BA Mambo

Okay, I was doing this series of posts with photos from my France travels, and I’m still totally going to finish that, but I’ve returned to America and recently started a new project I’m going to call My BA Paper. It’s not a very creative name, I know. But it’s functional. I was lucky enough to secure an advisor a few months ago, so all I have to do is read all these books and short stories and then write the paper.


My selected research interest is postcolonial speculative fiction, which has been getting more and more discussion lately. I’ve noticed the topic is discussed more and more recently, and I think that’s partially because of the vibrant community of SFF writers and readers who take a critical approach to what they write and why. Actually, I was a little hesitant to address this topic in an academic setting, because so many of the best discussions and critiques of postcolonial SFF have been in non-academic settings. Specifically, they’ve been in settings that are directly tied to the genre somehow (blogs!), and given the fact that academia hasn’t always been kind to SFF, I wasn’t sure if this was the best approach.

However, there’s also been a growth of academic literature on the topic, and I felt that if I was going to write a BA paper, spend a bazillion hours of my life on it next year, I wanted to write something meaningful not only to me, but I wanted to write something about a topic that was new and invigorating. At least to academia. (No more Shakespeare papers, plz.)

The topic probably became fully realized when I read this article on io9, about the book above by Jessica Langer (PhD), which I saw several months ago, way before I started to think about a BA topic. I had already been fairly involved in postcolonial studies, taking a smattering of classes on the subject in school. My favorite has been a course on pidgin and creole languages, which will become important later.

Langer’s book wasn’t available to the public yet – and I’m still working on securing a copy to read (UCHICAGO LIBRARY WEBSITE SO CONFUSING HELP) – so when I mentioned the book on Facebook, my dad decided to buy a copy of So Long Been Dreaming, an anthology edited by Nalo Hopkinson, instead.

My parents. Always indulging my bizarre weekly obsessions.

It turns out that was a good move on my dad’s part, seeing as Nalo Hopkinson is one of those writers who’s well-known for doing exactly what I wanted to study. She’s kind of who everyone talks about when they talk about postcolonial SF. And specifically regarding my interests, Hopkinson addresses issues of language imperialism and supremacy in her work, and I’m a language and language policy dork.

Seriously. The world’s biggest dork.

I guess a big question for me, which I’d like to address over the course of my paper, is, “What’s the significance of writing in the language of the colonizer?” Hopkinson writes in patois, occasionally, and also has some of her characters speaking creole-flavored Englishes. (I told you that class would be important later!) So then we also have to consider – “What is the significance of writing in the language of the displaced and the colonized?”

This question is particularly interesting to me because of a point Hopkinson makes in the introduction to So Long Been Dreaming, where she talks about the major genre conventions of SF. I’ll paraphrase: SF has always been a genre whose themes include war and conquest. Can writers of color, writers of the diaspora, use SF to tell their stories?

And then, because I have to ask: What complicates this project? Are any of these obstacles insurmountable? How does a writer manufacture a “self,” either for herself or her characters, using the tropes and language of colonizers? Is this self-project sustainable, or will it eventually crumble?

Oh my Jesus, I used the word “self-project” in a blog post. This is too much.

But seriously, this is a fascinating phenomenon for me. (I am, after all, a child of colonialism. I’m an American, and, you know, biracial.) It’s also increasingly important to the SFF community, I feel, which is becoming more interested in embracing non-Western voices and viewpoints in what it wants to read.

I hope I’ll be able to address these questions in my paper, but ultimately I can’t and won’t know until I’ve given a lot of attention to the literature I want to address. But I hopefully will! And it’ll be SUPER AMAZINGLY AWESOME and I’ll get to be a huge dork all next year.


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