Liftoff for Alternative Futurisms

Oct. 16-17 conference, symposium and panels launch yearlong series of events exploring science fiction through lens of racial inclusiveness

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A yearlong exploration of ethnic futurisms launches this month. Art work by John Jennings

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – UC Riverside will expand the universe of science fiction literature with a yearlong exploration of ethnic futurisms that kicks off in October with a two-day conference, panel discussions, film screenings and a public reading.

Scholars from the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and the United Kingdom will participate in the conference, “Revising the Past, Remaking the Future,” which will be held Oct. 16-17 at the Culver Center of the Arts in downtown Riverside, 3824 Main St. Science fiction and film scholar Barry Keith Grant of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, will present the keynote address on Saturday, Oct. 17 at 11:30 a.m. His topic is “The Forbidden Zone: Race, Genre, and the American Science Fiction Film.”

The conference is free and open to the public, but registration is encouraged as seating is limited. Registration may be made online. View the conference schedule here.

The event launches Alternative Futurisms, a yearlong program of events that will foster discussion among scholars, artists and writers engaged in the exploration and production of radical speculative fiction rooted in African, Latino, Indigenous and Asian diasporas. It is funded by a prestigious $175,000 Sawyer Seminar grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Science fiction fans and scholars are rethinking what counts as science fiction, explained Sherryl Vint, professor of English and co-director of the Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies (SFTS) program with Rob Latham, professor of English. Vint is co-principal investigator of the Sawyer Seminar with Latham and Nalo Hopkinson, professor of creative writing and an award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy.

“The canon is not monolithically white,” she added. “Questions of social justice are emerging, particularly with regard to colonialism, to issues of environmentalism and sustainable futures, and to visions of our possible futures emerging from non-Western histories and locations.”

The term Afrofuturism was coined in 1993 to describe the work of writers such as Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler that grappled with the African American experience of technologized modernity.

drawing of American Indian

Alternative Futurisms is a yearlong exploration of radical speculative fiction rooted in African, Latino, Indigenous and Asian diasporas. Art work by John Jennings

“Currently there’s an upwelling of science fictional work from writers and artists of diverse backgrounds: Diasporic African, Chicano, Latino, First Nations, multiracial, Asian, South Asian, etc., who are excited by the strategies that science fiction and fantastical literature use to contemplate social change and resistance to hegemonies,” Hopkinson said.

“This is literature that challenges the status quo,” she continued. “There are stories of androids claiming rights as sentient beings, for example. It has been a fruitful literature. California is boiling with writers of color in SF and fantasy. UC Riverside is a great place to be making dialog about futurisms that are racially inclusive.”

The yearlong program of scholarly discussions, graduate-level courses, and public lectures, panels, readings, and performances will build on the success of a Latino science fiction conference the SFTS program presented in April 2014 — an event believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

Other events scheduled this fall are:

  • Oct. 6 – Panel, “Asian American Speculative Fiction,” 3:30-5 p.m., on the UCR campus, CHASS Interdisciplinary 1113
  • Oct. 15 – Science Fiction Studies Symposium on “Retrofuturism,” 2-5 p.m. at the Culver Center, a biannual event highlighting science fiction scholarship sponsored by the journal Science Fiction Studies and hosted by UC Riverside
  • Oct. 19 – Panel, “Settler Colonial Theory and Speculative Fiction,” 3:30-5 p.m., CHASS Interdisciplinary 1111
  • Oct. 27 – Public reading by Stephen Graham Jones, a Blackfoot Native American author of more than 20 novels, story collections, novellas, and other works of experimental fiction, horror fiction, crime fiction, and science fiction, 3:30-5 p.m., Interdisciplinary 1113
  • Nov. 2 – Screening of “Generation Last” and Q&A with director Joel Juarez, a filmmaker based out of L.A. and Mexico City, Interdisciplinary 1128. “Generation Last” is a dystopian, global warming thriller and coming of age story based on the Mexican story of “The Chenekes.”
  • Nov. 3 – Film screenings and panel discussion on Latino science fiction films, 3-9 p.m., Culver Center. Screening at 3 p.m. of “El Incidente,” directed by Isaac Ezban, is an award-winning, philosophical science fiction film about characters trapped in illogical endless spaces. Panel discussion with Ezban and Joel Juarez, director of “Generation Last,” 5 p.m. Reception 6-7 p.m. Screening at 7 p.m. of Ezban’s “Los Parecidos,” which involves a group of characters experiencing strange phenomena while waiting for a bus to Mexico City in 1986.
  • Nov. 10 – Panel, “African Disaporic Speculative Fiction,” Interdisciplinary 1113

Among the events planned for the winter is a reading by award-winning author Walter Mosley on Feb. 3, 2016. Mosley, who will appear during Writers Week, is the author of more than 40 works of fiction and nonfiction, including the popular Easy Rawlins (“Devil in a Blue Dress”) and Fearless Jones mysteries.

All events are free and open to the public. Reservations are required for the Nov. 3 event as seating is limited. Registration will be available on the Alternative Futurisms website. There is a charge to park on campus. Permits may be obtained at the kiosk on West Campus Drive near the University Avenue entrance to the campus.

The conference and series of events are sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, UCR ARTSblock via research funding from the Getty Foundation, the UCR Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies program, and UCR’s Center for Ideas and Society.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation makes grants in four core program areas: higher education and scholarship; scholarly communications and information technology; art history, conservation, and museums; and performing arts. The Sawyer Seminars program was established in 1994 to provide support for comparative research on the historical and cultural sources of contemporary developments.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-7847
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

Sherryl Vint

Nalo Hopkinson

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