ENGL 373: Indigenous Speculative Fiction

Course description for a class I’ll be teaching at UBC in the Fall. Suggestions for readings appreciated!

In Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, Cherokee author and literary critic, Daniel Heath Justice argues that “we can’t possibly live otherwise until we first imagine otherwise (156, original emphasis). The power and art of speculative fiction (SF), a genre encompassing creative works that articulate a reality other than our own, is located in the ways in which it expands and tests our ability to imagine—and perhaps live—otherwise. In its attention to alternate realities, SF is often framed as a “world-building” genre. However, for SF authors such as Nalo Hopkinson and Cherie Dimaline, SF can also be about world-reclaiming. In the novel The Marrow Thieves, Dimaline articulates the reclamation achieved via speculative fiction as “an echo turned inside out” (230): a colonial narrative reflected and undone to imagine a decolonial future. Indeed, for Indigenous SF authors, such as Dimaline, the genre offers powerful glimpses outside of oppressive sociopolitical structures (settler colonialism, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, etc.) and towards alternative ways of relating to the land and one another.

In this course, we will read and watch a diversity of short- and long-form SF from within the contexts of critical Indigenous studies and engage that work through discussions and assignments. Our objective will be to unpack, analyze, and interrogate the aesthetics and politics of “imagining otherwise” in Indigenous SF. In completing this course, you will be conversant in the general discourses of SF and the specific interventions that Indigenous authors and filmmakers have made into the genre via themes such as decolonization, sovereignty, and self-determination. You will demonstrate your understanding of the material through discussion, weekly response papers, presentations, and a final research paper. Major texts include, The Marrow Thieves (Cherie Dimaline); Brown Girl in the Ring (Nalo Hopkinson); Mapping the Interior (Stephen Graham Jones); Love Beyond Body, Space and Time (Hope Nicholson, editor); and Moon of the Crusted Snow (Waubgeshig Rice)

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