Happy Black Speculative Fiction Month! Tonight, I continue my series of “Fantastic Books…” by showcasing Recurrence Plot (and other Time Travel Tales) written by SF Author Rasheedah Phillips. Recurrence Plot has themes of Afro-Futurism, a sub-genre Rasheedah helped to popularize, and that she continues to champion. This, in addition to themes of time-travel (another of my favorite themes), and Rasheedah’s excellent, surreal writing made Recurrence Plot a pleasure to edit. So without further adieu I present: Rasheedah Phillips!
(Portions of this Interview were previously published in Genesis Science fiction magazine, and also include interviews with Author Alicia McCalla, and The Nobantu Project)
Introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Rasheedah Phillips. By day, I am a public interest attorney at a nonprofit legal organization, assisting low-income Philadelphians with housing issues. Against the backdrop of night, I explore the fine line between fiction and reality, experiment with time order, reverse cause and effect, turn black holes inside out to create worlds, and rearrange the cosmos to foster favorable astrological conditions my characters. I am also a mother to my teen daughter Iyonna, and the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, a community for Philadelphia Afrofuturists and Black Science Fictionists.
Why did you decide to use the theme of intergenerational poverty in your book Recurrence Plot?
As an attorney representing low-income tenants living in public housing, intergenerational poverty is something that I witness daily in both my work and my community, and something I have had personal experiences with. It felt both natural and necessary to weave those topics into my stories, which are speculative re-tellings of real life experiences. Outside of the context of politics and policy, where they are spun and distorted, these complicated tales of intergenerational poverty are rarely heard and rarely analyzed.
Part of the reason why cycles of poverty and trauma perpetuate and repeat because these stories are rendered invisible, go unacknowledged, or are manipulated to suit particular agendas. This theme is an illustration of the ways in which our collective and personal pasts continue to affect us, how we reinforce or manifest negative and positive cycles of experience both in our personal lives and within the larger communities and societies that we participate in, and how we can break or shift these cycles. Fiction, and science fiction in particular, is uniquely suited, with a special language and lens, to tell these tales using raw, lived experiences, and helpful in figuring out the root causes of these issues.
Does your set of shorts, in your eyes, reflect Afrofuturistic feminism or Afrofuturistic womanism or neither?
I was not consciously claiming either feminist or womanist ideologies in writing the stories, but the book definitely seeks to tell the stories and experiences unique to Black women, from a speculative, afrofuturistic point of view. I sought to explore particular intersections of experience that are often missing from mainstream narratives of science and speculative fiction. I wanted to highlight the story of a teen mother, the story of a kid who grew up in foster care, the story of a first generation college student, the story child caught up in the justice system — and how these everyday, real world experiences parallel, or better yet, seamlessly blend into a science fictional world. The sheer weirdness of the societal institutions that we are apart of and how they impact our lives.
Because identities are political in and of themselves, and because my characters stand at the intersections of several identities, you could say the stories involve feminist or womanist concerns. However, these characters, in most circumstances, don’t necessarily have the time, space, or privilege to pick an ideology before they respond to a situation. I also believe that certain ideologies, fully ingrained and integrated into our being, are often unconsciously played out in our actions. Like cycles, they often go unrecognized or unspoken, though they inform how we interact with the world.
Ultimately, I would like to leave it up to the reader to assign those particular lenses, if they find that there. I like the idea of each reader transforming the meaning of the text by their involvement in reading it, and by the act of bringing their own context and experiences to the text.
I love that your science of time travel feels magical and connected to historical objects. In the traditional senses, historical objects help us to reconnect to our ancestors, was that your hope?
Yes, the novel explores the everyday ways in which we “time travel,” simply by touching and interacting with everyday objects. Objects are artifacts of memory and meaning, storing up energy, energy which is neither created nor destroyed in the larger universe. These artifacts of memory tell events as they actually happen, as they have been experienced, while the history that we read about in books are only subjective representations of what historians believe is crucial to remember.
I believe that Black folk need to be more in touch with our cultural and historical artifacts. These artifacts, these puzzle pieces of ourselves and our cultural heritage, are mostly inaccessible, whether they sit in a museum, in the private collection of a wealthy person, have been destroyed, or have yet to be unearthed. We tend not to remember our deeper cultural history, and we believe ourselves to be sure of those things we are taught in school and in history books. If we had access to the objects of our history, living with us and within our reach, we would feel more in touch with ourselves, our past, and will thusly be provided with more guidance for the future.
You have said before that Afrofuturism has always been here and always will be. Can you share with our readers what you mean by that?
When I say that Afrofuturism has always been here, I mean that Black folk have always been futurist, have always been scifi, have always been mythological. Afrofuturism is a modern term to put to something we have always done, but haven’t always been known for or highlighted under.
Despite the term being of recent creation, the phenomenon that is classified as Afrofuturism has been around since humankind has been present to observe it. It was known as the supernatural, the unexplained, witchcraft, paganism, tribalism, spirituality, or mythology. One could infinitely regress until we are left with only observable nature and the most rudimentary forms of communication, mixed with the human tendency to exaggerate or distort memory and the human necessity to interact with our environments.
From the Dogon tribe to the Mayans, from the old negro spirituals to the tunes of Outkast, people of color have forever passed down their accounts of what has come to pass upon our people and what is still yet to come. Exploring the origins of science-fiction and the annals of history shows us that Black folk are a part of that group of humans who have always told stories of a speculative or science-fictional nature, back when it had no name, and even when it did. In my practice of Afrofuturism, I find that it is fundamentally about Africa, about seeking to connect ourselves back to the motherland, back to our ancestors, and back to their lessons and stories, through the vehicles of sci-fi, spec-fic, and all things that fit under that umbrella.
I believe that Afrofuturism will always be here because I see the concepts and phenomenon inherent to Afrofuturism as continuing to evolve from being a lens or critical theory, and into a culture, a lifestyle, a spiritual practice, a tool for liberation, a benevolent institution, and all-encompassing in its scope so that it can touch on all aspects of the Black existence through all modes and mediums of expression.
One critical point underlying Afrofuturism is the persistence of the Black existence into the as yet undefined future, so even if Afrofuturism changes its name, its label, the foundation will continue to persist. We stand at a critical moment in this thing called history where we can freeze the moment and recognize our abilities to manipulate the collective timeline for positive change. Creating the future, defining the meaning of the future, and our existence in it, I believe, is the power of Afrofuturism. And so Afrofuturism and the concepts connected to it, must always be here, if we are to be here. And I believe we will be.
Creative Director Rasheedah Phillips’ independently published debut novel Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales) is now available for sale! You can purchase Recurrence Plot online at:
Metropolarity Sci-Fi Distro
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