by adrienne maree brown
In 1967, Detroit’s story changed in ways that the people of Detroit in say, 1917, might not have been able to long for or even imagine. This magazine was birthed into the world with an issue remembering the Detroit Rebellion. It included a piece that I wrote imagining 2067.
I’ve been future-oriented for as long as I can remember. I have come to believe that the longest battle the human species has been involved in is a battle of imagination. We are living inside a world imagined by men, by white people, by Europeans, by people who felt they needed to dominate the rest of the species, even if it cost us everything.
We have felt deep down in our bones that this isn’t true, that nothing in a miraculous being can ever be inferior. But it’s so hard to survive in the conditions of oppression. It’s been hard to look up, to see other worlds, other possibilities for ourselves, for everyone. Our visionaries tend to stand out — we love them, but can’t protect them. From this we are slowly learning that visioning, casting the future, must be a fundamentally collective act. And we need to practice, to hone our skill with this beautiful, dangerous weapon of imagine, because we must be great at it. The future will be shaped by us, or we will be complicit in the suffering of our children’s children.
With this grandiose perspective, I recently hosted a three day writing retreat as part of a larger project I’ve been cultivating called the Detroit Sci-Fi Generator. The idea of the generator is that Detroit is a post-apocalyptic city with a lot of science fiction in its soil, with a lot of places and issues that need the medicine of visionary fiction applied to them.
What is the medicine of visionary fiction, you might ask. Visionary fiction is fiction that uplifts collective change, centering grassroots movement building and historically marginalized voices as the sparking points for mass scale change. It is neither utopian or dystopian, but accepts that these two conditions co-exist and our work is to bring balance, equity and justice into the narrative. It knows that art is not neutral — it either upholds, disrupts or evolves the status quo. Visionary fiction demands that we are responsible about the art we create, the stories we perpetuate and challenge because we are in a battle for the whole world.
We in Detroit are in a battle for the city, for holding a vision of a thriving African-American metropolis that cares for its people, for a vision that doesn’t erase our legacy and genius. I wanted to cocreate Detroit visionary fiction, and I wanted to use emergent strategy to do it.
Emergent strategy is a way to speak of justice work we do that is adaptive, intentional, fractal, decentralized, nonlinear, resilience generating, creating more possibilities. I learned emergent strategy from reading visionary fiction prophet novelist Octavia Butler, an African American woman who gave us 12 novels and a collection of short stories in her too-short life. I also learned emergent strategy from listening to conversations at the Boggs Center on transforming ourselves to transform the world.
I wanted Detroit to tell a story that emerged from us together, that changed us in the process of creating it, that was collaborative, with space for our various world views.
So for a weekend, I gathered six adventurous Detroiters in the One Mile Garage. We centered our attention on places in Detroit that need visionary fiction medicine.
We consulted the I-Ching, a Chinese book of wisdom, about the energy we need to develop between now and 2067. We got the combo of mountain and thunder, “the corners of the mouth — providing nourishment,” meaning not just what we put into our bodies — which immediately sparked an exciting garden/farm vision of 2067– but also what qualities we nourish in ourselves and in others. It was a call for meditation, for nourishing what can be still, what needs loving attention, and what seeks connection in us.
We first did a bit of writing, and then came back together, sharing the beginnings of our stories. Our characters began arriving on our pages, and we needed to know more about them, so we pulled tarot cards for each one. Tarot cards are a way of having a conversation with the universe, so I find pulling them helpful when I am trying to see what is true, what is important, what to pay attention to. We used the Shrine of the Black Medusa deck, made by local poet-artist Casey Lynn Rocheteau.
We generated a constellation of stories that are love notes to the future Detroit, a Detroit that has room for all of us to grow without displacement, without erasure, a Detroit with food sovereignty and great water and incredible education, a city that nourishes its people.
Over the next year, Riverwise will publish the stories we generated for Detroit, a fertile ground for harvesting the future.
adrienne maree brown is a writer, sci fi scholar, pleasure activist, emergent strategist/facilitator and co-editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements. she loves in detroit.