As societies around the world dip their toes in authoritarianism, we’d like to elevate authors of speculative fiction who imagine alternatives or help us demand the impossible futures of our dreams. In the Resistance Writers interview series, we’ll hear from a handful of writers from the 2015 anthology, Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. Each writer elaborates on sources of inspiration and how activism informs their work. Our hope is to provide a source of guidance for aspiring writers of visionary fiction.
Tommy Chisholm (TC)
How did you get involved with the Octavia’s Brood project? How did the editors, Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown, discover your work?
Alexis Pauline Gumbs (APG)
adrienne and I have known each other for many years. She recently reminded me that I published her first work of poetry in the Soul Sister Literary Journal that I edited in college. Walidah and I met at an anarchist people of color conference in Asheville more than a decade ago. I think Walidah and adrienne knew that my writing was future focused, but I wasn’t writing anything I thought of as sci-fi or visionary fiction at the time. I really appreciate what they saw in my work. I’m so happy to be creating a future with both of them.
What was your inspiration for “Evidence?” Was it a piece you were already developing or did it come about once you were asked to participate in the Octavia’s Brood anthology?
For our anniversary (I think maybe it was our three year anniversary) my partner Sangodare Akinwale (Julia Roxanne Wallace) and I decided to do a workshop for ourselves about economics. As part of that day, we wrote letters to our current selves from our future selves after capitalism ends. That letter became the seed I drew on after adrienne and Walidah asked me to be a part of the anthology. When I thought about that future self I also thought about my own work as a researcher reaching back to earlier Black feminists and tried to imagine the future beings that might reach back towards me.
What kind of impact have you seen Octavia’s Brood make since its publication in 2015? What role do you think politically motivated fiction can play in today’s climate?
It has been so beautiful to see the impact of Octavia’s Brood since 2015. The concept that Walidah and adrienne have shared all over the world of “all organizing as science fiction” has empowered so many organizations to be more explicitly imaginative and creative in their work. I’ve seen prisoners creating their own anthologies of visionary fiction and countless courses, workshops and reading groups using visionary fiction to push themselves and grow. I think that visionary fiction is as relevant now as ever. It helps people think beyond the apocalypse or to describe more vividly what apocalypses we are headed towards.
In the current climate the United States is in, I see a lot of people (myself included) criticizing the powers that be, while taking little action. How did you find your voice, and your place within activist circles/movements? How have those experiences shaped your writing? What guidance might you give to aspiring artists/activists?
I first understood that I had an activist voice when I was a teenager writing for a citywide teen-run newspaper in Atlanta called VOX through a program called Youth Communication. Facilitating writing workshops with other young people taught me how revolutionary it was for us to listen to each other rigorously and to create our own worlds of perspective. I have also been grounded in the revolutionary work of my grandparents (who were central to the 1967 revolution in Anguilla) and my parents’ encouragement, which had me read work by Black revolutionaries from a very young age.
What kinds of fiction or what particular authors have shaped your thinking? When writing fiction, what comes first: the concepts and ideals you want to explore, or the characters? Do you write with a political goal in mind?
The authors that have shaped my thinking from a young age are Ntozake Shange, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and Nikki Giovanni (really poets most of all, I’m realizing), and when it comes to fiction Dionne Brand, Michelle Cliff, Jamaica Kincaid, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker have opened my imagination profoundly. And for me, what comes first is the process that I want to have with myself, the journey that I want to go on, the place that I want to live for a little while. What I love so much about visionary fiction, which I have been writing consistently since Walidah and adrienne sparked me with this project, is that it takes me to the limits of my imagination. I go to what I want the most, and what I think of as a utopia. Then I think about the problems there and they take me far and challenge me so deeply on the limits I am holding onto in my life right now.
Can you tell us about the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind? How’d you get involved?
The Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind started as one summer of potlucks called “The Summer of Our Lorde” where I worked with three organization in my community in Durham, NC to host monthly potlucks based on essays by Audre Lorde. People engaged so lovingly and craved the space so much that they kept asking me when the next one would be, and so in a sense, that summer never ended. It has now expanded into something I call a tiny Black Feminist University, which also has a lending and reference library that is evolving into a Black Feminist Bookmobile right now. There are online and in-person programs that are all based on sacred Black feminist texts and an interactive intergenerational learning model. I’m really proud and happy that current and former participants of the offerings in Durham and online are on the front lines of local, national, and international progressive direct actions for justice right now.
What are you currently working on, politically and/or creatively?
Right now I am working with a brilliant set of Black feminist and queer artists in the Twin Cities to create performative work based on my books Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity and M Archive: After the End of the World, which is amazing. The challenge and gift of embodying these worlds is teaching me so much. I am also working with Sangodare and our beloved friend-mentor-curator-artist-genius Courtney Reid-Eaton on the Black Feminist Bookmobile project and several books in process as always. 🙂
Alexis Pauline Gumbs walks in the legacy of black lady schoolteachers in post-slavery communities who offered sacred educational space to the intergenerational newly free in exchange for the random necessities of life. She’s a queer black troublemaker, a black feminist love evangelist and a prayer poet priestess, with a PhD in English, African and African-American Studies, and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University.
She honors the lives and creative works of Black feminist geniuses as sacred texts for all people. She believes that in the time we live in access to the intersectional, holistic brilliance of the black feminist tradition is as crucial as learning how to read. She brings that approach to her work as the provost of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind, a transmedia-enabled community school (aka Tiny Black Feminist University) and lending library based in Durham, North Carolina.
(This is an adapted quote from Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ website.)
Originally published at FrictionLit
Also available on Medium