Monday, June 6, 2016

Aqueduct Press readings at WisCon 40





Three groups of Aqueduct Press authors read this year at WisCon. We all read in Conference 2--and for the first time in that room were furnished with a mic, which we dutifully used. I reaped a lot of compliments for the readings (as, I hope, did the individual authors) and often heard people marveling at the sheer variety in voices and stories. Given that that's a part of the point of Aqueduct's existence, such comments gratified me immensely.

The first group read, on Saturday afternoon, under the title "We Sing the Body." This is an expression that is usually taken metaphorically, but in this case it applied literally as well as metaphorically. Nisi Shawl, who read from Everfair (forthcoming from Tor in September), began, as is her wont, with a song sung a capella, and taught the audience (and her fellow authors) to sign the refrain along with her. Pan Morigan followed by reading from unpublished work and, accompanying herself on banjo sang a song from her forthcoming album, Storm Hand. Andrea Hairston read the opening pages of her novel, Will Do Magic for Small Change. And I talked about and read Chapter Zero in The Waterdancer's World (a novel forthcoming from Aqueduct in October).






The second group read on Sunday afternoon under the title "Definitely Not Damsels," immediately following the first group, in the same room.  Jackie Hatton read from Flesh & Wires (which Aqueduct published last fall). Mary Anne Mohanraj read from "Webs," a story forthcoming in the July issue of Asimov's. Eleanor Arnason read a short tale from Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens. And Lesley Hall read from her delicious, on-going regency pastiche, The Comfortable Courtesan (available here).





The third Aqueduct Press group read on Sunday, under the title "Elsewhere." Susan diRende read from "Unpronounceable," which Aqueduct released in April; Brit Mandelo read from "The Pigeon Summer," recently published online at Tor.com (available online here); Nancy Jane Moore read from The Weave (which Aqueduct published last summer); and Sarah Tolmie read from Two Travelers (which Aqueduct has just released). Prompted by a question from the audience, the reading finished with a discussion of... editing (!).



Sunday, June 5, 2016

About the wonderful time Arrate had at WisCon

WisCon 40! What can I say.


This was my third year attending a gathering I dreamed of long before I could see it for myself. And WisCon 40 has been particularly special for a number of reasons. For starters, the Guests of Honor -- Sofia Samatar, Justine Larbalestier, and returning GoH Nalo Hopkinson, whom I had been really excited about since they were announced last year. I’m also happier and more open to the world than I’ve been in a while. I engaged with all sorts of people around me, and it was beautiful. I made friends! All of whom live on a different continent to mine, but that is secondary.

Timmi, Andrea, Pan, and Nisi after a full-room Aqueduct reading
Some of the panels and readings I attended were the best time I’ve had in a while, too. The panel on code switching, with Nisi Shawl and Andrea Hairston, among others, was good fun and packed with ideas to keep developing for months to come. The incredible panel remembering Octavia Butler, moderated by Sofia Samatar, had us all laughing and tearing up and nodding a lot. Being able to gather together and cherish the many meanings of Octavia Butler’s legacy for both the audience (whom Samatar invited to participate by suggesting topics for discussion) and a panel of authors I love was a real privilege (and it made my anarcha-feminist science fiction book club in Brighton really jealous). I attended two of the three Aqueduct readings, which always have an intimate feel to them, and the Science Fiction Destroys the Gender Binary! reading at Michelangelo’s, which was a varied, consistently good showcase of short fiction by non-binary writers.
The now legendary Octavia Butler panel: Sofia Samatar, Nalo Hopkinson, Lisa Bolekaja, Nisi Shawl, and Walidah Imarisha

Something particularly special about this year for me is that I was a panelist for the first time ever anywhere. Jaymee Goh moderated with great skill and unbelievable energy for a Sunday both of the panels I took part in, one on SFF in translation and one on SFF by women writers around the world. For the first panel I joined S. Qiouyi Lu, author and Chinese-to-English translator, in discussing some of the challenges and joys of our work. Rachel S. Cordasco made a summary of the panel for the Speculative Fiction in Translation website.


How could I miss it
The second panel featured Justine Larbalestier, Jackie Hatton, Emily Jiang, and me, and it involved our taking turns at telling everybody in the room about our favorite SFF from Australia, Japan, China, Finland, Spain, Argentina, and elsewhere. Isabel Schechter live-tweeted both panels (thank you!) and is planning to write up summaries of them, so do visit her twitter account on @MsUppityness.


Sketch of our translation panel by Mat Defiler
I feel really pleased (and relieved) about the warm reception both panels had, the fact that I can pick up a mic and not panic, and the possibility that both translation and international SFF may thrive at WisCon in following editions. Building bridges between English- and Spanish-language SFF is pretty much my goal in life, and seeing so clearly that I’m not alone planting those seeds in such an extraordinary community fills me with wonder about the future. As I type, Jaymee Goh is suggesting that #InternationalSFF be an regular twitter conversation. It feels great to see things moving.


And then there were also the non-panel fun times. I danced and glowed at the Floomp, got my first pair of earrings in exchange for a haiku, hung out with rad authors and booksellers, ate dessert and shed a few tears (no surprises there) during the GoH speeches and Tiptree award ceremony, and celebrated my birthday with a bunch of good people who made me feel so special despite hardly knowing me. I even got a book (Sofia Samatar’s new novel The Winged Histories), the most amazing cosmic hoodie from the clothes swap, and a paper bag full of ridiculously nice improvised gifts (Beer and chocolate? How did they know!). Kath got me a cool snake earring on behalf of Aqueduct, because they're the best.

Jaymee Goh, moderator extraordinaire, et moi.
In some aspects I still feel a bit like an outsider at WisCon, perhaps for purely geographical reasons, perhaps because I’m not very knowledgeable of the many changes that long-term attendees are perceiving, and which some active members of the community are currently commenting on. But I feel deeply grateful for the space WisCon provides, for the room for improvement and discussion, for all the volunteers that make it happen year after year. Personally, WisCon 41 can't come soon enough.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 10: Social Justice (Redux)

I'm pleased to announce the release from Aqueduct Press of the tenth volume of the WisCon Chronicles, Social Justice (Redux), edited by Margaret McBride, in both print and e-book editions. WisCon 39's Guest of Honor speeches by Alaya Dawn Johnson and Kim Stanley Robinson inspired the theme of this volume. In her speech, Johnson delivered a cri de coeur: "We need diverse stories, we need a million mirrors of different shapes and sizes. Not just so we can see ourselves. So that they can see us through our own eyes." Robinson exhorted: "We now need to institute global justice and equality for all, for two reasons that bond together into a single reason: It's the right thing to do morally, and it's the survival thing to do."

In her introduction, McBride quotes Grace Paley: "Although writers may not want to be in charge of justice or anything like that, to some extent they are if they really are illuminating what isn't seen."

The volume includes the texts of Johnson and Robinson's speeches, as well as the keynote speech Julie Phillips delivered at the Tiptree Symposium in December 2015, and essays by Cheryl Morgan, Takayuki Tatsumi, Nisi Shawl, Johanna Sinisalo, Kathryn Allan, Ian Hagemann, Sandra J. Lindow, Ajani Brown, and others.

You can purchase this volume from Aqueduct now, at http://www.aqueductpress.com/books/978-1-61976-113-1.php.

WisCon 40 panel report-- "Our Stories Matter"

One of my favorite panels at WisCon 40 was "YES, Our Stories Matter: Encouragement and Support for Creators with Marginalized Identities." It was held on Friday afternoon at 4, in a small room (University C), moderated by Jaymee Goh, featuring panelists Susan Simensky Bietila, Alex Jennings, Mark Oshiro, and Riley. More people attended than WisCon's programming mavens anticipated (I imagine that most of the time, estimating attendance for a particular panel is a crap-shoot), resulting in attendees standing against the back wall and sitting on the floor in the aisle.

The panel's topic was one that many of us have been thinking about for a long time now; certainly it's one that writers and other creators attending WisCon are likely to be grappling with or have in the past grappled with. What strikes me as new about the subject, though, is an accumulating understanding of and greater consciousness all around that people with marginalized identities are likely to meet with an additional set of obstacles when attempting to sell and otherwise disseminate their work. For most of my life I found it difficult to articulate this problem without finding myself thrust into a scripted defensiveness. Founding Aqueduct Press allowed me, for the first time, to escape that script. I'm more pleased than I can say that many, many people are now getting it. And I was delighted to find that the discussion afforded by this panel was both practical and sophisticated. Here's the official description, taken from the Pocket Program Book:
Marginalization affects our success as creators, oppression impacts our ability to create and can grind us down. At the same time, encouragement can come in many ways, from reader comments to supporting each other as marginalized creators. Let's discuss issues like: Why do you keep creating? When do you know you've touched someone with your art? How do you recharge after a setback? How can we support each other within and between different marginalized groups? When it feels like the whole world is telling you that your story doesn't matter, where do you find the strength to pick up the pen?
The notes I took are, I'm sorry to say, sketchy, perhaps because so much of the discussion was rooted in very particular experiences I felt I couldn't abstract generalizations from lest the lack of context introduce distortion.

First: I found the composition of the panel a great advantage. Sue Bitelia drew on her experience of her long struggle to get around the barriers confronting her in the 1960s when she began her career as an artist, an experience that at many points resonated with the experiences of the three younger members of the panel--offering, I think, some hope, since Sue has, after decades, achieved gratifying recognition. Alex, Riley, and Mark, working in twenty-first century media as they are, face different circumstances but are, in the main, grappling with some of the same issues Sue had to take on to pursue a career in art. The one generalization I can safely make is that for all of them, engaging in some degree of Do It Yourself has been essential. This makes great sense to me, of course, not only because of my having founded Aqueduct Press (a prime example of DIY, if I do say so myself), but also because when I was 19and still composing music I understood that organizing performances without official sanction was the best chance I had of getting my music performed and heard. (This only stopped working for me when I lost all confidence in myself as a composer; many of this blog's readers will be familiar with the story of how I lost confidence, which I described in my WisCon 32 GoH speech.)

Perhaps the most striking moments of the panel came when the panelists discussed networking. For decades now, "networking" has been offered up as the most important thing young creators (or even academics) can do. But as one panelist noted, networking with people who have said horribly racist things on panels is horrifying. Conventions--including science fiction conventions-- often (usually?) serve up boundaries and obstacles creators with marginalized identities can't escape. "The whole weekend at most conventions are a nightmare for me of one bad experience after another," one panelist said.

I should also point out that Sue, Alex, Mark, and Riley all noted the importance to them of feedback from individuals who appreciate their work. Creators who are out of the mainstream for one reason or another don't receive the public notice mainstream creators do; that makes extra-institutional (and here I'm using "institutional" so broadly as to include reviews in periodicals) feedback of greater import than it might be. (Which is a hint, by the way, for all of us to make the extra effort to offer that kind of support when we can.) 

 Finally, I'll end by confessing that my notes come to an abrupt halt with the intriguing phrase "leveraging with language." I have some memory of what this refers to but not enough confidence in that memory to try to expand on it. If anyone who attended that panel is reading this and can expand on it, please do so in a comment. The more illumination we have on this subject, the better.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The day after WisCon 40

Wow. I slept in this morning, then packed, checked out of my room, & left my luggage in the bellman's closet & ambled over to Michelangelo's for coffee & a bagel. I'm there now, & as happy & relaxed as could be. Why? Because I had a wonderful WisCon, one of the best ever. As most people who've been to WisCon know, one of the most common small-talk questions at the con is, "How's your WisCon?" Unless you have a serious problem that needs articulating, the de rigueur answer is a positive one. My answer in past years has ranged between whole- and half-hearted. No half about it this year, though.

I read from my forthcoming novel, "The Waterdancer's World," but otherwise did not participate in programming. This was the first year of all the WisCons I've attended, in which I didn't appear on a panel. I wasn't sure how I would feel about it, but it feels, in retrospect, like a brilliant decision to have made. I'm going to listen, reflect, & ask questions this year, I told myself. I in fact still did a lot of talking this year (especially on Friday, for some reason, as a few people who might be reading this might readily attest to), but looking back over the weekend, I think I did spend more time than I usually do listening with my full attention to what other people had to say. I half-think this had to do with my decision not to sit on any panels (thus unconsciously shifting my orientation), & also suspect it might have to do with the fact that last year I was depressed, which meant that my energy level was way down & my interest in the rest of the world sadly reduced. This year I was hungry for news of what others had been thinking & doing. I was also pretty lucky in my choice of programming to attend. (I made one wrong choice, which is actually not so bad.) & I sadly had to miss the panel on Octavia Butler's work (which I've heard was dynamite), because it coincided with one of the three Aqueduct Press authors' readings. I missed another panel I wanted to attend because I was in the middle of a conversation when it started and had gotten caught up in another when it was about two-thirds through. It can be a tough call, choosing between conversation & a panel one wants to attend, but the fact is, for me, those conversations are part of what makes WisCon so vital for me.  They're the reason I always go home from WisCon changed. At 65, I've never been more aware of how important it is to me to feel myself still learning & changing. I may not have the energy & stamina I once had, but my capacity for engagement is, I hope, as strong as it's ever been.

Speaking of those Aqueduct author readings, I have photos for each, which I'll be posting once I'm home (& rested). The photos above are from readings. The other one, below is of our tables in the Dealers Room that I took as we were finishing setting them up. This was the first year we didn't bring at least one copy of all our books. We have too many titles now to bring them all, even with three tables. Can you believe that? But then our next volume in the Conversation Pieces series, Sleeping Under the Tree of Life by Sheree Renee Thomas, will be the fiftieth. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens by Eleanor Arnason

I'm please to announce the release of Eleanor Arnason's collection, Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens, which Aqueduct Press has published in both trade paperback and electronic editions. (You can purchase it now from Aqueduct Press.) Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens collects a dozen Hwarhath tales with commentary by their translator. As the translator notes, "Humanity has encountered only one other species able to travel among the stars. This species, who call themselves the hwarhath, or 'people,' are also the only intelligent species so far encountered. Of course, we interest and puzzle and disturb each other... The stories in this collection were written after the hwarhath learned enough about humanity to realize how similar (and different) we are. Our existence has called into question many ideas about life and morality that most hwarhath would have called certain a century ago..."


Advance Praise

"One of the strongest collections of science fiction stories you’re ever likely to find. It’s hard to think of anybody other than Ursula K. Le Guin who was written better anthropological science fiction than Eleanor Arnason, and this very strong collection gather some of the best stories published by anybody during the last two decades."
  —Gardner Dozois, author of When Great Days Come, editor of Year's Best Science Fiction series

Reviews

"These are magnificent stories, wise, witty, science-fictionally fascinating, moving. This may well end up being the story collection of the year."   —Locus, Rich Horton,  April 2016

"Arnason's aliens are almost uniformly bisexual, and forbidden from engaging in heterosexual love beyond what’s needed for procreation. This behavior allows Arnason to adapt timeless folkloric tropes to her own modern, progressive, and wholly original reality, which comes alive in her precise, classically beautiful prose."
  —Publishers Weekly, February 29, 2016

"This is anthropological science fiction at its best, with only Ursula K. Le Guin rivaling Arnason in cultural insight and in the sophistication, complexity, and evocativeness of her worldbuilding. The hwarhath serve as a distorted mirror in which we can clearly see our own follies, foibles, peculiarities, and the inequalities of our society; the hwarhath, meanwhile, see humans as a distorted mirror in which they can see the peculiarities and inequalities of their own society. Arnason does her best work here at novella length, and I consider "The Potter of Bones" and "Dapple" to be among the very best novellas of their respective years, and as having an honorable place amongst the best SF novellas ever written. "The Hound of Merlin", "The Actors", "The Lovers", "The Garden", and "Holmes Sherlock" are also very strong; in fact, there's really nothing here that isn't worth reading. Coming as it does from a small press, you may not see Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens included on many lists of the best collections of 2016 as the year comes to an end, but believe me, it's one of them. It may even turn out to be the best collection of the year. "
  —Locus, Gardner Dozois,  May 2016

"Since the publication of Ring of Swords in 1993, Eleanor Arnason has been producing stories not so much about her furry, logical, matriarchal, alien hwarhath as by them. Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens gathers a dozen such published between 1993 and 2012 and adds an introduction and comments (about which more below). As the crucial preposition in the subtitle suggests, these are tales the hwarhath tell themselves as they begin to question some of their previously unquestioned assumptions about their nature and culture—questions generated by encounters with the puzzling, disturbing, dangerous, gender-strange creatures called humans."    —Locus, Russel Letson,  May 2016

"The alien species Hwarhath is an intelligent population whose inhabitants share many similarities to, and differences from, humans. This collection by the James Tiptree Jr. Award–winning author Arnason (A Woman of the Iron People) details Hwarhath society from the perspective of a cultural anthropologist and translator. The first story, "Historical Romances," details the differences in Hwarhath literature and popular fiction, showcasing the latter in "The Actors," "Dapple," and "The Potter of Bones." Sexuality, its fluidity, and its defined gender roles in this extraterrestrial community are highlighted in the myth-based tale, "The Gauze Banner." Delivered in a clear voice with scholarly touches, Arnason's book brings a fantastic species to life. Verdict These stories mostly date back to the 1990s, but the intelligent tone and anthropological view is as impressive nearly two decades years later. Readers who favor robust cultural development in related speculative works will find this collection a joy to ­absorb."  —Library Journal, April 2016

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Strange Horizon's annual SF Count for 2015

Strange Horizons has posted Niall Harrison's annual SF Count. I quote here from their press release:

Strange Horizons' sixth annual "SF Count" - an in-depth exploration of gender and racial representation in SF reviewing - is published today, and finds that although there is some evidence of improvement in some of the 18 magazines and journals surveyed, overall 9 out of 10 books reviewed are by white writers, and 6 out of 10 books reviewed are written by men. A similar disparity is seen in the demographics of reviewers.

This year, Strange Horizons worked with data designer E. G. Cosh to develop visualisations of the SF Count findings. The full results are available on the Strange Horizons website and as an embeddable Tableau dataset (links below). Gifs describing the methodology and the topline results are attached with this press release.

Some notable points from the survey:

* The venues most likely to review books by women or non-binary writers were The Cascadia Subduction Zone (80% of reviews), Romantic Times (57%) and Lightspeed (57%). The least likely were Asimov's (23%), Science Fiction Studies (21%), and Analog (17%)

 * The venues most likely to review books by writers of colour were Lightspeed (50%), The Cascadia Subduction Zone (35%) and Strange Horizons (22%). The least likely were Science Fiction Studies (4%), Analog (4%), Foundation (3%), and Risingshadow.net (1%).

* The venues with the most women and non-binary reviewers were Romantic Times (91%), The Cascadia Subduction Zone (88%), and Tor.com (63%).

 * The venues with the most reviewers of colour were Lightspeed (67%), The Cascadia Subduction Zone (41%), and Tor.com (22%).

 * The most active venues in the field were Locus (324 reviews), SFX (165 reviews), and Romantic Times (141 reviews); the least active were The Los Angeles Review of Books (35 reviews), Lightspeed (28 reviews), and The Cascadia Subduction Zone (23 reviews).

* The venues with the largest reviewing staffs were Strange Horizons (80 reviewers), Science Fiction Studies (38 reviewers), and SFX (30 reviewers); at the other end of the scale, Asimov's and Lightspeed had 3 reviewers each, Risingshadow.net has 2, and Analog has 1.

*****

This year's SF Count will mean different things to different people. My own personal takeaway is that although The Cascadia Subduction Zone's circulation figures remain disappointing, our work is not yet done.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sarah Tolmie's Two Travelers



I'm pleased to announce the publication of Two Travelers, a pair of portal fictions by Sarah Tolmie, in both print and e-book editions. In "Dancer on the Stairs," a woman wakes up on a stone staircase in a baroque palace, not speaking the language of the place and lacking the chemical signature that allows people to identify each other within a complex social hierarchy. Unable to communicate in words, she resorts to dance. In "The Burning Furrow," a man who runs a diner in present-day America is also a freedom-fighter in the northern, courtly realm of Dinesen. His people are abused foreigners at home, the servants of strangers, bound not by their overlords, but by their world itself, through a ritual known as the burning of the furrows. Only he and his family are free—for a time. Now that time is ending.


Advance Praise

"Two Travelers is a magical evocation of the outsider experience, a book that transports its characters to strange new worlds, where they must make their way despite language barriers and culture shock. Sarah Tolmie's lyrical prose guides readers through vividly imagined cultures where the fate of a kingdom hangs on the outcome of a dance, or where, as your family's size changes, so too must your name."
  —A.M. Dellamonia, author of A Daughter of No Nation and The Nature of a Pirate
"Sarah Tolmie is one of the best new writers I've discovered in a long time. Her writing is a joy to read."
  —Amy Thomson, author of Storyteller and The Color of Distance
 

Reviews

Author and professor Tolmie (The Stone Boatmen) delivers an exquisite duo of short stories in this slim volume.... Rich with detail, both stories are imbued with baroque sensibilities, a refreshing deviation from the typical medieval setting. Rather than relying on pure exposition, Tolmie uses the characters' interactions and personalities to bring color to the unique magic of each setting. Tolmie's investigations of identity, place, and personal meaning are a delight to read and a great contribution to the genre.
  —Publishers Weekly, April 2016

Two Travelers is available now through Aqueduct's website:  http://www.aqueductpress.com/index.php

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Andrea Hairston's Will Do Magic for Small Change


I'm pleased to announce the release of Will Do Magic for Small Change, a new novel by Andrea Hairston, in both trade paperback and e-book editions.You can purchase it now at http://www.aqueductpress.com. It will be available elsewhere soon.


Cinnamon Jones dreams of stepping on stage and acting her heart out like her famous grandparents, Redwood and Wildfire. But at 5'10'' and 180 pounds, she's theatrically challenged. Her family life is a tangle of mystery and deadly secrets, and nobody is telling Cinnamon the whole truth. Before her older brother died, he gave Cinnamon The Chronicles of the Great Wanderer, a tale of a Dahomean warrior woman and an alien from another dimension who perform in Paris and at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The Chronicles may be magic or alien science, but the story is definitely connected to Cinnamon's family secrets. When an act of violence wounds her family, Cinnamon and her theatre squad determine to solve the mysteries and bring her worlds together.


Advance Praise

"Will Do Magic for Small Change sings from the page. This is a novel only Afrofuturism pioneer Andrea Hairston could write, full of myth, history, magic and intrigue, from 1980s Pittsburgh to 19th Century Dahomey, West Africa. Hairston puts readers under a spell."   —Tananarive Due, American Book Award winner, author of Ghost Summer: Stories
 
"Andrea Hairston's vision is breathtaking. She weaves sweeping historical narratives and mythology with the wisdom of the elders, and shines light on the pressing issues of the day. In her hands language is a blessing, and the familiar and the fantastic become magic, one and the same."   —Sheree Renée Thomas, editor of the award-winning Dark Matter anthology series, author of Shotgun Lullabies
 
"This is one of those books you start and realize you've been waiting to read for a long, long time without knowing. Will Do Magic for Small Change is a deep breath, a good friend, a hearbreaking, game-changing, life-affirming, truthtelling powerhouse. I love this book."  —Daniel José Older, author of Half-Resurrection Blues and Salsa Nocturna
 
"It is hard to pull away from this world of aliens meeting orishas, ghosts appearing and conversing, fiery aje, and sea monsters rising, ahosi, king's wives and warrior women, defending, gender fluidity resounding, blackbirds chronicling and ravens painting, lightning scorching and time travel transcending, wanderers flickering across dimensions and stillpoints grounding, storm fists and storm stories raining, ALL flourishing with incandescent poetic prose and shimmering song lyrics. Welcome to synapses pulsing, the flooding of ancient memories, and praise-song reframing when engaging in this neural decolonizing novel, an 1890s Dahomey, Paris, Atlantic ocean passages, New York and Chicago entangled with a 1980s Pittsburgh, emerging and becoming vibrantly alive!"   —Grace L. Dillon (Anishinaabe), Editor of Walking the Clouds
 
"When I read Andrea Hairston's work, there is always the danger that the plot will draw me so quickly into the complex lives of beings so different from the humans to whom I've grown accustomed that I won't remember to slow down long enough to enjoy the richness of the writing itself. That would be a shame because the beauty of Hairston's passionate language is more than equal to the telling of her insanely imaginative tales of time travel and truth telling; memory and magic. Drawing freely and fiercely from Native American, West African and African American cultural and spiritual traditions, she creates new worlds as richly complicated and blindingly colorful as any you are likely to encounter in the work of the world's best science fiction authors. But even as I write those words, I realize that while calling her writing science fiction assigns it to a specific and honorable literary neighborhood indeed, that label may also mean that some who do not consider themselves fans of the genre may not discover her at all, depriving themselves of the sweep of her creative vision simply because of arbitrary boundaries between what is real and what is fantasy; what is now and what was then; what is past and what is prologue. But Hairston's work is not about boundaries and labels. It is about freedom, to live, to love, to fight and to win. I have been a fan of Hairston's work since Redwood and Wildfire. With the appearance of Will Do Magic for Small Change, she continues her quest to make us see more deeply, feel more authentically and allow ourselves to consider the possibility that there are worlds still to discover. How lucky we are that we're ready to go exploring, we can count of Andrea Hairston to be our guide."   —Pearl Cleage, author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
 

Reviews

The entire work is filled with magic, celebrating West Africans, Native Americans, art, and love that transcends simple binary genders. Hairston's novel is a completely original and stunning work.
  —Publishers Weekly, April 2016 (starred review)

At the core of Andrea Hairston's complex tale, WILL DO MAGIC FOR SMALL CHANGE, framed by Cinnamon's need to posthumously connect with her gay, dreamy, black-sheep brother, is the theme of journeying to the self. Cinnamon, as the child of a family scarred by race and class struggles, fights to carve an identity for herself out of the seemingly disparate elements of her life: femininity, art, blackness, geekdom, sexuality, spirituality. Paralleling this struggle is Kehinde, who was kidnapped from another people by the Fon and forced into the role of ahosi; she desperately seeks ways to prove that the Fon never truly enslaved her....The only flaw in this beautifully multifaceted story is that Kehinde's tale outshines Cinnamon's, though this improves over time. Both stories are worth that time, however, with deep, layered, powerful characters. Highly recommended.    —The New York Times, N.K. Jemisin,  April 24, 2016

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Ravenna Third Place Books on Tuesday

Just a reminder: Susan diRende, author of the comic novella Unpronounceable, the latest volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series, will be reading and signing at Ravenna Third Place Books on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.  (Details are here:  http://www.thirdplacebooks.com/event/susan-dirende-unpronounceable.)  Tom & Kath & I will all be attending. We hope to see a lot of Aqueduct Irregulars there!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Vol. 6, 2




The April issue of The Cascadia Subduction Zone is out! The issue opens with Julie Phillips' keynote talk at the Tiptree Symposium (held last December at the University of Oregon) discussing the correspondence between Ursula K. Le Guin and James Tiptree Jr and Joanna Russ and James Tiptree Jr. The issue also includes poetry by Gwynne Garfinkle, Neile Graham, and Sonya Taaffe, a Grandmother Magma column by Daniel Abraham, and reviews of five new books; the issue's featured artist is Betsy James (who is also the author of Roadsouls, a novel Aqueduct has just published, and stories recently published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction). If you're not already a subscriber, you can subscribe or purchase the issue here.

Vol. 6 No. 2 — April  2016
Essay
“I Begin to Meet You at Last”:
On the Tiptree-Russ-Le Guin Correspondence
  by Julie Phillips
Poems
Clear-Cut Spirit Song
The Goddess of the Unseen
The Gods of Tales
   by Neile Graham

Men Who Aren’t Crazy
   by Sonya Taaffe

Poetess Strikes Again
   by Gwynne Garfinkle

Grandmother Magma
Toward a Feminist Masculinity
The Will to Change, bell hooks
   by Daniel Abraham

Reviews
All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders
   reviewed by S. Qiouyi Lu

The Merril Theory of Lit'ry Criticism, by Judith Merril, edited by Ritch Calvin
   reviewed by Michael Levy

The Winged Histories, by Sofia Samatar
   reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Lost Trails: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West, edited by Cynthia Ward
  reviewed by Kristin King

Damnificados, by JJ Amaworoso Wilson
  reviewed by Victoria Elisabeth Garcia

Featured Artist
Image to Word: The Morning Series
   by Betsy James

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Violette Leduc

Rafia Zakaria's piece in today's Guardian reminds me that it's the birthday of Violette Leduc-- her 109th. Which in turn makes me realize that I missed, entirely, her centenary year, making me think that probably not many people in the US noticed it at the time. And in fact Zakaria's piece notes how neglected Leduc's work has been:
 It is a mysterious marginalisation: Simone de Beauvoir, who took on Leduc as a protege, remains a feminist icon. Leduc’s contemporary Jean Genet, also wrote sexually explicit, homosexual texts and is widely read and venerated as a pioneer in French avant-garde writing. Not so Leduc. Her first book, the autobiographical novel L’Asphyxie, has still not been translated into English. Her novel Thérèse and Isabelle, written in 1955, was not published uncensored in France until 2000 and was only translated and published in English by the Feminist Press last year.
This marginalization doesn't seem all that mysterious to me. Leduc writes not only from a woman's point of view, not only from a lesbian's (or bisexual's) point of view, but also from a scathingly honest working-class point of view. I still remember how, when I read her powerful La Batarde, I felt shocked by its micropolitical revelations of social relations-- not because they were new or scandalous, but because they spoke, without flinching, of feelings and responses that I never saw represented anywhere else. In short, it was written outside and without reference to the canons of middle-class values (including literature's middle-class notions of good taste and fine aesthetics, which did, actually, make the work scandalous). I think I knew even then how difficult, technically, it must have been for her to do that--not through any inhibitions she might have felt, but because forging new stories and new forms of expression for describing what is usually left unexplored is damned hard. (This is something I talked about a little in my WisCon GoH speech.)

Interestingly, Zakaria zooms in, briefly, on her relationship with Simone de Beauvoir, whom she met in 1945 and who was instrumental in getting Leduc's work published:

The juxtaposition of De Beauvoir and Leduc is revelatory in terms of who defines feminism and who actually lives it. Here is Leduc, a woman made feminist by experience: a fatherless, poverty-stricken childhood, a youth spent grovelling for affection and sustenance, her wartime hustle smuggling legs of lamb to rich Parisians. Her autobiography painfully and pointedly underscores her constant alienation, her surfeit of emotion. Ever the outsider, she steals, she smuggles; when she reads and learns, it is in bits and pieces. Days spent writing are imbued with worries about eating, surviving. Uninterested in branding and constructing her own myth, she bluntly tells De Beauvoir that she is not an intellectual. This annoys her mentor, to whom Leduc recalls retorting: “You are an intellectual because you write.”

 De Beauvoir spent her time earning the title “intellectual”. Her story is one of early erudition, acing exams, stunning philosophical acuity and a romantic (if also conveniently strategic) alliance with Sartre. In Leduc, she sees the authenticity that she theorises, and in playing midwife to her self-exposition she seeks the vindication of her philosophy. In existentialism, we are all free to choose, exercise our radical free will; the constraints of past experience can be shaken off, truth told and freedom achieved. Leduc’s life, told in her writing, has to be evidence of the truth of this. De Beauvoir’s feminism, unleavened by any literal struggles with the whims of men, needs Leduc’s literary liberation to prove its practical application.
 
Yet it is only De Beauvoir’s prescient and crisply analysed feminism that we remember and celebrate. The lived feminism of Leduc – raw, passionate, and devastatingly honest – is what we choose to forget. There are contemporary iterations to this divide: like Leduc, the women fighting the battles on the factory floors of China, or in the classrooms of Egypt or the streets of Karachi do not have the luxury of writing their lives and finding liberation. The lived feminisms of the women who clean French hotel rooms, who eke out lives in banlieues, who are expelled from schools for wearing headscarves, are absent from the country’s feminist and literary narrative.

It is still De Beauvoir’s compelling feminist recipe that one wants to believe. It is, however, Leduc’s truth that presses closer: speaking of De Beauvoir’s prescription, she says: “To write is to be liberate oneself. Untrue. To write is to change nothing.”

Can we really, after considering Leduc's differences, call Leduc's marginalization "mysterious"? Many of us women writing today need to believe that writing, which requires a constant exertion of will and agency, is liberating. Is this a pipe dream (of the crack, rather than opium, sort)? I don't know, since I'm one of those who feel that my life and who I am has changed through my writing, regardless of its significance or not to others. Would I still feel that way if my current life were even a little less privileged? I must acknowledge the honesty and even despair of Leduc's flat statement that "to write is to change nothing," especially since Leduc's work, however extraordinary, is so little read and has won so little notice, even though for me, reading what other people have written made my childhood bearable and my feminism and political consciousness, in early adulthood, possible. I wonder what she would have made of the new movement (as I'd like to believe it is) of trying to bring marginalized writing to wider attention? Or, more generally, of the resurgent effort to break the hold of the white male perspective on literature?

Happy birthday, Violette Leduc. And now I must go find the newly published Feminist Press edition of  Thérèse and Isabelle

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Susan diRende's Unpronounceable

I'm pleased to announce a new volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series: Unpronounceable, a novella by Susan diRende. We're releasing it in both e-book and print editions. (You can purchase these at www.aqueductpress.com now.) Though feminist comedy is a definite thing, it's not all that visible (or should I say audible? since it tends, actually, to be voice-driven) in the sf/f field. Works by Leslie What, Esther Friesner, and Eileen Gunn come easily to mind, of course. And a lot of humor bubbles through many other writers' work, including some of the work we've published by Eleanor Arnason. And there's certainly a lot of sharp feminist wit to be found (beginning, number one, with Joanna Russ, of course.) Unpronounceable is what I'd call broad comedy. Its author, Susan diRende, is so into this kind of comedy that she founded the Broad Humor Film Festival, Los Angeles, to support women’s comedic vision on film. You can probably tell that from the description of this novella:
Earth has discovered it is not alone in the universe. The aliens — pink, shapeless, and peaceful — are very nice, but after a string of failed diplomatic missions, they ask Earth to stop with the crazies and send someone normal. In frustration, the UN devises a lottery to pick the next ambassador. Enter Rose Delancy, a Jersey waitress.

Rose settles in and starts teaching the natives all about humans with the help of Hollywood movies, junk food, and sex. They show her a few things of their own involving the transformation of matter, but Rose is only interested in how it applies to sex. That is until she learns that she’s been suckered to play the patsy for an interstellar takeover by Earth. To avoid the horrors of planetary annihilation, not to mention having to go back to Jersey, Rose and the Blobs have to stop the invasion and save the planet.
Susan will be reading from Unpronounceable at three venues in the Seattle area-- during the Broad Humor Festival at Olympic College in Bremerton, Wednesday, April 13, 10:30 am, at the Olympic College Bookstore, BSC, 1600 Chester Avenue; Friday, April 15, 1 pm, at the Bremerton Public Library, 612 Fifth Street; and in Seattle, Tuesday, April 19, 7 pm, at Third Place Books, Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE.

Susan has also started a blog by Rose Delancy, the narrator of Unpronoucenable, which can be found at http://ambassadorrose.blogspot.com/.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Roadsouls by Betsy James

I'm pleased to announce Aqueduct Press's release, in both print and e-book editions, of Roadsouls, a novel by Betsy James. Roadsouls explores the power of art and creativity for transforming not only one’s own life but also the world one lives in. Timid Duuni has spent her life as abused and guarded property. Blind, arrogant Raím is determined to be again what he once was: hunter, lover, young lord of the earth. Desperate to escape their lives, the two lift up their hands to the passing Roadsoul caravan, and are—literally—flung together naked. Each of them soon learns that saying “yes” to the Roadsouls is more than just accepting an invitation to a new life—it’s a commitment that can’t be reversed. For Duuni and Raím, nothing is as it was. Lost to their old lives, hating each other, they are swept out of their cruel old certainties into an unknown, unknowable, ever-changing world of journey and carnival, artists and wrestlers and thieves. Behind them, inexorable, pads a lion. Inexorable, too, is Duuni and Raím’s inevitable encounter with it, an encounter that will change everything.

“If you long for a fantasy world that your senses could live in, and that isn’t full of scheming nobility, cynical warriors, mass hatreds, and magic as a weapon, read this book. Its backbone is the wandering life of a sort of gypsy-hippie-circus group traveling a pre-industrial landscape and offering a way out to the misfits and throw-aways of the local villages. Raím, a young man blinded in a fall, and Duuni, the unhappily rebellious daughter of religious patriarchy, find their ways outward from home and towards their own strengths, and each other, with (and sometimes dangerously strayed far from) the Roadsouls' caravan….”
  “The writing is vivid and earthy, celebrating a rural world with its sights and smells and wildlife, and the customs and pithy, colorful speech of its people.…”   —Suzy McKee Charnas, author of The Vampire Tapestry and Dorothea Dreams

“Betsy James’ dual creative lives as artist and writer enable her to create an elegant variation on the classic hero’s journey. The roads upon which Duuni and Raím travel are those of dirt and rocks, of various cultures lovingly detailed, and of the complex interior landscape of the self. The Roadsouls who are their guides partake more of the trickster than the wise guardian, but as the journey goes on it becomes clear that only the wild and whimsical will free these tormented beings from the shackles that bind their innermost selves.”
 —Jane Lindskold, author of the Firekeeper Saga
 
In this subtle fantasy, James (Listening at the Gate) follows two wounded young people as they move toward (and sometimes away from) each other.... The blossoming of Duuni’s artistic talents and the gradual process of Raím working through his anger are sensitively depicted, and the book has the rhythms of the road—meetings, partings, and new landscapes every day—at its heart.
  —Publishers Weekly, Jan 2016

 "An innovative and engaging fantasy about ordinary people in a rather low key fantasy realm. Unhappy with their lives, two people abandon their previous circumstances to join a kind of combination caravan and freelance entertainment troupe on its journey across their world. They have adventures of a sort, but they are generally unmelodramatic and they learn more about themselves than about their companions."--Don D'Ammassa, Critical Mass

The Roadsouls, and the novel as a whole, are...open to wonder: genuine transformations that just happen, without rituals or spells. ... Betsy James deliberately avoids the tropes and narratives typical of long fiction (mainstream, heroic fantasy, or romance).
  —Locus, Faren Miller,  April 2016

 Roadsouls can be purchased from Aqueduct Press here.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Conversations on Engendering the Future History of Women

To celebrate Women's History Month at the Futures Forum, Dr. Claire Nelson, who has a keen interest in thinking about "sustainable futures" is posting a series of interviews on the subject with Brenda Cooper, Nisi Shawl, Amy Zuckerman, Nita Patal, Maria Velazquez, L. Timmel Duchamp, Linda Cureton, and Caryl Rivers. As someone who thinks how we think about the future shapes how we think about the past (and vice versa), I of course love the idea of celebrating Women's History Month by thinking about possible futures for women.

You can listen to the interviews here: http://futuresforum.org/futures_of_women_2016.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Judith Merril's The Merril Theory of Lit'ry Criticism (ed. Ritch Calvin)

I'm pleased to announce the release of the fourth volume in Aqueduct's Heirloom Books series, The Merril Theory of Lit'ry Criticism, which collects Judith Merril's nonfiction, edited by sf scholar Ritch Calvin. Aqueduct is offering both print and e-book editions.

Although Judith Merril is best known for her short fiction and her novels (in collaboration with C. M. Kornbluth), she wrote a great deal of nonfiction. She wrote about SF fandom. She wrote about space and space exploration. And she wrote about science fiction. This volume collects Merril’s nonfiction from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Extrapolation, and her Year’s Best anthologies. In these collected pieces, Merril works through and develops her definition of “S-F” and what makes S-F good. She chronicles changes within the genre, including the emergence of the New Wave. And she provides a history of the genre: its writers, its publishers, and its magazines.

Decades ago, Samuel R. Delany declared that “Merril…is perhaps the most important intra-genre critic the field has had and…the absence of any of her critical work in book form, in a field aspiring to take itself seriously, is preposterous.… [O]ne cannot know the history of science fiction from 1956 to 1969 if one has not read the brilliant commentary that runs through Merril’s best-of-the-year anthologies for that period.”
Now, in 2016, Aqueduct brings Judith Merril and her place in that history to today’s readers.

Gary K. Wolfe writes of the book in the February 2016 issue of Locus: The Merril Theory of Lit’ry Criticism provides our first chance to see in one place Merril’s columns for the magazine [i.e., The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction] between 1965 and 1969, plus appreciations of Theodore Sturgeon and Fritz Leiber, introductions to her groundbreaking ‘‘year’s best’’ anthologies of the ’50s and ’60s, and a more or less theoretical/historical piece from the academic journal Extrapolation. In an unusual strategy, Aqueduct has made available in the e-book full versions of some pieces that are only summarized in the print edition. ...Merril was ... a pioneer in assaulting literary moats and walls, as her anthologies insistently made clear, and it’s fascinating to find someone articulating a half-century ago some approaches to fiction that are only now beginning to look like common sense.

You can purchase either the print or the e-book editions at  http://www.aqueductpress.com/books/978-1-61976-093-6.php.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin

Arwen Curry, who is making a documentary film about Ursula K. Le Guin, has opened a Kickstarter campaign for funding the final stages of production of the film. Curry and her partner organization, Center for Independent Documentary, were awarded a prestigious grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund work on Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, which is scheduled for wide public television and limited theatrical release in 2017. While a major victory for the production team, the NEH funding presents a new challenge: the agency won’t release it until the entire budget has been raised. Curry and her team are now launching a campaign on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter to raise $80K of the remaining $200K needed to complete the film. The Kickstarter campaign launches on January 31, 2016 and continues through February 29, a leap day. Rewards for Kickstarter donors include signed novels and private recorded messages from the author.

The film's website includes, among other things, a video clip about the film. Check it out!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Reading as a Writer

The deadline for enrolling in the Clarion West One-Day Workshop that I'll be giving in Seattle on February 21 is February 2. If you're a writer interested in honing your understanding of narrative or are having problems with a particular story (or both), this workshop is absolutely for you. When I offered it last year, I was pleased at how hard we all worked and surprised by how intense and far-ranging our conversations were. The format provided ample space for moving between the particulars of the stories we critiqued and more general narrative issues and techniques that form part of the working writer's landscape.

Here's the official description for the workshop:

Many first-rate, well-published writers take time out of their busy writing lives to attend critique workshops with their peers. Why? First, critiques from a variety of readers give writers insight into how the words they’ve put on the page are being transformed into the stories that unfold in their readers’ heads. And second, participation in critique groups enables writers to sharpen their understanding of technical issues. This workshop will offer insight into how others are reading your story and help make it into the story you would like them to be reading.

Students who enroll in this workshop will be asked to submit a piece of writing in advance, which will be distributed for critique by a subgroup of the class. All students’ works will be critiqued by both the instructor and several other students. Over the course of the day, attention will be given not only to the stories being critiqued but also to the critique process; techniques for reading critically and for communicating effectively will be covered. Because of the intensely interactive nature of this particular workshop, and to ensure that all students receive adequate attention, enrollment is limited to 12 participants.
 If you're interested in attending, here's the URL you need:  http://www.clarionwest.org/workshops/oneday/how-to-read-as-a-writer-2/.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2015, pt. 29: Kiini Ibura Salaam



Pleasures of 2015
by Kiini Ibura Salaam


One of the essential questions that artists have to answer for themselves is how they will be present, how they will show up and use their voices, in service of what sensation, expression, intention? In a 2015 interview, National Book Award-winning poet Terrance Hayes states: 
“I’m just interested in being present, not in being representative of anything.”

Hayes’s statement holds the tension of public and private--publicly people want to sort you, classify you, use you as a mouthpiece, a representation, but as an artist, the only way to authentically do your work is to be present to your self. It is something of a koan: How can you truly be present in and with and for yourself if you are representing someone or something else—even someone or something that looks and sounds exactly like you?

Much of the art I enjoyed in 2015 pivoted on questions of presence and representation.

Ava DuVernay’s Selma




In January, I started my art immersion for the year with the film Selma. I found it to be a riveting and intense look at one slice of the Civil Rights movement. What I appreciated most about it was the layers of the Civil Rights Movement that it revealed. History has flattened somewhat the broad span of groups involved with changing the laws and practices of segregation and voter discrimination. The students, the voting rights activists, the local workers, the movement architects, the superstars, the rabble rousers, the freedom riders—everyone joined the resistance from a different angle, representing a different demographic and a different motivation, and all these disparate strands came together to speak in one voice.

The other thing the film did was take an unflinching look at the indiscriminate violence that was visited upon anyone pushing for an integrated, equal society. The film demonstrated that the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t a sanitized event that—with a few marches and songs—created a more just society. The willingness of so many to be beaten, jailed, and killed was the thing that moved the needle in awakening the consciousness of a nation.

John Lewis’s March



Selma dovetailed quite nicely with the graphic novel March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. John Lewis was a college student during the Civil Rights Movement and was active in SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). SNCC was already working in Selma when Martin Luther King and his leadership from the SCLC (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) came to town to support the push for voters’ rights. The graphic novel’s striking illustrations and compelling storyline tells the boots-on-the-ground story of one young man who was unflinchingly committed to change in this nation.

Though Selma and March deal with times past, both were shockingly relevant to our nation’s contemporary identity, especially in a year filled with protests, murders, and marches.


Toshi Reagon’s musical production of Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower



The evening after I saw Selma, I went to The Public Theater to see Toshi Reagon’s musical production of Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower. One thing that was conspicuously missing from Selma was the music of the movement. With the exception of MLK calling up Mahalia Jackson in the middle of the night to sing to him so that he might hear the voice of God, DuVernay chose not to include song. There was, of course, a soundtrack, but during the march when there was singing, DuVernay showed the actors mouths moving but did not reveal the audio.

During that time period, music was a major component part of protests, whether anti-war or anti-discrimination. There has been a lot of study of protest music, notably Soundtrack for a Revolution http://www.soundtrackforarevolutionfilm.com/Home.html, a wonderful documentary about the music of the Civil Rights Movement and what it meant to the marchers, how it kept them fearless and motivated. I suspect DuVernay did not use the music in the film because we are saturated with the image of people marching and singing. To a degree, I think the national narrative we’d like to believe is that the marching and the singing made change. The song was spirit food—it fed the marchers, steeled their strength and their resolved, helped them carry on when they were tired and face death when they were scared, but it isn’t what won the battle.

Toshi Reagon was born into the tradition of activist folk music. Her mother, Bernice Johnson Reagon, was deeply engaged in the Civil Rights Movement and other activist movements. She was also a founder of the group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Toshi was named for activist, filmmaker, and wife of Pete Seeger—Toshi Seeger, so activism runs deep through her lineage. Early in 2015, Toshi did a series of performances to workshop the songs she’s developing for an opera of Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower. Because I saw it on the same day as Selma, I couldn’t help but view it in conversation with Selma and it was almost like the musical answer to Selma. Performing music from the folk tradition and the church tradition with nods to rock and spoken word, Toshi gathered a wonderful group of performers to bring Butler’s words to life through song. I can’t wait to see the opera. One of the songs—dealing with the company-sponsored town—referenced how hard it is not to sell out when faced with the difficulties of life. For me, much of Butler’s oeuvre deals with humans in untenable situations and the unthinkable acts that we engage in when our backs are against the wall. One of the songs for this evening had a chorus that went something like: you think you can’t, but you will; you think you won’t, but you will, you will, you will. It is so Butler.


Wild Tales


This film had nothing to do with representation—except, perhaps, the representation of other types of stories on film, something Argentinian filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky pleads for in this passionate, philosophical crowd-funding video. Wild Tales features five madcap stories about the ravenous nature of revenge—how it consumes the person seeking revenge and burns down much more than the intended target. As stated in a review from The Guardian: Characters surrender, gratefully, to the thrill of losing it and letting someone have it.” The end result of the film is quite thrilling as you watch people push themselves to the limit to take revenge on others—and suffer the consequences. Rotten Tomatoes calls it Wickedly hilarious and delightfully deranged.” I wholeheartedly agree.



Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski’s futuristic romps through time and space


Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski


Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski presented a series of drawings at MoCADA in the spring that features big-bottomed, curvaceous women who seemed to be both futuristic and of the moment. There was so much playfulness as she explored self-image, mythologies, and the fantastic. I loved the exuberance, unexpectedness, and other-worldly nature of the work. More images and thoughts from the artist here.




Cassandra Wilson’s Tribute to Billie Holiday


For her tribute concert to Billie Holiday, Cassandra Wilson created an immersive experience that built its own setting, aura, and sensation of romance--transporting us into two hours of altered feelings that mirrored the fluttering pleasures of being in love. Being vulnerable before others is immensely challenging. Wilson immersed herself in emotion in front of a packed theater. She was positively altered by the music, the musicians on the stage, emotionally embodying that which she was singing. It’s the type of presence I want to bring to my work.

When we called her back for her encore, she strapped on her guitar and used it to introduce sonic dissonance and squeals as accompaniment to her vocals on the classic Strange Fruit. At the end, she went wild, continuing to improvise on it while slamming it back down in the stand. She left the guitar squealing while she exited the stage, leaving her band to reconcile the sound, to handle what she had flung out into the world.

Basquiat’s Notebooks at the Brooklyn Museum


You can’t see Basquiat’s work without thinking about representation, fame and pain. … I was discomfited at the spectacle of all of us, seeing his notebooks, his private scribbling, each page in each notebook taken apart so as to spread our consumption of him wider—especially as I suspect the consumption of him, the contradictions therein, led to his overdose death. This experience was thought provoking as it showed how Basquiat worked through his ideas and creative impulses. I am often jealous when I see artists playing with their thoughts, creativity, process, ideas, because I dream of returning to a state during which my creativity roams without constraint. As someone who squeezes in the time to work when I can, I am inspired when I see other artists existing in state of creative immersion. The exhibition showed the depth and breadth of his creative instincts, impulses and compulsions.


















One Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence Exhibition at MoMA

One-Way Ticket was a fantastic exhibition centered around Jacob Lawrence's seminal Great Migration series. I also appreciate seeing art I learned about in art books in real life. Seeing this series really made me reflect on my commitment to making work. The series consists of a 60 very small panels made with humble materials. The small scale and readily available materials, made me think that the artist was dedicated to telling his story with whatever materials he had on hand. The work itself was great to see in person, but what really elevated my enjoyment of the exhibition was the expansiveness with which the exhibition was mounted. There were additional rooms that stretched out to share literature, music, video, and photographs of other artists from the time period. It was wonderful to get a multidimensional view of the explosion of black arts at the time. Fantastic


What Happened, Ms. Simone?
I found this Netflix documentary about Nina Simone absolutely riveting and layered. The level of presence she brought to performing was a major theme of the documentary, but for me the theme that was most compelling was the issue of representation—how issues of abuse, family, mental health, freedom, the cost of life, the cost of fame, genius, racism, social unrest and escape are explored through her body and her presence. I felt each of these issues intensely and viscerally through the lens of Nina Simone’s tumultuous life. She was a woman of the times in one sense—in the sense of a woman being expected to marry and let her husband take care of things. At the same time, she was timeless, a woman of another world completely, with her vision, her talent, and her fierceness. An amazing portrait of both a woman and a time; a society and a situation.


Michelle Dorrance’s The Blues Project

I was thrilled to see Michelle Dorrance’s Blues Project at Lincoln Center this summer. It was such a breath of fresh air on so many levels. Throughout the concert, it was clear that something different was happening—in addition to the fact that it featured tap choreography that was more like what you see in modern dance, than Broadway razzmatazz, there were female hoofers going in hard with the foot stomps and thumps as I’ve only seen men do. Dorrance also included in her dance company dances of different sizes, heights, and shapes. Throughout the show, it was clear that this was a passionate groups of dancers committed to a rare artform. Later in the year, Dorrance was awarded a MacArthur fellowship for her work. Her interview is here and you can see her dance here. Like her dancers, Dorrance is a delight and a marvel to watch. As Gia Kourlas of The New York Times states Dorrance’s “sunny charisma and lanky body work in mesmerizing combination as she glides across the floor or hits it with fury. (Her coordination and speed are incredible.)" The New York Times does not exagerate,

Clementine Wamariya’s essay Everything Is Yours, Everything Is Not Yours




In a multi-part essay, called Everything Is Yours, Everything Is Not Yours, Rwandan Clemantine Wamariya writes about her life as a refugee following the Rwanda massacre. in addition to the harrowing details of surviving while the world is crumbling around you, Wamariya has a piercing analysis of the world and a wit that makes you want to keep reading and reading.


Grace Jones at the AfroPunk Music Festival
The other thing that makes me jealous of artists is when I see an artist being completely free. At 67 years old, Grace Jones is a riot of freedom, self-possession, outrageousness, and ferocity. Changing her robe and headgear between every song, Jones pranced her way through a full set at the 2015 Afropunk music festival. We were thrilled, we were enchanted, and we were inspired, as she:

Wearing white paint on her nude body and a corset/codpiece, Jones took us back to the days of disco with a bubble machine and riding through the crowd on a man’s shoulders:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=27&v=kXpzccEFhaU



She had men in body paint dancing on poles and she freaked them:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuMFoM9npDg
She changed her headwear and covering with every song:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeoxwDTooL8

And she hula hooped the entire way through Slave to the Rhythm (This video link doesn’t show the night I went, the night I went that hula hoop didn’t stop.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=25&v=wyOS08gaw_c




Wishing you all a fierce 2016 full of presence, passion, and bold artistry.
Be well. Be love[d].

Kiini Ibura Salaam






Kiini Ibura Salaam is a writer and painter from New Orleans, LA. Her work is rooted in eroticism, speculative events and worlds, and women's perspectives. Her fiction has been published in a number of anthologies, including Dark Matter, Mojo: Conjure Stories, and Dark Eros. Her essays have been published in Essence, Ms., and Colonize This. She is the author of the KIS.list, an e-column that explores the writing life. Her first collection of short stories, Ancient, Ancient, was published by Aqueduct Press in May 2012 and was a co-winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award. She lives in Brooklyn.