Dreaming a World

Black to the Future Seattle, 2004AH, THE beauty of the web: These photographs showed up on Facebook over the weekend. Six years ago this month, Seattle’s Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas hosted a conference Black to the Future, which was a multiple-day exploration of black writers who have toiled in the areas of genre fiction —  more precisely “speculative fiction.” It was a well-attended, thought-provoking event that brought together various top-tier names including Walter Mosley, Tananrieve Due, and the great, late Octavia Butler.

Butler opened the event with a poignant keynote that went deep into her own reading and writing past. When she set out in the early 70s to train her eye on the future — a world beyond Post-Civil Rights reconstruction —  she didn’t meet up with much encouragement. If you were a black writer, she explained, and you weren’t writing about race — or racism — in an explicit way you were, frankly, wasting your time.

” . . . “There were lots of [stories with] big-bellied sheriffs,” Butler recalled, in her burnished, down-deep basement voice, holding court before an on-the-edge-of-their-seats crowd . . . . at the Seattle Center complex. “That just got tiresome.”

Trying to metaphorically build a world through words where the narrative was in your control and ultimately, for better or worse, the outcome, was  at the crux of its allure for both African American writers and readers of speculative fiction.  We can’t quite fix our present, so why not  look down the road at what’s to come?  Attendees came from as far away as Holland to sit in on animated panel discussions, seminars and workshops. There were students, DJs, actors, fans and workaday folks, even a young man who went by the name “7” — but, well,  that’s another story.

I covered the event for the Los Angeles Times. My piece is here. The organizers’ hope had been to try to do something on this scale again. The future is still ours to dream.

photo caption: from top, L.G. at right, at work; Octavia Butler, bottom: Tananarive Due (third from left), event organizer, Denee McCloud (end)
photo credit: Paul Toliver

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