December 27, 2022 Spring 2022
The six-week long science fiction reading group Reading into the Past / Writing into the Future: Portal Unlocked has come to an end! The group, hosted by Ashley Jane Lewis, met synchronously (on Zoom) and asynchronously (on Discord) to discuss Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor. The group was based on the 10-week class and composed of former participants of Reading into the Past / Writing into the Future (RPWF), a class originally taught by Ashley Jane Lewis with assistant teacher Carey J. Flack.
Ashley invited participants to begin closing the portal with a rumination that guided them through questions posed by Meghna in the Discord channel. After the rumination, discussion ensued. The session ended with one final rumination based on questions posed by Joao in the Discord.
Read excerpts from the discussion below:
- Ashley + Meghna: What is authenticity? What makes things authentic? Is it the intentionality? The action?
- Maggie: The worst chocolates that remind me of my childhood. Cheap recess peanut butter cups.
- Ashley: The ones with the powdered film on the exterior!
- Kayla: Cooking breakfast skillets and speaking Chinglish (Chinese + English) to remind myself of how I speak to my grandma at home — even if I know the actual Chinese word — it comforts me.
- Fee: My mom’s chicken salad recipe. Moved to Germany and couldn’t source American mayonnaise. German mayonnaise made the recipe taste different. Reminds me of the tension between trying to stay true to something, and trying to adapt to new environments and play.
- Ashley: This conversation reminds me of Binti and how her new environment allows her to set a new precedent informed by her ancestry.
- Ashley: My grandfather is Jamaican and I’ve walked into West Indian stores and been immediately transported back to his house, while not totally being accepted by West Indian people who don’t see me as fully Jamaican.
- Maggie: [Spoiler alert] At the end of the book, Binti expresses desire to have biological children. What was interesting and different about this book is the many different identities Binti holds and her capacity to transcend them. I don’t see her falling back on any of her identities or histories, I see her creating something new and queering her own family and future.
- Fee: In my mind, I can see Binti telling her children about her Himba culture in a way that makes it very clear that the new and current family structure is the daily ritual and norm.
- Ashley: It’s interesting to think about how the definition of Himba culture will change after the new generations of Binti’s children grow. There are two things at play: to be Himba by culture and to be Himba by nature.
- Ashley: On a broad level, what do you think is the most important point of disruption that changes the way a culture operates?
- Fee: I’ve seen a lot of cultural change at the local, individual level where the way a person is perceived is challenged in quotidian, daily conversations and interactions. Cultural change can happen in private, intimate relationships.
- Kayla: I’ve been engaging with an Indigenous arts community in Taiwan called Pulima and specifically an artist who “makes traditional clothing that’s not traditional at all.” Her weaving techniques remind her of rivers. She says, “isn’t weaving an act of love making?” The way she talks about her work so freely — that she’s not about strictly preserving tradition — I was so moved because it’s a freedom of expression that counters western notions of cultural preservation.
- Maggie: This reminds me of how Binti had one jar left and how the scarcity model in a colonized worldview gets reproduced.
- Ashley: I love the use of push and pull in the book from (de)coloniality to gender and sexuality. Does anybody want to start a conversation about this?
- Heather: Can you share the quotes? I didn’t get that far in the book!
- Ashley: [Read the following quotes:]
- Ashley: It’s interesting how the conversation flows differently from our own earthbound way!
- Maggie: There’s also the other angle of how to use the proper honorifics within a multispecies universe contrary to our own human world.
- Ashley: What did you think when you read the quotes?
- Maggie: I remembered reading it and thinking about when the book was published and how progressive it was. It was very non-chalant. I think this is a big discussion that I’ve seen within the topic of queer representation in media. How do you have authentic characters that aren’t pigeon holed into being flat characters that are as deep as their identities. It was cool to read this and keep learning about the characters and forgetting that they were trans because of how much depth they had.
- Fee: It was really interesting to see how the characters' emotions changed as their gender, sex, and species changed! This helped me question the ways that I think about change — that change doesn’t only have to come from within you.