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Octavia Butler was a visionary science fiction writer who influenced a generation of writers, artists and scholars from the 1970s until her death in 2006. She broke new ground as one of the first African American women writers to achieve critical success in the speculative fiction arena, a field historically dominated by white men. In celebration of what would have been her 70th birthday and in recognition of Butler’s enormous influence on speculative fiction Twelfth Planet Press is publishing a selection of letters and essays written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans. There are letters from people who knew Butler and those who didn’t; some who studied under her at the Clarion and Clarion West workshops and others who attended those same workshops because of her; letters that are deeply personal, deeply political, and deeply poetic; and letters that question the place of literature in life and society today.

 Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler is available for pre-order and is due out by mid-August. I’m thrilled to be in this collection! I’ve written elsewhere how I almost talked myself out of submitting and why you should never self-reject your work! The lineup of writers in LT, both new and established, is amazing and includes Tara Betts, Nisi Shawl, L Timmel Duchamp, Steven Barnes, K Tempest Bradford, Jewelle Gomez, Bogi Takács,  Sheree Renée Thomas, Aurelius Raines II and many others.

I wanted to know more about the editors of Luminescent Threads, Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, and what they learned from tackling a project of this magnitude. They kindly agreed to a joint interview and I’m delighted to welcome them to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

Senior Editor Alexandra Pierce is editor of the award-winning Letters to Tiptree and co-host of Hugo award-winning feminist SFF podcast Galactic Suburbia alongside Alisa Krasnostein and Tansy Rayner Roberts. She is also a part-time teacher, blogger, book reviewer and columnist for Tor.com.

Editor Mimi Mondal was born in Calcutta, India. She is a 2015 recipient of the Octavia E Butler Memorial Scholarship at the Clarion West Writing Workshop and the Poetry with Pakriti Prize in 2010. Her stories, poetry and social commentary have appeared in The Book Smugglers, Daily Science Fiction, Podcastle, Scroll.in, Muse India, Kindle Magazine, among other venues.

 

– Tell us about your new book. What inspired this project?

Alex: For me it was a desire to hear from people who have been inspired in different ways by Octavia Butler, as well as having the opportunity to get her name and reputation out to a wide audience. Butler was an amazing author and a remarkable person, in terms of how she has influenced writers and readers in lots of different circumstances. I wanted to help to celebrate that.

Mimi: I came in later into the project as the replacement for another editor, so the concept wasn’t mine. I had been the Octavia Butler Scholar to the Clarion West in 2015, so when someone asked me whether I’d be interested in co-editing an anthology of readers’ letters to Octavia Butler, I was immediately excited, even though socially and emotionally it wasn’t the best time for me to take up a new project. I wasn’t acquainted with the team but I admired their work on Letters to Tiptree, which assured me that this was a book I would enjoy being part of.

– How have you been influenced by Octavia Butler’s work?

Alex: I’ve been challenged by the way she thinks about power and consent and family. Power and consent are huge parts of many of her books, and she’s usually not presenting a straightforward argument about them. Family, too, is often complicated in her novels, and I’ve been intrigued to think about what it means to have a family, to be a family.

Mimi: I grew up in India, where I had practically never heard of Octavia Butler.

The most powerful thing I probably learned from her work is that weird, complex, imaginative, speculative things don’t only happen in white-people stories. For a long time my reading included only realist fiction by writers of color, and all the speculative, dystopian, space, superhero, monster, apocalypse stories seemed to be written by white people, featuring white people, for other white people. It made me feel awkward to even write those stories, because the terrain just didn’t feel mine. Butler’s work, to a large extent, helped me break out of that painful narrowness of perspective.

– What did you learn about yourselves as editors while working on Luminescent Threads?

Alex: I learned that I love helping people to express themselves! And I really like bringing different thoughts and perspectives together to present something greater than the indivisible pieces.

Mimi: I learned that people’s words can both make me cry and make me stronger. As an immigrant student in the United States, these past few months haven’t been kind to me. Editing is what I do for a living, but never have been so strongly moved by a book I edited.

– What’s one thing you wish more writers understood about submitting work for an anthology?

Alex: That guidelines are there for a reason! But also in terms of this project that neither Mimi nor I were doing this as an actual job; we both do other things in real life, as it were, and the editing is additional.

Mimi: I agree! When you’re writing for a specific call for submissions, make sure your work fits their guidelines, and you submit and communicate with the publication in the way they require. The speculative fiction community is far more informal than many other artistic communities. Everyone’s in it because they love the stuff. But that lack of a strictly imposed hierarchy shouldn’t mean that anything goes. You may have met or hung out with the editor(s) at a convention, but that doesn’t make you exempt of the word limit, deadline or theme they have put down for the anthology.

– What are some exciting trends in speculative fiction that you see in terms of diversity and representation?

Alex: the very existence of an understanding of the need of diversity is exciting at the moment. That people are becoming more vocal in speaking out about occasions when the importance of diversity clearly hasn’t been considered.

Mimi: The fact that I am here at all is something I find exciting. Growing up in India, I always wanted to be a writer but never knew if it was possible, because I don’t come from the kind of background writers traditionally came from back then, and the stories of the only kind of people I knew didn’t end up in books. I grew up reading pretty much only white male writers, and right now I probably read one white male writer a year, if that. There are so many other stories that are way more fun to read! I love it that this has come to be so, and I love it that I’m living in these times.

– What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Alex: Pay attention to the guidelines and communicate clearly with your editor!

Mimi: “Write a little bit every day, even if you’re not in the mood.” is a wonderfully effective tip that, unfortunately, I don’t follow. It has improved my writing exponentially in a very short time every time I’ve managed to do it for short periods, though, so maybe it’s worth passing on!

 

Alexandra Pierce is an editor, blogger and book reviewer. Connect with her at http://www. randomalex.net   Twitter: @randomisalex

Mimi Mondal is a writer from India, and the Poetry and Reprints Editor of Uncanny Magazine. Connect with her at: www.mimimondal.com   Twitter: @Miminality

 

 

 

 

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Affirmations-366Days#30: I actively name, claim and exclaim my writing aspirations.
For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

I am over the moon at finding Kiara Collins’s wonderful post on Octavia Butler’s recently discovered personal journal. This post was sent to me last night by my gifted writer teacher and friend, Melissa Delbridge. Octavia Butler was the first successful African American female speculative fiction writer. She wrote many highly acclaimed novels and was the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur Genius award. Her pioneering books explore the legacies of race, class and gender, and the challenges of independence and interdependence in human relationships. She is one of my favorite authors. I’ve written about the use of her term ‘positive obsessions’.

 

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And, as it turns out she used AFFIRMATIONS to help her imagine and embody her success as a writer. As someone who thought I knew a lot about her work, I was stunned by this revelation. I knew of her struggles, as an African American woman, to become a speculative fiction writer during a time when that was almost unthinkable. I also teach her wonderful essay, ‘Positive Obsession’ (from Bloodchild and Other Stories), where she chronicles her almost crippling self-doubt and ruminates over the sexism and racism that she faced in the 1960s and 1970s. But, I had no idea that she as Ms. Collins notes “literally wrote herself into existence” using affirmations. This is such an important confirmation about the power of affirmations. If you’ve been reading this blog since January, then you know that I’ve made a commitment to post one affirmation related to writing and/or creative practice every day for the entire year. I believe it will support my writing practice and experience of myself as a writer. I want it to be a fun and uplifting project and also helpful to others. Affirmations can provide mental and emotional support as we move toward our goals.

Here is her list of affirmations written on the back of her notebook:

octavia_butler_note

 

Looking at her list, a few things strike me about how she used affirmations:

They are written in the present tense. It’s helpful to reinforce that what we want is happening now.

They are handwritten. There is power in slowing down and writing by hand when playing with affirmations. Science tells us that different parts of our brain are activated when we write by hand.

She uses repetition. When writing affirmations, it’s helpful to use repetition. Most of the time, we’re trying to release deep seated negative mental patterns and so writing a powerful statement over and over is helpful.

She wanted her success to contribute to others. Several of Butler’s affirmations involved supporting African American young people. Our success should ripple out and positively impact others.

I hope you’ll add affirmations to your writing and/or creative toolkit in 2016.

See Kiara Collins’ post here.

Powerful. Dynamic. Tender. Truth-teller. In my first few interactions with Dr. Laurie Cannady, all these words went through my mind. We were suitemates this August at The Room of Her Own Foundation writing residency. We have several overlapping interests including academe, the health and well-being of African American girls and women and creative writing. Throughout the residency, we would stay up late into the night talking about books and life. I felt lucky that I got to spend so much time with her. I was thrilled to discover that Laurie’s new memoir Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul was being published this year. I shared with her my observation that there are too few memoirs written by women of color. I believe it is vital that women of color write about the context of our lives. When she read, during her allotted three minutes provided for each participant, the audience was entranced by the rhythm and power of her words. It was an unforgettable reading, marked by a standing ovation.

Dr. Cannady has published an array of articles and essays on poverty in America, community and domestic violence, and women’s issues. She has also spoken against sexual assault in the military at West Point. Her new memoir, Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul debuts in November with Etruscan Press. Dr. Cannady has as MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I’m delighted to welcome Laurie Cannady to The Practice of Creativity.

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-Tell us about your new book Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul. What inspired this book?

Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul is a coming-of-age memoir that chronicles a young girl’s journey through abuse and impoverishment. The effusive narration descends into the depths of personal and sexual degradation, perpetual hunger for food, safety and survival. While moving through gritty exposés of poverty, abuse, and starvation, Crave renders a continuing search for sustenance that simply will not die.

-What is your biggest hope for Crave as it meets readers?

My hope is that it will resonate with those who, like myself, have had to journey through one difficult situation after another, those who don’t always feel like they have a tight enough grasp on hope, but they work toward a healing anyway because they know there is a way out of the mess.

-While you were writing Crave, were there authors that you mined for inspiration?cannady03-210

I read so many books while crafting Crave. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls served as a constant source of inspiration. I especially focused on the way in which her narrative moved across space and time. Rigoberto Gonzalez’s Butterfly Boy made me brave as I told my story and the stories of those who shared life with me. His honesty kept me honest and he demonstrated the skill it takes to weave a narrative that includes the voices of family members and friends. I revisited several times Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, studying his voice and the way in which he depicted the tragedies he and his family faced. His lyric voice made some of the most painful scenes palatable.

– How do you handle the moments when you have to write a painful scene?

Oftentimes, I’ll put on music, songs that remind me of the scene I’m writing. The process of writing painful scenes is especially meditative for me. I try to place myself back in that situation so that I can write from the POV of who I was then, not as the woman I am now. (That comes during the revision process.) I usually have to be alone and I need silence. During really tough scenes, I ask my husband to check in on me in about an hour or so, just to make sure I’m not going too far and too deep. There have been times that I just needed him to hold me after the writing. His embrace reminds me that I’m not in that situation anymore and I am in a safe place. There were some scenes where that writing seeped into my waking world or into my dreams. For that reason, I have people in my life with whom I can share my fears and sadness. Much like a child, “it takes a village” to raise a memoir!

-What’s next to your bed (or in your Kindle)? What are you reading now?

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. While writing memoir, I think it’s important to practice self-care. Full Catastrophe Living not only reminds me of that, but it also gives me the tools to do so.

-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Write a page every day, no matter what, and don’t be afraid to allow your narrative to reveal things to you. When I first began writing memoir, I thought I had to write everything, as accurately as I could remember, to some self-imposed end. It took years to realize that my narrative had its own end and its own way in which it wanted to be relayed. So, writing a page a day was a relief. I allowed the scenes to unfold as they pleased and once that writing was done, I was able to shape all that I had written into Crave.

 

Laurie Jean Cannady is a professor of English at Lock Haven University, where she spends much of her time encouraging students to realize their true potential. She is a consummate champion of women’s issues, veterans’ issues, and issues affecting underprivileged youth. Cannady resides in central Pennsylvania with Chico Cannady and their three children.

Find out more about Laurie Cannady here.

Checkout Crave’s amazing book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFKPiUSQqBY#action=share

 

 

I know many smart and even brilliant people, but few that I would bet on winning a MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius’ award one day. I believe that Dr. Alexis Gumbs could have that in her future. A true renaissance person and visionary, she is almost single-handedly exposing the general public to black feminist concepts in multiple media and innovative ways. She is the creator of the ‘Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind’, a multi-media all ages community school based in the wisdom of black feminist literary practice. Alexis is a literary scholar with a PhD in English, Africana Studies and Women’s Studies from Duke University and a widely published poet and essayist. She is also a community activist and co-founder of the Mobile Homecoming Project, an experiential archive project documenting generations of “black LGBTQ brilliance”. Alexis was named one of UTNE Reader’s 50 Visionaries Transforming the World in 2009, was awarded a ‘Too Sexy for 501-C3’ trophy in 2011 and is one of the Advocate’s Top 40 under 40 features in 2012.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Alexis on my community based participatory research project with African American mothers and their adolescent daughters regarding their communication about health and sexuality. On this project I got to experience her creativity, knowledge of arts based approaches to community engagement and interdisciplinary training and learn from her. Those lessons have stayed with me.

I recently caught up with Alexis to talk about her new poetry book and current projects. I’m so happy to welcome her to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

alexisgumbs
Tell us about your new poetry collection, 101 Things That Are Not True About the Most Famous Black Women Alive. What inspired it? Are there recurring themes that you explore?

101 Things That Are Not True About the Most Famous Black Women Alive came out of an exercise that I designed for myself after listening to Diane Di Prima reading her poem “10 Things That Are Not True About the She Wolf.”  I thought to myself…what an interesting exercise.  What would it mean to write 10 things that are not true about Oprah, or Condoleeza Rice?   Those were the first two poems that I wrote for the collection and I found that there was something liberating about writing out things that were not true about women who are so famous that they seem to be universally known.

Usually I spend my time writing things that I believe to be true about women who are not famous by any stretch of the imagination, so this exercise flipped my practice inside out, but ultimately I found it to be a way to offer some love, breathing room and space in my relationship to women who I often critique (especially Rice).  At first I found myself wanting to push back against the media’s pretense of explaining and knowing these women through surveillance and stereotypes, but ultimately I had to admit that I was pushing back even more on some of my prejudgements of these highly visible black women.

As a black feminist I do feel that it is my responsibility to find a way to love and respect all black women, even those who make decisions that to do not align with my politics and those who I feel are different from me in very significant ways.  I found the exercise of writing 10 things that were not true about each of these women to be a way to access love for these women based on the very fact that I do not know them, and I do not know what might be behind some of their decisions and self-presentations.  That piece of every person that cannot be known is the possibility in them and is the reason they must be honored and cherished for what they might do, who they might become, who they might already be that no one could have ever predicted.

Much of your work stems from the legacy of African American feminists who were writing during the 1970s and 1980s. Why are their words important to your creative life?

I was born in 1982 and I feel everyday the consequences and liberations of what it means to have been born into a world which black feminists were transforming and rearticulating in urgent ways. When I first started reading their words as a teenager they gave me so much permission to believe in a world that could change in significant ways and to believe in the people around me as the energy of those changes.  I have been using Audre Lorde’s words as epigraphs to my own writing since high school and I continue to find a starting place, a jumping off point and a challenge in her words and the words of other black feminist writers that helps me to clarify and awaken myself as an artist.

-You are a scholar, essayist, teacher, blogger and activist. You manage to pack a lot into 24 hours! How do these different activities feed into each other and you?

I wake up really early, but I take a lot of naps. 🙂   For me research, writing for long-term and immediate audiences, designing educational rituals, and building community are all components of an ongoing act of love.   I see my whole life as an opportunity to honor my ancestors and love my communities in the best ways I can.   And my challenge to myself is to find deeper and clearer ways to do that daily.

You advocate a DIY approach to publishing and encourage other writers to explore self-publishing. What have been some of the benefits and challenges of this approach?

I strongly believe that multiple layers of publishing are important for creating the world of words that we deserve.  Self-publishing is a lot of work and it has the intimacy of hand to hand exchange. A self-published work can stay very close to the author and bring the author very close to audience. Sometimes we literally touch hands.  Sometimes I write your name on an envelope and lick a stamp. Sometimes I do layout myself and have to look at my own words sideways and upside down. I think self-publishing and book-making are forms of intimacy that I will never give up.  In addition sometimes the urgency of particular words towards a particular audience in a particular moment requires skipping over the long process of traditional publishing.  At the same time, I am reaching a point in my work where I need to enable my words to travel much further than my long arms can stretch.  For that purpose other publishing methods that require more time and more people become helpful too.

What’s the next project that you’re working on?

Oh there are so many projects.  One project that I am very excited about is a retreat in an eco-village in Jamaica called “Soon Come” for writers like me who are of Caribbean ancestry in diaspora and who find it a creative challenge and imperative to connect back “home” to the Caribbean. I am also in the process of getting feedback on a book of essays, a book of Toni Morrison inspired poems, a workbook inspired by the Combahee River Collective Statement and more!

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Write first.  Wake up and write first.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a queer black troublemaker, a black feminist love evangelist, a prayer poet priestess and has a PhD in English, African and African-American Studies and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University.  Alexis was the first scholar to research in the Audre Lorde Papers at Spelman College, the June Jordan Papers at Harvard University and the Lucille Clifton Papers at Emory University and is currently on tour with her interactive oracle project “The Lorde Concordance,” a series of ritual mobilizing the life and work of Audre Lorde as a dynamic sacred text.

Alexis has also published widely on Caribbean Women’s Literature with a special interest in Dionne Brand. Her scholarly work is published in Obsidian, Symbiosis, Macomere, The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Literature, SIGNS, Feminist Collections, The Black Imagination, Mothering and Hip Hop Culture, The Business of Black Power and more. Alexis is the author of an acclaimed collection of poems 101 Things That Are Not True About the Most Famous Black Women Alive and poetic work published in Kweli, Vinyl, Backbone, Everyday Genius, Turning Wheel, UNFold, Makeshift and more. She has several books in progress including a book of poems Good Hair Gone Forever, a scholarly monograph on diaspora and the maternal and an educational resource called the School of Our Lorde. She is also the co-editor of a forthcoming edited collection on legacies of radical mothering called This Bridge Called My Baby.

Alexis has been living in Durham, NC for almost a decade and has been transformed and enriched by holistic organizing to end gendered violence and to replace it with sustaining transformative love. Locally she is a founding member of UBUNTU a women of color and survivor-led coalition to end sexual violence, of the Earthseed Collective a black and brown land and spirit reclamation project and the Warrior Healers Organizing Trust, a community accountable foundation practicing organic reparations and transforming blood money into blood relations.

Find out more about Alexis through her multiple blogs and online communities:

http://blackfeminismlives.tumblr.com/
http://www.alexispauline.com/brillianceremastered/

http://www.mobilehomecoming.org/
http://brokenbeautiful.wordpress.com/lexicon
http://www.thatlittleblackbook.blogspot.com
http://www.blackfeministmind.wordpress.com

Purchase her poetry book: http://www.scribd.com/doc/114139208/One-Hundred-and-One-Things-That-Are-Not-True-About-the-Most-Famous-Black-Women-Alive


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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