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Other worlds are possible

June 24, 2010

Attending the US Social Forum now taking place in Detroit has one major drawback. With around a thousand workshops to choose among, how do you decide which nine or ten to attend? The bright side of this dilemma is that you are bound to find some topics that exceed your wildest workshop dreams.

That’s how I felt when I took part in “Other Worlds Are Possible: Visionary Fiction, Organizing and Imagining the Future.” I confess, I am a science fiction geek. When I stare at the two thousand worthwhile non-fiction titles on the shelves of The Bloom Collective during my shift, I am shamed that I can better describe the history and peoples of the planet Arakis than the roots of anarchism and its major players.

Imagine my delight in hearing the facilitators, including poet and journalist,  Walidah Imarisha, and Morrigan Phillips, editor and contributor to LeftTurn magazine, describe the role of visionary fiction in creating social change.

What is visionary fiction? Visionary fiction explores current social issues. It raises consciousness about identity in terms of race, class, gender and power. The plots involve social transformations happening from the bottom up. Ultimately, power will be wielded by the oppressed.

Did you know W.E. B. DuBois wrote a sci-fi short story, “The Comet” in the 19-teens where a working class black man and a rich white woman are the only two people left on earth? Other writers of visionary fiction discussed included Octavia Butler, Derrick Bell and Ursula LeGuin.

“White male sci-fi writers say visionary fiction bastardizes the genre,” one facilitator noted. “And authors of color are not acknowledged as writing that genre as their books are often shelved in the “Black” section in bookstores.”

After reading the introductory pages of Derrick Bell’s short story, “Space Traders,” workshop attendees discussed how the story addresses the historical oppression of people of color, the role of religion and hierarchy in colonialism and how racism shapes people’s judgments of themselves and others.

Unlike a non-fiction treatise of any of those issues, visionary fiction can engage a wider audience and remove barriers to seeing empire, militarism, racism, environmental concerns and gender inequity issues in a new and realistic light.

Another world is possible–but we have to envision it first. Write on!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Kate Wheeler permalink
    June 25, 2010 6:40 pm

    I love the sound of this workshop. It makes perfect sense that lifting social issues out of our world and putting them into another would offer clarity and objectivity; and then to show how certain choices lead to better conclusions lies in the hands of the author. All of this can be done in an engaging and nonthreatening way.

    I’m not really versed in the sci-fi genre myself, but it’s clear from films like “Avatar” that this approach can have widespread appeal.

    Thanks so much for this report.

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