We have survived. Living a disaster movie is definitely not as much fun as watching it on the big screen. 2011 has been a disaster year with scenes worthy of a Roland Emmerich blockbuster:
In January and February record breaking snow hammered the Northeast. Blizzard after blizzard caved in roofs and shut down our lives.
In June a tornado turned the sky florescent orange and snatched up trees and rooftops and dropped them on our heads.
An Earthquake shook our foundations in July.
A hurricane blew through in August, swelling a thousand creeks and streams to roaring torrents—the Deerfield River plucked up a quilt studio and carried the building several blocks down the main street of Shelburne Falls.
Just before Halloween, a Nor’easter came trick or treating. The trees still had full heads of green leaves. Heavy wet snow snapped their spines. A thousand trees in Central Park, NYC did not survive the devastation. Trees everywhere suffered a similar fate: shattered limbs twisted in high winds; broken boughs got tangled in live wires; roots got ripped from the ground as massive trunks lay across the bike-paths and highways. The trees howl at us. Who will speak for the trees?
That’s just the story from the Northeast. Texas burnt up this summer with dangerous drought and record heat. The Missouri River flooded... and that’s just from the US saga. Japan suffered earthquakes and meltdowns. The worst drought in sixty years plagues East Africa. Thailand is still under water.
Climate change, superstorms, and fervent denial along with brutalized girl children, nuclear disaster, xenophobic violence, corporate megapersons, unprecedented species and culture extinction, and folks forced to abandon their humanity and join/become the machines... We live a fragile existence, perilously poised between human folly, marvelous technology, and wondrous, terrifying nature. We have survived, and I am very grateful for the perspective achieved in the wake of these recent disasters. Time is precious. We can’t waste what years, days, moments we have being “well-adjusted to injustice,” to quote Cornel West. We can’t lose hope.
2011 is/was also the year of the Arab Spring, the year the Middle East became the epicenter of revolution, the year that the 99% occupied our imagination in streets and squares and towns all over the world. Some reports claim that the folks out protesting are chaotic and undirected—that they don’t have one party line, one sound bite, one story to tell. But I have no trouble understanding the agenda. The 99% don’t want the 1% writing the story that the 99% have to live. This is a science fictional moment. Who gets to write the future? Who will define/create the fantasy we call reality? Now is the time to organize the rage and transform the pages of history. Welcome to the folks breaking out of the prison post-industrial complex and shaking up the dystopia!
So I am celebrating the rich cacophony of voices telling the story, turning the mainstream into an ocean, vast and deep enough for us all. I am proud to be among that number lifting our voices, prophets speaking to tomorrow. I was recently on a panel in New York City at the Center for Fiction, "Outsiders In/Of Science Fiction and the Fantastic," and we conversed about the feminist, queer, people of color SF & F authors offering the world gripping, illuminating tales. Speculative, jazz storytellers (not just story-sellers) have been busy riffing on the history we embody to offer wise inspiration for right now, for our disaster movie lives and for the future we’d like to live. Indeed, in 2011 outsiders in/of science fiction and the fantastic have been lauded, and feted, and read all over. Nisi Shawl, author of Filter House, was the queen of Wiscon, and people of color attended the Madison, Wisconsin feminist SF & F convention in record numbers. Mainstream feminist author Pearl Cleage wrote a Vampire novel, Just Wanna Testify, from the Atlanta of her heart. N. K. Jemisin’s fantasy novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, won the Locus award for best first novel (and was on the shortlist for everything!). A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin was/is one of the NEA’s BIG READ books. At Aqueduct, a visionary feminist SF & F press, Timmi DuChamp and co. have gone long beyond the fifty-book milestone and inaugurated a literary review magazine, The Cascadia Subduction Zone. Aqueduct press published my new feminist speculative novel, Redwood and Wildfire. Vandana Singh won the Carl Brandon Parallax Award for Distances, her lyrical, mathematical meditation. Grace L. Dillon gathered her anthology, Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction and sold it to The University of Arizona Press. Nnedi Okorafor’s ferocious, daring book, Who Fears Death, won the World Fantasy Award for best novel (and was on the shortlist for everything!).
I confess to secret fears. I worry that too many Americans have become passive consumers, addicted to gigabyte stimulation and empty calories for the spirit. I worry that too few of us have the resources to stand up and be agents of change. However, traveling across the USA doing performance/readings of Redwood and Wildfire with vocalist/songwriter Pan Morigan, I’ve met folks from North Carolina to Seattle, from San Francisco to Chicago, from Peru, Nebraska to Storrs, Connecticut who are in fact amazing and inspiring agents of change, folks who know how to have a good time and make good times! Contrary to my fears, the 99% are on the move, acting up and acting out.
As I think of our precarious, fragile existence and the disasters brought on by human folly and the wild majesty of our planet, I am also in wonder and awe at our imaginative resilience! Here’s to the 99% writing the future.
Andrea Hairston is a playwright, director, and SF&F novelist. Her first SF novel, Mindscape, won the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award, was on the Tiptree Honor list and shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award. Her second novel, Redwood and Wildfire, is an historical fantasy about murder, magic, and the transformative power of music.