I was at the Society for Utopian Studies conference in St. Petersburg–no, Florida is not utopia, but there were birds! And academics. (And some sort of motivational speaker event, but I had nothing to do with that.) Then, it was Halloween weekend. But I’m getting ahead of myself–who am I, Everett Ross?
The Society for Utopian Studies is a long-standing organization dedicated to scholarly exploration of the utopian tradition in literature and culture. I dig this, because I’m basically a utopian at heart, and I find it’s necessary to hold on to a sense of wonder in a world
that hates and fears mutants where state-sanctioned and extralegal violence/dispossession are all too common features of everyday life for people who look like me. Real-world efforts to create utopian communities are not my bag, but I do find it really vital to learn from and practice concrete utopia in the sense articulated by Ernst Bloch and redeemed by José Muñoz in Cruising Utopia (by the way, you can read the introduction to the book right there).
I came to the conference at the invitation of Justin Nordstrom from Penn State to participate in a roundtable discussion of Speculative Blackness with utopian studies scholars. It was great! The panelists included Dr. Nordstrom, Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor of Penn State (President of the Society), Hugh O’Connell of UMass-Boston, and Hoda Zaki of Hood College. And me. It’s still surreal to arrive at a place where my work precedes me in such a concrete way, but I was really fortunate to benefit from the reflections of such thoughtful colleagues and such an engaged audience. I’m all about engaged audiences! That is my whole thing. I also reiterated my gratitude for a watershed intervention from early in the career of Daphne Patai, “Utopia for Whom?” an article that sparked my continuing deference to the feminist science fiction movement as the proving ground for a critique of genre that upends its conventional relationship to the social.
I attended some panels on Race & Identity, on American Dystopian texts, on Utopia and theory, I made some new friends (probable future collaborators), and I heard from people whose work speaks to biopolitics and notions of the speculative informed by finance. I live-tweeted a number of the presentations, as well. This was great, because it allowed me to get into conversation with people who weren’t there and to connect in advance with some people who were. This allowed me to get hip to some fascinating work in Black Religious Studies. Speaking of Twitter, because the conference was in Florida, I was excited to see birds!
After I returned home, it was time for a friend’s Halloween party. That’s a story for another time and place. Next up: the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts conference in Atlanta!
This will be my third time in ATL this year. I really should respond to that open call for extras in Black Panther…