Filmmaker, Scholars to Discuss Ethnic Futurisms

June 9 conference wraps up yearlong exploration of science fiction through the lens of racial inclusiveness

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A yearlong study of ethnic futurisms concludes with a conference on June 9. Art work by John Jennings

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – A yearlong exploration of ethnic futurisms at the University of California, Riverside concludes with a conference on Thursday, June 9, that will feature scholars of science fiction and fantasy literature and a SF filmmaker.

The all-day conference, “Narrating the Future,” will begin at 9:15 a.m. at the Center for Ideas and Society, located in College Building South. It is free and open to the public. Parking permits for Lot 6  may be purchased at the kiosk on West Campus Drive at the University Avenue entrance to the campus.

The event wraps up the yearlong Sawyer Seminar on Alternative Futurisms, a program of scholarly discussions, graduate-level courses, and public lectures, panels, readings, and performances funded by a prestigious $175,000 Sawyer Seminar grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It built on the success of a Latino science fiction conference UCR’s Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies program presented in April 2014, an event believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

“The Sawyer Seminar on Alternative Futurisms has hosted an extremely fruitful year of conversations about speculative fiction and diversity, highlighting the dynamic and innovative work in the field by authors and other artists of color and holding a number of panel discussions among scholars of these fields,” said Sherryl Vint, professor of English and a co-principal investigator on the project. “Our events have explored how speculative fiction is a tool that can illuminate the ways that distinct experiences of colonialism, transnational flows of labor, and minority experiences of diaspora are shaped by a multitude of technosocial configurations.”

Artists, authors and scholars who visited UCR in the last year represent the cutting-edge of contemporary work in speculative fiction, she added.

“They bring new perspectives to well-known narratives of technological ‘progress’ and offer new stories to tell about how technology shapes our lives from the points of view that haven’t been sufficiently heard before. These events have seeded new conversations in the field, built bridges across various sites of study, and have achieved our goal of reorienting how one might approach the study of speculative fiction. We have begun to discover new futures might emerge through scholarship organized in new ways and look forward to continuing these conversations across the field of speculative fiction studies.”

Nalo Hopkinson, professor of creative writing and a co-principal investigator on the Sawyer Seminar project, said it was particularly important for seminar events to be hosted at a university with such a diverse population as UCR.

“Too often, imaginative narratives of technology, who owns the means and has the right to create the future, and what kind of futures are desirable are considered to mainly be the purview of the dominant Western cultures,” she explained. “The Sawyer Seminar forged connections that can serve to foster more inclusive discussions, practices and analyses across disciplines which have an interest in envisioning the future. Baldly put, by putting scholars and creators of speculative narratives from multiple ethnic, geographic and racial backgrounds in conversation, the seminar events helped to demonstrate to our students that right now, in the present, they can be active participants in building the future.”

Keynote speaker Mel Y. Chen, associate professor of gender and women’s studies and director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture at UC Berkeley, will discuss “Dys/topian Dis/ability.” Chen is the author of “Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect” (Duke University Press, 2012), which won the Alan Bray Award from Modern Language Association’s GL/Q Caucus. In the fall of 2009, Chen convened “Species Spectacles,” a U.C. Humanities Research Institute Residential Research Group focused on animality, sexuality and race. Chen’s short film, “Local Grown Corn” (2007), explores interweavings of immigration, childhood, illness and friendship. It has screened in both Asian and queer film festivals.

Filmmaker Alex Rivera will discuss “Data, Bodies, and Borders.” His first feature film, Sleep Dealer,” a science-fiction feature set on the U.S./Mexico border, won multiple awards at the Sundance Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival, was screened as part of “New Directors / New Films” at the Museum of Modern Art and Lincoln Center, and had a commercial release in the U.S., France, Japan, and other countries. Rivera is a Sundance Fellow, Rockefeller Fellow, USA Artist Fellow, Creative Capital grantee, was The Rothschild Lecturer at Harvard University, and was named one of Variety Magazine’s “10 Directors to Watch.” In 2015 he was awarded major support from the Surdna Foundation for his film-in-progress, “The Infiltrators,” and he received an Art & Technology Lab Grant from LACMA for an upcoming project in virtual reality with VR pioneer Nonny de la Peña.

Postdoctoral Fellow Brian K. Hudson and three Ph.D. students in the Department of English will discuss their research, which was funded by the Sawyer Seminar grant. Hudson will discuss “Cherokee Cyberpunk and Tribally-Specific Subgenres.” Graduate students who will present their work are: Stina Attebery, “Synthetics and Survivance in Archer Pechawis’ Horse”; Taylor Evans, “Post-hu(e)man: Golden Age SF and the Post-Racial”; and Kai Cheang, “Cuteness and the Avant-Garde at the Speculative Turn of Asian American Fiction.”

The full conference schedule is available online.

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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