Being Ayize Jama-Everett at FOGCon

Last year, at the Bay Area Book Festival, I listened to (and wrote about) a fabulous panel of speculative fiction writers, including Ayize Jama-Everett. I ended up coming home from that panel, and finding to my surprise (and horror, frankly) that there was no English Wikipedia article on him.

One of the niche areas that is impressively covered by enWP editors is that of science fiction and science fantasy, especially for writers from the United States. I could only think of Ayize’s absence from that coverage for one reason: that even when you’re a well-meaning Wikipedian who loves science fiction, it’s likely that you’re white and male, and reading primarily white writers. So in my ongoing quest to write Wikipedia articles on marginalised communities and themes, I created a stub on Ayize over the next few days.

Through asking Ayize for a triangulation of facts and a photograph (a task that took some persuasion), we ended up getting to know each other, and I learnt a great deal about Afrofuturism.

Then Ayize was invited to be an Honoured Guest at this year’s FOGcon (Friends of the Genre Convention) – an intimate, deep geek gathering of science fiction and fantasy writers and readers in the Bay Area, that took place over this past weekend. One of the conversations he had was with Lonny Brooks, on what it means to be an Afrofuturist and an African-American SF writer who dreads writing about the future, when the present is already so disturbing.

To my surprise, and delight, I was invited to write a reflection about Ayize for their conference booklet, as is their practice. Quite truly a privilege, given folks like Sherryl Vint and Steven Barnes have written about past Honoured Guests like Donna Haraway and Honoured Ghosts like Octavia Butler. Tell me what you think of mine.

Ayize slips between human and plant, between reality and fantasy, between philosophy and fiction, and offers up a liminality which is where we all live, if we are honest enough to recognise it. He pushes us beyond binaries with deft dark humour and the confidence of living in multiple spaces himself. Despite being a theologian, a psychologist, and a teacher, Ayize never gives in to either the righteousness of philosophy and psychology, or the self-consciousness of pedagogy. He leaves it to us to wander amazed in the worlds he constructs for us, or – as is far more likely – hurtling between them in gasping breaths of questions, about ourselves, about each other, about the ways in which our marginal, liminal selves can get centered in a writer’s imagination.

And that, perhaps, is the greatest gift Ayize gives us. He once said, “There’s a big wound in not being seen, in having your reality not being represented in any way.”[3] Yet that lack of representation is not solely of race, or gender, or sexuality, or age, or… it’s a wound of invisibility that comes from not being easily categorised, even as those around you try strenuously to fit you into a box of their shaping.

Satire is not yet dead…

Here’s a telling piece, written about the elections as though the USA were an African nation.

The US of A, a nation located in the center of the North American continent, is shaken by its latest electoral results, which threaten the weak racial equilibrium the nation has painstakingly built since the abolition of racial segregation, a mere half a century ago, thus heralding a fresh round of racial tensions and social instability.

 And from within the US, “My Fair Trump”:
Obama: I understand that it can be difficult to go from not having to read or study or do anything even a tiny bit hard or boring at all, ever, to being the CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE MOST POWERFUL NATION ON EARTH, whose life is an unceasing parade of unpleasant responsibilities and difficult decisions, but, please, focus. The second article — what do you think that deals with?
Trump: That’s the one that says everyone has to have a gun.
Obama: Okay, I think I see what our mix-up is here. That is the Second Amendment (mumbles); also that’s not exactly what the second amendment says, but — (louder) I’m talking about Article II, which deals with the powers of the executive. That power has limits, Donald. Are you paying attention? It is important to understand what those limits are. I know I’ve issued my share of executive orders — take that out of your mouth, Donald.
Donald Trump spits out a curtain tassel.

Defending our Dreams: revisited

As I start packing for the #AWIDForum, excited and grateful I’m going to see so many old friends who have sustained me through the years (and make new ones to inspire me now), I realise that the last AWID Forum I was at was Bangkok 2005. Where we launched Defending Our Dreams (AWID and Zed Press), afaik the first ever international anthology of young feminist analyses.

DoD was a labour of love and passion for Shamillah Wilson, Kristy Turest-Swartz and me, with the faith and incredible inspiration of Peggy Antrobus, and with the amazing contributions and collaborations of a bunch of fabulous feministas. It’s been ten years, sistahs!

As I look back, this excerpt from the introduction (pulled together with Shams’ thoughts and my crazed writing at 5 in the morning one long ago day in Bangalore), still seems relevant. What do you think?

“We are straddling many complex identities and locations; we are both insider and outsider, rooted in our origins and yet diasporic in our natures. Very often the only way we survive is by using spaces in-between: spaces where we create our own families and communities. Feminist communities have been one such space, where we have flourished and grown. We are a generation of feminists who dream and imagine – like those before us, and no doubt, like those after us – many other worlds. We defend those dreams in our engagement as advocates, organizers, spokespersons, protesters, researchers, and strategists in social movements across the globe. We believe that our energies, friendship, love, creativity, and passionate advocacy for equality and justice can spark holistic visions, fresh analyses, and new strategies for change. We hope that we will embody our own visions of leadership – of being both follower and leader, of being inspired, and becoming inspiration.”

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Where On the Internet is Your Knowledge?

So Siko Bouterse, Carmen Alcázar, María Sefidari, Sydney Edmonds Poore and I are off to Bahia, Brazil, in a week. We’ll be at the AWID Forum – a gathering of 2000 feminists from over 40 countries – as the Wikimujeres delegation. It’s going to be a powerful opportunity for different avatars of mine to come together – the feminist with the free knowledge advocate – and a wonderful space to meet old friends and new.

More on what we’ll be doing there, in this piece I wrote published by AWID, Where On the Internet is Your Knowledge?

…our knowledge is not yet on the internet as it should be. Whether it is our lives as women, our experiences as feminists, our histories as indigenous peoples, our struggles as trans women, our analyses as black academics, our achievements as disability rights activists… very little of our complex knowledge and wisdom is easily accessible to the rest of the world.

Why is this a problem? Because the internet is becoming the default reference and library of the world, especially for young people and powerful decision-makers. And the less we are seen, the less we are heard, the less we are known… the more difficult it is for us to inspire, to challenge, to change the world.

For those who’ll be at the AWID Forum, come find us! For those who won’t be there, join us virtually! @WhoseKnowledge will be launching its mapping process, and all the #WikiMujeres will be working on improving Wikimedia content on feminists and women’s human right issues. We’re excited!

Musawah and other musings

Three weeks ago, I decided to give myself a #10wikiweeks challenge: write a Wikipedia article every week, for ten weeks. The first two weeks, I wrote about Freedom Nyamubaya and Peggy Antrobus, amazing feminists from Zimbabwe and the Caribbean, respectively. Now I’m into Week 3, and it happens to be the first week of Ramzan/Ramadan this year. So here’s my iftar offering: an article on the incredible network of global feminists working on feminist interpretations of Islam, Musawah. Many of those in the network are personal inspirations, and they delightfully confuse and confound the stereotypes around Muslim women (as though this is a homogenous category). I would love to know how many of you knew Musawah existed, and how many of you are surprised and pleased to know what they do. Ramzan Kareem, everyone!

I also snuck in an article earlier in the week, on Ayize Jama-Everett, the inspiring African-American science fiction writer I heard at the Bay Area Book Festival last weekend. I’m rarely shocked by gaps in the English Wikipedia, but this one did surprise, given that Ayize is a US citizen, and has written a fairly acclaimed trilogy. Wonder why he got left out, despite obvious notability? People do often choose to write about what they know (and whom they look like), including on Wikipedia.

As Siko Bouterse and I have said on Whose Knowledge?: there is a historical process of socio-cultural colonisation and imperialism that has outlasted the territorial. In a sense, the ‘global South’ and the ‘global North’ are political terms of geography, history, as well as ideological and material dis/privilege: there is a ‘global South’ in the global North and vice-versa.


Shut Up and Listen (also, Read).

20160604_103350Just back from two days at the Bay Area Book Festival in downtown Berkeley, where we bookended our time with the most brilliant panel yesterday of five authors of speculative and subversive fiction in which only *one* was a white dude (and the others covered a multiplicity and intersectionality of races, ethnicities, genders and sexualities), and ended today with an Egyptian transnational secular Muslim feminist speaking with a Bay Area African American feminist.

20160604_112602In between, we went to a panel of science nerds who write about cooking, linguistic nerds who are conlangers (those who construct languages) for shows like the Game of Thrones and the Expanse, wandered down Radical Row and talked revolutions, and made friends with bookshelves in the middle of the road. Bibliophile, activist, heaven.

While my brain is still processing and sedimenting all I learnt, I’ll leave you with a few brilliant lines from Harlem/Bay Area African American science fiction writer, Ayize Jama-Everett, who when asked how/if his speculative fiction is also subversive, said: “I’m a black man in America. Every thing I *do* is subversive… When I read about utopias, I ask: where are the black people? …Writing is both an act of lunacy and bravery. It’s blood on a page.”

And the final final word from the fabulous Mona Eltahawy, speaking to the equally fabulous Chinaka Hodge, to folks who think about ‘rescuing’ people from ‘over there’ and bringing them back ‘over here’, mistakenly thinking ‘over here’ is not equally (if differently) misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, homophobic… “We’re doing our own work ‘over there’. Work on your own ‘over here’… and don’t forget to shut up and listen”.

Yes, my brother, my sister. *mic drop*.

Gems from the Ocean

20160128_192701I’m ashamed to say I’ve only just discovered August Wilson, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright known as the American Shakespeare. But what a way to discover him and his searing explorations of what it means to be black in America: through the stunning, gut-wrenching interpretation of his play Gem of the Ocean, currently playing at the Marin Theatre Company. Go see it, Bay Area peeps; you must.

Wilson is best known for his ten play cycle on the lives of African Americans in the 20th century, one for every decade. Gem of the Ocean is the first of the cycle, written second to last in 2003 (Wilson died in 2005). And for us, there were multiple performances on theatre night: the play itself, and then the responses of the predominantly white audience (AFAICT, we were one of two families of colour attending) that stayed for a Q&A session with cast and crew after.

Amongst the conversations with no clue: ‘I don’t understand where the spirituality of the original went…’ So Wilson uses seemingly Christian symbolism underwritten by Yoruba spirituality, which hybridised form dramaturg Omi Osun Joni L. Jones pops up so powerfully in her interpretation. In other words, it’s nothing but political and spiritual, just perhaps not your politics and your spirituality, Mr. White Theatre-goer.

The interpretation also breaks with the familiar idiom of ‘naturalistic’ theatre, which is how August Wilson is often played. Instead, it offers rhythm, beat, syncopation: jazz of word and gesture. Be prepared for its power, and for its getting under your skin. I found myself squirming in my seat, hardly able to sit still (such a no-no for a polite theatre-goer!).

But the best of the evening was the well-meaning road to hell: ‘I wish young black children could watch this play’… Yes, they should. I hope they do, and the theatre is doing its best to make it happen, with multiple matinee shows. But even more so, elite white people should watch this play. And not deflect the responsibility of thinking about it. Understand, as August Wilson says in the play, what black folks, people of colour, need for full citizenship in this country: “You gonna have to fight to get that. And time you get it, you be surprised how heavy it is.” (And yes, it echoes all that my Dalit and Adivasi friends are feeling right now too).

So t20160128_192717hank you, Daniel Alexander Jones, Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, and the incredible cast and crew of the Gem of the Ocean. I can’t imagine Wilson being interpreted in any other way.


I’m back (aka the ‘Seven Year itch’)?

So seven years after I stopped blogging in 2009, I’m back on the blogosphere. There are many reasons for both the silence and the return, and I may explore them in subsequent posts. But for now, I recognise that my posts on Facebook undermine my own politics around proprietary platforms in which we are data, and (in a more pragmatic, and amused, sense) have grown in length and periodicity from the cryptic slightly-more-than-140-characters of my original and occasional posts. So be it. 🙂

Haiku for change

I recently had the opportunity to be part of a reflection process on the work we do as feminists, advocating for gender equality in development organisations. This was with an organisation called Gender at Work, an international knowledge network for gender equality; it’s a group I’ve been associated with since its founding in 2001, though I left them as Program Associate in 2007, when we moved to the Republic of Berkeley. It was such a joy being part of a space that incorporated the striving, thinking and doing of feminist praxis – with fabulous activists who embody that spirit – but it was also a joy (luckily) to reflect on where I am, both personally and professionally, these many years on. It must have something to do with – groan – the milestone of middle age/mid-evil-ness lurking round the corner. Still, at the end of the reflection, I wrote a haiku about change; I suppose it’s a birthday prezzie of sorts to myself.

Touched by the return,

I find my journey forward –

But some of me… stays.