The Week That Was

Indiana! Temple! UCLA! What am I doing? THEE MOST.

Selfie Gold by Tananarive Due with Nalo Hopkinson!

This was near the end of an incredible week, most of which was spent on the road/in the sky and in the classroom. I managed to capture and receive some pictures, which I’m stoked to be able to share here, along with some notes from a wonderful experience learning & sharing with people who do amazing work on the topics I care about a great deal: Black futures & the power of popular culture to teach us about who we are.

Stop 1 of 3: Indiana University:

Professor DeWitt Douglas Kilgore, author of Astrofuturism, introduces the event. DeWitt is currently teaching a course titled “Yellow, Black, Metal, and Tentacled,” after a seminal essay on race & difference in speculative fiction. His students were among those present for my talk in IU’s Future Alterities lecture series. Faculty in the Science Fiction Research Collective, including Professor Rebekah Sheldon, invited me to present on Speculative Blackness and the arguments it engages. I couldn’t be happier to associate my work with these leading lights. It was a good occasion to reflect on how my thinking has evolved in the time since I formulated arguments about “the whiteness of science fiction” and “the speculative fiction of Blackness.”

  

I’ve come to think that the global context of racial discourse in the fantastic genres requires a broader understanding of the contours of colonial rationality. Having mapped itself onto the globe, colonial modernity propagates a system of rationality–an irrational rationality, much of the time–that’s at once totalizing and exclusionary. It pushes out alternative rationalities, such as those accompanying traditional modernities, and then it claims to “discover” spaces outside the rational that populate its margins. I call this “the speculative fiction of modernity/coloniality,” and I use it to anchor my reading of the heterogeneous responses to colonial modernity articulated in African & Black Diasporic cultures. I get at this tendency through a methodology I call “twinning,” which joins the analysis of queer futurity to Afrofuturism,  haunting, Surrealism, and other varieties of the speculative fiction of Blackness. In concrete utopias, these potentialities coexist, and they light the way to possible futures in which all the no-longer-conscious and not-yet-here forms of knowledge and being might take place.

I did a whole Prezi about it! Here it goes:

Thanks, Indiana. You’re (the) fantastic!

Stop 2 of 3: Graphic Thinking at Temple University:

Temple University’s Liberal Arts programs are strong, smart, and well-informed by interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching. My friend and colleague, Professor Michelle Pinto, teaches in the Intellectual Heritage program which provides core curriculum education to undergrads, and she got me invited to this conference on comics because she’s awesome and her students have a lot to learn from this little art form.

Historian Michelle Pinto, a world-class educator, expert researcher, and treasured colleague.

At Temple’s Graphic Thinking Conference, I was on a panel with some mad talented thinkers and practitioners, and we packed the room.

Presenting: Mohammed Hassan (Religious Studies scholar and comics critic) and Nicole Georges (author of Calling Dr. Laura and Fetch). And Ponyo!

Is this the best panelist photo ever?!

The conference was organized by Amy Defibaugh, and it featured an exhibition of artwork from the Charles Blockson Collection at Temple’s library, as well as some life-sized cutouts for the purpose of shenanigans selfies.

Right: That’s an Ollie Harrington comic about desegregation!

Center: “Captain America Boxed In,” by Jim Valadez.

The exhibit also included some material you’ll recognize from Queers & Comics! Left: Pudge, Girl Blimp, by Lee Marrs.

Among the topics we discussed were stereotypes and iconoclasts/breakthroughs in comics imagery, working in the comics profession, dealing with preconceived notions about the work comics can/should do with respect to representation… some good points made by Nicole and Mohammed included a) in the U.S., most people’s engagement with Muslims is so limited that they place a lot of pressure on a single person or image to confirm or dispel their biases and b) sexuality is such a minefield within the world of making comics and across their reception, largely because of cishet white bros and nerdbros (who were unpopular in high school, join the club) taking out their frustrations within a cultural niche that they believe belongs to them.

 

I talked about my Comics & Graphic Novels course, which is on deck for Winter quarter. As I have in the past, it’s a cross-cultural journey, showcasing comics that portray cross-cultural encounters as well as texts from a variety of comics traditions, U.S. “mainstream” and “underground”/alternative comix, bande dessinnée, and manga. I had a blast, overall. I heart ? comics because learning from them and learning about them seems to come to us intuitively, but when you slow down to consider why it works, it’s really remarkable that this is a form of literacy you can attain through practice. It opens up a whole world of experiences.

Books on books on books

Stop 3 of 3: Caaa-a-lifornia Lo-ovvve:

So, I’ve been to Northern & Southern Cali, but somehow I’ve never been to UCLA! Until now. The UC Black Studies Consortium (awesome) organized a brilliant panel discussion on Afrofuturism x Feminism, illustrated thus:

 Yes! That’s the Nalo Hopkinson & the Tananarive Due! And… me?! Oh gosh.

Shondrea Thornton, Nalo Hopkinson, Tananarive Due, me, and Jacqueline Barnes! Photo by UCLA AfAm Chair, Marcus Anthony Hunter.

Central to our discussion was the deep connection between Black feminist authors and activists and the possibilities for Black liberation we’re all–or most of us–hoping for. The questions posed by moderators Shondrea Thornton and Jacqueline Barnes were spot-on. We talked over our views on technology and surveillance; the impact of Octavia Butler; the flourishing of Afrofuturist thematics and imagery in pop culture, including artists like Solange, THEEsatisfaction, and Nnedi Okorafor–shoutouts to Nnedi Okorafor were abundant, in view of her HBO show on the horizon and the publication of Akata Warrior, amid other much-deserved successes; and we mused on the importance of self-possession as a practice and a goal. It’s important to take away the understanding that Nalo and Tananarive both acknowledge how their work is fantasy, as well as futuristic at times. I’m still here for the futurism part of Afrofuturism, with respect to concrete utopia, but as I have argued elsewhere, we don’t agree about what genre means. I also had to represent for Michael Burnham ??–for the second time in the week, I just celebrate her beautifully-lit, responsibly-styled visage–and Nubia! My Black Sister! via this t-shirt design–get your own!

Seriously, buy this shirt. https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/1810144-nubia-art-deco
Michael Burnham will always be Number One to me

The Q &A was also awesome. For example:

Meanwhile, this being California, the visuals were great, too!

  

I’m grateful for the opportunity to take part in conversations like this. And I’m future-grateful for the smart-as-hell conversations that are taking off from these spaces! Future-me is really lucky to benefit from the good work people will be able to do building on the ideas I get to share in the present.

Excellent shot of the panel by Verlena Johnson