On my 18th birthday, a friend of mine gave me The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I’d never considered myself a science fiction fan, and all of the people in my life who did were mostly dudes (and kind of jerks about it) so it sat on my shelf, untouched, for years. Then, one winter afternoon year later, I picked it up on a whim. It completely gripped me. I had no idea sci-fi could be so transformative.
“I go to a lot of sci-fi events and a lot of it turns out to be ‘steampunk-Victoriana’ [or] yet another homage to Lovecraft. Or the cult of Gaiman that’s come to town since he married Amanda Palmer,” says writer Kelsey Jarboe, whose production company, Ascii Flower, is behind Weird, Fantastic & Sublime—a celebration of speculative fiction taking place during Boston’s ArtWeek. “I’m glad people enjoy that stuff but it feels utterly irrelevant to my life, and I want to make something else for people who feel afraid to call themselves sci-fi fans. Where they prefer Octavia Butler to Frank Herbert, or whatever.”
Jarboe credits the inspiration for WF&S to Metropolarity, a Philadelphia-based curator who regularly hosts readings, workshops, release parties, and more, centered around reclaiming science fiction for marginalized groups and those with alternative identities. After meeting Metropolarity at the Rhode Island Independent Publishing Expo, Jarboe decided to launch Ascii Flower. “[The company is] a loose collective of zines, events, and other stuff that is explicitly coping with racism, with transphobia, with the fact that people pay to see pretty actresses act [dystopian] in theaters when real people already live in dystopia now, and they have imagination, and beauty, and very creative anger,” Jarboe says.
The event will bring together a menagerie of local speculative fiction writers in one room, and will allow attendees to connect directly with writers who share a desire for inclusive, radical creativity in the media they consume. Author and editor K. Tempest Bradford will serve as MC—she immediately said yes when Jarboe reached out to her about WF&S. “[Bradford is] a pretty vocal feminist and anti-racist who uses her platforms to question old guard and mainstream, and she’s so charismatic, too. I thought she’d be a good fit as a prominent personality who also immediately sets the tone that this event isn’t about the old guard or the mainstream,” Jarboe says. “In fact, you can truly love speculative fiction and comics and games and see the mess that is the Hugo Awards this year, and Gamergate, and all that nonsense, and be like, ‘Whatever, I’ll start my own thing.’”
Weird, Fantastic & Sublime defies definition, existing somewhere between a theatrical performance and an intimate reading. In the same vein as Oberon’s other cabaret-style programming, WF&S takes on the simple concept of a reading—and builds something completely new. “There’s drinking and dancing and I’d love for people to come in costume—if enough do, I may award prizes for them,” Jarboe says. “And of course most important to me, there’s the presentation of theater. The lighting, the sound, the playfulness.”
If WF&S is a success, Jarboe intends to plan many more events in the future that will bring together like-minded people in a safe and inclusive space. Above all, they hope to shatter the notion that speculative fiction belongs to a select few.
“I’m hoping [attendees will] take away a feeling of having been moved and freaked out a little, with something new to read or look up tucked in their bag, and a sense that their ideas and their lives are just a follow-through away from making their own space,” they say. “If fandom feels hostile to people, it’s because it is. Screw fandom, get together with your oversensitive, way-too-smart friends, and make something wonderful and creepy and fun.”
ASCII FLOWER PRESENTS: WEIRD, FANTASTIC, & SUBLIME. SUN 5.10. OBERON. 2 ARROW ST., CAMBRIDGE. 8PM/MATURE CONTENT/$15-20. FOR MORE INFORMATION VISIT AMERICANREPERTORYTHEATER.ORG