aqueducts: conversations and a small announcement

Among WisCon’s most exciting conversations was this panel: Imagining Radical Democracy, Practising Feminist Anarchy, documented by geek feminist poet Liz Henry. I organized and moderated the panel in the hope of bringing together ideas about anarchistic politics new and old, feminism, and what it means to engage deeply with speculative fiction in a politically volatile and rapidly changing world. Liz’s rapid-fire notetaking and her impressionistic notes capture the feeling of the panel quite beautifully. Its great joy was the depth with which we were able to begin speaking immediately; the shared language and commitments that the panelists had, the way ideas built on one another and leapt between us like sparks. It was the excitement a great graduate seminar can elicit––but more accessible, open, public.

The panelists have all published with Aqueduct Press, the small independent publishing house run by Timmi Duchamp, whose mission is to “bring challenging feminist science fiction to the discerning reader.” Since 2005, Aqueduct have brought a truly amazing set of works to print, including Duchamp’s prescient and disturbing Marq’ssan cycle, a 5-volume utopian/dystopian contemplation on feminist and anarchist revolutionary transformation that was first published in the 1980s; Andrea Hairston’s Redwood and Wildfire, a convergence of magic, performance, romance, and subaltern Black and Native American histories; and Liz Henry’s densely allusive poetry of technology and speculation. And my Futures of Feminism and Fandom, which collects sf fans’ and writers’ thoughts on various relationships of race, gender, media, and history in speculative fiction’s feminist fan cultures.

There are many wonderful small publishers, print and online; what makes Aqueduct particularly special to me is their commitment to the open discourse of transformation and possibility that feminist science fiction has been fostering for more than thirty years. The aqueduct brings life-giving nourishment to the mind, creating enduring links between those of us who share it. Liz says it all, better than I could:

Aqueduct Press for me has solidified, made real, some of the exciting public discourse that happens at WisCon, the connections that spark our thought, the utopian ideals we share, the passion that fuels our daily practice of life and activism and writing. It made our conversations more public, and I hope adds another small brick to the things we are building, the ways we are trying desperately not to lose our histories as women, as marginalized people who are aware of the processes that shape how the stories are told and what is allowed to be seen as “real”. When I first realized what Timmi was trying to do by starting Aqueduct I was happy beyond explanation. Something that was my dream was happening in the world — for real. Cultural artifacts created and fostered, nurtured, grown. Timmi is my hero for doing this, for committing her life work to this act, for making our communities visible to each other and to others, for exposing us further as public intellectuals. I am so honored to be part of it and that they publish my work. Long ago I realized that what I wanted in life was not fame, money, success, the Good Life, in the way people sometimes describe what goals should be, but instead the respect of other people I respect. It was like a little mantra for me. Whenever it became reality in a small way, I felt bolstered and comforted: a sign I was on the right track. I rather imagined (as a teenager, in my childlike hero worship) that as an embarrassingly specific little scenario: that I’d be at a cocktail party with Marge Piercy, and she’d know my work, and we’d talk about our ideals, books, feminism, and poetics as equals in the creative process even if not equals in worldly position or age. WisCon and Aqueduct have made that dream come true for me even if I have not yet achieved the particular Nirvana of wine and cheese with Marge.

Committed as I am to open access online publication, to new forms in audiovisual and electronic media, I still think that we need publishers like Aqueduct to gather, curate, and most of all preserve the deep contemplations, arguments, histories, and transformative imaginings we are continually creating. And so I am proud to say that I have a new project with them in the works: it’s still early days, but Aqueduct’s Heirloom Books imprint will be bringing out a new edition of Elizabeth Burgoyne Corbett’s 1888 New Amazonia: A Foretaste of the Future, a utopia by a British feminist journalist that provided the starting point for my dissertation’s historicizing of the deviant futures of political speculative fictions.

Corbett’s was among the most interesting of many early works I unearthed when I was exploring the ways that radical women used imagined futures to attempt interventions into political discourses coded as male. It is a troubling work, embedded in eugenic and colonial frames that it nevertheless seems awkwardly to be trying to critique, even to escape. As I wrote about works like this one, I grew ever more convinced that there is much to be learned from their failures to successfully imagine alternatives; my desire to bring the book into print is less a matter of feminist reclamation (though I do fervently hope others will choose to write about it) than it is a wish to share the experience of grappling with the complicated histories of utopian imaginaries. Some of this material is likely to be cut as I develop my dissertation into a manuscript that will work as an academic queer studies text, so I’m especially delighted that I will be able to share my explorations with the kind of appreciative audience Aqueduct has made possible.

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