Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jimi is fine

This week I found out that I've been nominated for a Hugo Award (for my short story "Selkie Stories Are for Losers"), and also for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. I am thrilled about this. I'm especially happy because this year was my last chance to get nominated for the Campbell, and because I share categories with writers I admire.

There has been plenty of talk about this year's Hugo ballot already, and there will be more. But I want you to forget all that for a moment and look at Jimi. Jimi is reading some science fiction. I don't know what year this picture was taken, but the book he's reading was published in 1965. What was going on in SF fandom in the late sixties? I don't know, but in this picture, Jimi is fine with it. Jimi is not bothered by any shenanigans. Jimi is in his zone with his book and he is totally fine.

look at how fine Jimi is

I'm taking my cue from Jimi. (In terms of reading SF, and maybe art--not down with the drugs and brawling.) Ultimately, speculative fiction is about words and worlds. It's a pretty resilient cultural form. It's going to keep growing and changing along with the communities who love it.

We're going to be fine, you guys. Peace.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Images from's "Pictures of the Week: April 4-11":

Apr. 7, 2014. Ushers carry a screaming and emotionally distraught woman out of Amahoro Stadium during the 20th anniversary commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Kigali, Rwanda

Apr. 9, 2014. Detained Somali men are lined up as police officers are reflected in a window at the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi, Kenya

Apr. 6, 2014. People visit with loved ones through the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Friendship Park in San Ysidro, CA. Many deported families and friends visit each other, mainly on weekends, at the park after being separated by immigration officials

Filed under simultaneity. Filed under trauma. Filed under restriction. Filed under wall.

Filed under illegal people. Dehumanization. Separation. Reasonable force.

Filed under "Never again."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

where are you?

Somali women and children being loaded onto trucks in Nairobi. Over 1000 people have been arrested in the wake of last week's deadly blasts in Eastleigh.

Where are you?

On Twitter, the #kasaraniconcentrationcamp hashtag rolls out details, outrage, and, most disturbingly, orphaned bits of information, without confirmation or source, the kind you both want and fear to believe. "My friend who's there told me." "That photo's a fake." "Look." "Don't look." Questions without answers and answers without authority. Signals from the Kenyan capital, where now it is night.

Call your uncle.

Call your parents.

Where are you? Where are your feelings right now? What is the role of feeling in diaspora?

Where are they?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

on the university: lament, warning, plan

Three books about the university I've read in 2014:

1. The Lament

Depression: A Public Feeling
Ann Cvetkovich

It is a truth universally acknowledged that people in academia are sad. I mean, ok, maybe not universally, but certainly in every university corridor, bathroom, and faculty lounge, and the idea seems to be gaining wider attention. Ann Cvetkovich asks why we're so miserable. “Why is a position of relative privilege, the pursuit of creative thinking and teaching, lived through as though it were impossible?” To answer the question, she uses a combination of memoir and criticism, addressing her own depression as well as the sadness of others. Depression: A Public Feeling both is and is not a self-help book: the compelling notion that depression is political, that it grows from the pressures of living through realities such late capitalism and white supremacy, sits oddly with the idea that we should stay with our sadness rather than fighting its external causes, or that the best we can do may be gardening or knitting. For me, the book is both welcome (basically because it chops away at the myth of "this is totally doable, you can have work-life balance and also be successful, what's wrong with you"), and vaguely disappointing. This review of it is great if you want to know more.

2. The Warning

Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University
Gaye Tuchman

Now as soon as you read THIS one you'll be like, no wonder we're depressed! Wannabe U is an ethnography of a public research university, one that's "innovating" and "transforming itself," and if these terms are familiar to you, Tuchman advises you to prepare for the apocalypse. She doesn't claim that thought in the university was ever "free"--she acknowledges academia's roots in religious institutions--but she argues pretty convincingly that in being "de-churched," the university's ideological justification has been "recast in terms of corporatization and commodification." Why should we care? Well: "Universities are no longer to lead the minds of students to grasp truth; to grapple with intellectual possibilities; to appreciate the best in art, music, and other forms of culture; and to work toward both enlightened politics and public service. Rather they are now to prepare students for jobs. They are not to educate, but to train." And also: "The market logic has amassed some accomplishments, including the transformation of students into consumers, of education into a commodity, of research into a revenue stream, as well as the imposition of centralized authority on academic matters."

Have some key words. Workforce development. Audit culture. Centralization. Bureaucratization. Coercive accountability. Are there lots and lots of administrators at your university? Does the university keep hiring more? You should have a backpack containing water and a first aid kit in your car. Are you required to fill out dizzying numbers of forms in service to "transparency"? What about developing assessment rubrics for "consistency"? You need to start stockpiling canned food. "[E]ach increase in efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control produces yet more efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control." Don't forget to pack your Foucault.

To me, the most intriguing claim Tuchman makes, which she really just throws out briefly in a couple of pages, is that the only thing worse than a U.S. university is a British university. Apparently the British have achieved even greater state control of their unis and are more efficiently transforming knowledge into capital. Tuchman wonders why more people in the U.S. are not looking across the pond to see where we might be a few years from now, and listening to what British academics have to say about it. Seems like it might be worth pursuing.

3. The Plan

The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study
Stefano Harney and Fred Moten

Hey academic friends, are you ready to quit now? Well, before you do, I suggest you read The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten (which you can do right now by clicking the link! PDF!!!). This is a passionate series of essays, with a wonderful long interview at the end, that draws on black radical thought to critique and reimagine academic practice. Key words here include study, planning, policy, and debt. It's not a book that shies away from grim realities--in fact, to me at least, it's more heartening than either Cvetkovich's or Tuchman's books, because its examination of the university is anchored in a history of conquest that continues through current processes such as mass incarceration. "The slogan on the Left, then, 'universities, not jails,' marks a choice that may not be possible. In other words, perhaps more universities promote more jails." This is actually more depressing than anything said by either Cvetkovich or Tuchman. And yet the book is, as I said, more heartening, invigorating, inspiring.

I think this is partly because it's just a relief when somebody says what's going on (and by the way H&M use Marvin Gaye's song "What's Going On" in a fascinating way that might make you notice new doorways to open in the classroom). And while Tuchman is very sharp on what's going on in the corporate university, she doesn't really relate it to what's going on outside, except insofar as the state and corporations are encroaching on and controlling what is, or should be, for Tuchman, the independent space of the university. (Side-note: Tuchman sees corporatization coming from the business world into the university, while H&M see it going the other way! For them, the university is a lab for corporations, where they can try out forms of control that are then exported into the office. Like having people work at tables in groups to make them feel more supported, who knows, maybe even what shade of carpeting stimulates productivity! LET'S NOT GET PARANOID THOUGH. Anyway, if anyone has thoughts on which way these managerial strategies are going, I'd love to hear them).

Also heartening is the way Harney and Moten refuse academic misery. They refuse "the belief that intellectual work requires alienation and immobility and that the ensuing pain and nausea is a kind of badge of honor, a kind of stripe you can apply to your academic robe or something." Like Cvetkovich, they are interested in feeling, but only as a starting point. Here's Fred Moten in the interview:

I was just always like: the university is fucked up. It’s fucked up over here. Why is it fucked up? Why is it that shit ain’t the way it should be here? Yeah, there’s some stuff here, but obviously there’s stuff in other places too. The point is: it’s fucked up here, how can we think about it in a way to help us organize ourselves to make it better here? We were trying to understand this problematic of our own alienation from our capacity to study--the exploitation of our capacity to study that was manifest as a set of academic products. That’s what we were trying to understand. And it struck us that this is what workers who are also thinkers have always been trying to understand. How come we can’t be together and think together in a way that feels good, the way it should feel good? For most of our colleagues and students, however much you want to blur that distinction, that question is the hardest question to get people to consider. Everybody is pissed off all the time and feels bad, but very seldom do you enter into a conversation where people are going, “why is it that this doesn’t feel good to us?” There are lots of people who are angry and who don’t feel good, but it seems hard for people to ask, collectively, “why doesn’t this feel good?” I love poetry, but why doesn’t reading, thinking, and writing about poetry in this context feel good?

The question leads to the development of a series of concepts that rethink social life, especially academic life, through slave revolts, anti-colonial uprisings, Occupy, and other forms of what you may wind up thinking of us study or planning. There are tools here. Click the link.

Monday, March 24, 2014

why you should go to ICFA

I just got back from the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Here are 10 reasons you should go:

1. Wonderful guests of honor.
With ICFA 35 Guest of Honor Nnedi Okorafor

2. "Penfield Wave Transmitter and a Blush Response: Performing Posthuman Sexuality and the Use of Science Fiction in Contemporary Art." That is the title of one of the conference papers, presented by Ayanna Dozier. I mean. Hello.

3. There are academic papers AND readings by authors all weekend long. You can choose the kind of conference you'd like to have! It's like choose your own adventure! Seriously, it's excellent for the brain to hear readings of original fiction and also academic presentations. I'd only like it more if there were mixed creative/academic panels.

4. They give awards for academic papers, including student papers, and fiction. This means you have a chance to meet rising young stars in the field, although every once in a while some random 42-year-old comes along and wins the Crawford.


5. ICFA is full of people who write (often both fiction and criticism) and also teach. This makes it a great place to discuss what Edward Gorey called the "unspeakable horror of the literary life."

6. Book recommendations.
Jeffrey Ford told me to read this.
That probably means you should read it too.

7. To be real--and this is the only even slightly critical thing I have to say about the conference, which I've been to twice--ICFA is not particularly well-attended by people of color. I would love to see more of us there, so, those of you who read this blog, please contact me if you'd like to go, or work up a panel with me sometime, or just for questions or tips or whatever.

8. Sometimes there's a contest! This year ICFA shared the hotel with a John Deere tractor convention, and there was a flash fiction contest on the theme of the tractor. Prize: a genuine John Deere hat.

9. You can see wildlife from the hotel.
Photo courtesy of Theodora Goss.
(in the sense of "ripped from her Twitter feed")

10. Parties.
With Ilana Teitelbaum & Theodora Goss.
You should come next time.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

how to get back to the forest

So I have a story in the latest issue of Lightspeed Magazine, it's called "How to Get Back to the Forest" and it's about girls and rebellion and vomit. This is the art for it, by Galen Dara. There's also an interview in which I talk about my inspiration for the story--three writers basically, Eileen Myles and Dodie Bellamy and Kate Zambreno--and revolutionary nausea. I talk about how nausea is contagious, and how revolt can be contagious too, but I don't talk about how form can be contagious, the actual form of writing, so I thought I'd mention that here.

Back when I did my conversation with Kiini Ibura Salaam, we talked about influence--that is, I asked her about her influences, and she said she dreaded the question, and then we went back and forth about it, but anyway, what I said was that I feel I've absorbed certain forms of writing through reading. Absorbed them almost against my will--"through adoration," I said. Through the kind of intoxicated repetition I'm beginning to call "study" (because of a book by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten I've just read, which is going to be the subject of another post). Well, that's what happened to me with the three pieces I mention in the interview--Eileen Myles' "Everyday Barf" and Dodie Bellamy's "Barf Manifesto" and Kate Zambreno's "Apoplexia, Toxic Shock, and Toilet Bowl: Some Notes on Why I Write." And this is something Bellamy, who was influenced (infected?) by Myles, writes about in her essay, that she found herself writing in the same way, or I guess she says she "wanted" to write that way: "Like Eileen I wanted my last paragraph to be the longest, and I wanted it to twist and turn." I wanted the same thing, I wanted my character to be overcome by the end of the story, and for that to be reflected in the form. Waves of thought and language. The character's getting ready to take a terrible, exciting step. For me, that step was this story.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

review: Lackington's Magazine, Issue 1

I've never reviewed a magazine before, but now seems like a good time to start, since Lackington's Magazine, a new journal of speculative prose, has arrived on the scene. Issue One features work by some of my favorite writers of speculative fiction, and each story is illustrated with original artwork. The image at left, by Paula Arwen Friedlander, accompanies "Mon pays c'est l'hiver," a poignant and jewel-like fairy tale by Amal El-Mohtar. Amal is one of my favorite writers, and she edits the poetry journal Goblin Fruit with Jessica Wick and Caitlyn Paxson, and as soon as I saw she had a piece in Lackington's I remembered a conversation, which took place maybe a year ago, maybe more, among several people who were saying, "We wish there was a Goblin Fruit for prose."


So goodbye Goblin Fruit fans, because by this time you have all left to read Lackington's, as well you should. For the rest of you, what I mean by "Goblin Fruit for prose" is that Lackington's offers fiction that's fantastical in the manner of folk ballads and romances, with that same sense of mystery and richness of language, but which turns the romantic impulse toward a broad range of subjects: contemporary identities, trauma, 20th-century history, sorority rivalries, interplanetary travel, the bond between humans and their pets. The stories draw on different branches of speculative fiction--fairy tale, epic fantasy, science fiction, slipstream--but share the common ground of attention to and delight in language. Lackington's Magazine is a feast of words.

Issue One contains the following stories:

Their Dead So Near, by Kate Heartfield

Secret history of Ottawa. Forgotten bones, fragments of text from headstones, ghostly voices under the dog park.

Mon pays c'est l'hiver, by Amal El-Mohtar

"She folds oceans into hours, pens hours into thoughts, pins thoughts to the sight of a tilting moon shining a blue light home." A luminous parable about making, rather than finding, your way home.

An Orange Tree Framed Your Body, by Alex Dally MacFarlane

A story about memory, trauma, identity and family unfolds in a vividly imagined alternate universe.

Death and the Girl from Pi Delta Zeta, by Helen Marshall

Sharp, wicked tale of a romance with Death. Death has eyes the color of pigeon feathers. Like a movie star, he can't tell you his real name.

Balloons, by Christine Miscione

A woman is rescued by a dog--perhaps once, perhaps twice--in this brief story of renewal and death.

A City on Its Tentacles, by Rose Lemberg

"There is an octopus in the heart of the Undersea; its every tentacle carries a street, a city, and at night when its people light their reading lamps the octopus shimmers." The story you tell might save someone. A Rose Lemberg story might save you.

On Every Boy's Skin (All the Stars Ever, Also Bones), by Erik Amundsen

Melancholy story about interplanetary travel, adaptation and loss.

"Story and character are indispensable," says Lackington's editor Ranylt Richildis, "but so is wordcraft." In the foreword to the issue, Richildis argues that speculative fiction is dominated by "dependable frameworks and digestible language," by a "hook-plot-epiphany" structure that results in an "unintentional sameness" in the genre. Lackington's is meant to provide something different, richer and stranger in form, and Issue One succeeds brilliantly. It's the flashes of poetry I remember most clearly from my reading--the detached words from gravestones scattered over the page in "Their Dead So Near," the evocative titles to the sections of "An Orange Tree Framed Your Body," the abalone lighthouse of "A City on Its Tentacles," the velvet evenings of "Mon pays c'est l'hiver." I'll be keeping my eye on Lackington's, as will many other readers--the travelers and ravelers, to borrow Amal's words. Welcome, new magazine!