International collaboration encourages Octavia Butler-inspired future stories from a society struggling to deal with the legacy of the past

What does a Black feminist science fiction writer have to do with the Irish peace process?

Before I had the opportunity to read the anthology "Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements," I would not have made any connection between the two.

The story collection, published in 2015, uses lessons derived from the work of Black feminist science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler as a starting point and is organized around the premise that all organizing is science fiction.

The book features organizers engaged in justice movements exploring the connections between science fiction and their work, as they open avenues, new possibilities and create new worlds. I had been an activist and organizer for over 20 years and reading this book fundamentally changed the way I approach my work. It inspired me to broaden my perspective on what’s possible. To fight for a better world, you must first envision what you want that world to look like, bound only by your imagination.

Northern Ireland is currently in a period of transition, without a functioning Executive for more than a year, and the implications of Brexit on the future of the island remain to be seen. The impact that Brexit will have on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is a particularly challenging and contentious issue.

It is into this climate that my nonprofit, Éist, will launch our flagship program, "Rewriting the Future: Visionary Fiction, Storytelling, and Social Justice" in Belfast. While on its surface these contextual issues may not seem directly relevant to this particular project, they highlight the fragile and ever-changing nature of peace.

Read more: The dream that never died: the journey to peace in Northern Ireland

Check out our new #GoFundMe for our #Belfast #visionaryfiction project! #OctaviaButler #Afrofuturism #peacebuilding #Ireland #sciencefiction

— Éist (@eistworks) July 18, 2018

Rewriting the Future is a science-fiction-writing program which seeks to use the lessons derived from Butler’s work and Afrofuturism and apply them to an Irish post-conflict context, and has been designed in partnership with Armagh-based Diversity Challenges and the editors of Octavia’s Brood.

From my days as the National President of the Irish American Unity Conference to my work in communications with the International Center for Transitional Justice, I’ve always believed that real change happens when people imagine and build creative alternatives that are built on foundations of solidarity and a commitment to creating a better world.

"Rewriting the Future" focuses on writing that promotes the inter-related themes of empowerment, participation, and voice—themes which are central to the role that Irish America should play in promoting and supporting grassroots efforts toward meaningful social, economic, and political change.

Empowerment: Are we creating change that will increase the ability of people to meaningfully define their own lives and situations? Participation: Who will be at the table when the decisions are made—the ones who created the problems in the first place or the ones with the greatest need for creative solutions? And Voice: Do all those who wish to be involved have access to the debate?

We are poised at a moment of time in Northern Ireland where the future is uncertain and, for many families engaged in truth-seeking and accountability struggles, the past continues to cast a shadow over the present.

Given my experience working on issues related to the peace process, my first thought upon finishing Octavia’s Brood was: What would future stories from Northern Ireland, a society still grappling with how best to deal with the legacy of the past look like? How might a shared experience of conflict inform the potential for new narratives of progress—particularly in an environment where the past looms as an obstacle to a shared future?

We love this program: "The 'future' in 'Afrofuturism' is as infinite and as varied as our imaginations" -Emma Dabiri

— Éist (@eistworks) July 10, 2018

I believe the craft of visionary fiction provides a creative intervention, a way to reimagine the future of Northern Ireland in which the writer becomes the negotiator, and the cultural landscape knows no bounds. Central to the approach of visionary fiction is the idea that playing with reality and imagining one’s future story, unbound by actions of the past or a destiny perceived, can alter a person’s potential and create new avenues for creativity and imagination. "Rewriting the Future" will explore how engaging with science fiction can change participants’ relationships with their own stories.

Adrienne Maree Brown, one of the Octavia’s Brood editors, describes the type of worlds that the craft of visionary fiction seeks to create:

“We don't seek a world where everyone is the same, or agrees to the same set of values and practices. Instead, we invite writers and artists to show us visions of a world where difference in values and priorities creates a multiverse of beautiful existence. We are particularly curious about concepts of justice in the future, how communities might work together to root out hatred, isolationism, supremacy—those things which make our current societies so sick,” wrote Brown in an article for OpenDemocracy.

The benefits of storytelling and testimony for healing and reconciliation in post-conflict communities have been widely recognized by academics and community organizers. "Rewriting the Future" is different from typical forms of story work used in post-conflict areas in that it presents fiction as opposed to oral history. Our storytelling laboratories will target youth and victim-survivors of the political conflict, and are designed to create space for those who have been marginalized to take control of the narrative of progress in their communities.

Although known for confronting social justice issues in her work, as well as being the first in the science fiction genre to feature women of color as protagonists, Butler would often say that she did not set out to write about issues. “I set out to make people feel history,” Butler told NPR in 2004.

We seek to address the following questions in our workshops: What does it mean to live together in the midst of multiple parallel realities? Can the process of envisioning the future through storytelling create seeds of hope or allow for the creation of possibilities that seemed out of reach before? Can future stories be used to open space for collective dialogue about the past?

We are eager to begin to rewrite the future in Belfast, and thanks to a generous grant from Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs’ Reconciliation Fund, we are almost all the way there! Please visit our GoFundMe page to help finish our raise.

Octavia Butler once said, “Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.“

The solutions we create are limited only by the ways in which we structure the problems. Let’s work together to create a new story in Northern Ireland.

This article was submitted to the IrishCentral contributors network by a member of the global Irish community. To become an IrishCentral contributor click here.