inclusion and social justice in the form of ‘visionary fiction.’ That diverse collective of fans and their singular looks into these themes, via fiction and essays, are presented in “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements” (AK Press).
We spoke with editor Adrienne Maree Brown, visiting Philadelphia as part of a yearlong tour in support of the book. Along with paying homage to the author who inspired her toward a writing career, which has touched the Huffington Post, WashingtonPost.com and more, Ms. Brown talks about recognizing the science fiction aspect of the many social justice movements of the last few years and how the project was able to snare a surprising Trekker for a think-piece on Star Wars.
Why choose a theme of social justice for a book so clearly steeped in science fiction?
(Co-editor) Walida Imarisha and I got together several years ago, because we were both obsessing over the idea that science fiction was a place to explore social justice concepts and ideology. All organizing is science fiction; anyone working to bend the future and change the world is actually engaged in a science fiction activity.
Octavia Butler gave us orders to see ourselves as shape-shifters, changers of the future. If we see ourselves that way and take on that responsibility, then our next piece is to see what our particular work is within that. We are writers; we are organizers. So the project came out of both of us feeling passionate about that [calling] and looking around at the landscape of exciting organizers at the forefront, thinking about these changes, engaged in the possibility of what’s over the horizon.
You approached many of the genre’s noted writers, but you also reached out to non-fiction authors and some who don’t see themselves as writers at all.
It was a massive experiment. A lot of people were very skeptical — “I don’t write fiction” — and rightfully so. The main confession we kept getting was “I’ve never seen Star Wars.” But we were looking for something other than that, and what we received reshapes the genre (genrecide!), smashing it in order to take it to another level. It’s sci-fi, fantasy, magical, realism, myth, horror — it’s all in there and then we go beyond that.
What does Octavia Butler mean to you, and why was it important to honor in the title of the project?
Octavia Butler is my patron-saint-goddess-prophet. There’s something different that comes out when a black woman, who is marginalized in society, is writing about the future. There are some places that she can access that really make me feel safe and challenged.
She didn’t want to be the only one doing this so [“Octavia’s Brood”] is an invitation, giving us permission to say that Star Trek was incredible. William Gibson is amazing. There are all these brilliant white sci-fi writers, and a lot who are not brilliant, not pushing the edge with anything exciting. We might as well put ourselves out there into that future as well.
Talk about reaching out to Mumia Abu Jamal (who outs himself as a Trekker in the book) and receiving his perspective on ‘Star Wars’?
Walida’s work in support of political prisoners — visiting them, organizing on their behalf — was instrumental in that regard. When we first got the idea for the book, she said, “I know Mumia is a geek, and I think he could have some really great content to offer.”
We gave him the option of providing a piece of fiction or an essay, and what we ended up getting from him was a piece on “Star Wars” and American imperialism. It basically talks about: Why did America suck this up? Why did we take this “Star Wars” and become completely obsessed with it? It speaks about our desire to see ourselves as the rag-tag rebels all the time while articulating that the rebels are not that many steps away from the Empire.
We have an audio recording of him reading his piece that we play at all of our events. He says, “I am your Father, Luke,” and it’s just a mind-blowing experience to hear [Mumia Abu Jamal] say that.
“Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements” is available now at fine bookstores and online everywhere. Visit octaviasbrood.com for tour dates in your area.
Each month, Philadelphia’s prolific podcasters, the Black Tribbles (winners of the 2014 Streaming Project of the Year award), visit Speak Easy with special reports on everything sci-fi, comic books, movies, video games, cartoons, and other stuff that every nerd needs to know.
Tribble Nation is a new monthly podcast focusing on the geek in every color imaginable, from scientist to author, from comic book artist to comic book collector. Each episode features an interview with a special guest and a review of current topics within his or her field of geek interest.