ABI Faculty Development Program Serving the needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander Students at BMCC and Hunter
Serving the needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander Students at BMCC and Hunter

What’s in Your Dystopian Toolkit?

Class information

ENGL 32155-01 – Black Speculative Fiction

25 students

In an interview in the African-American Review, African-American science fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson asserts that “science fiction has always been a subversive literature” because it forces the reader to “think twice and thrice about a whole bunch of things in relation to each other: sexuality, race, class, color, history.” Hopkinson here provides the questions which will animate our course: is there a distinct tradition of black speculative fiction? How might a culture that has, in Hopkinson’s words, “been on the receiving end of the colonization glorified in some science fiction” negotiate and politicize the genre? Does Black speculative fiction (defined here to encompass science fiction, fantasy, cyberpunk, Afrofuturism etc.) cause one, in fact, “to think twice and thrice” about race, class, and sexuality? Finally, does the tradition challenge our basic assumptions of identity, or does it ultimately work to normalize them? We will begin with a general consideration of the fantastic in literature. Using supplementary materials from postcolonial and feminist theory, as well as a consideration of the traditions of travel writing and utopian/dystopian thought, we will look at how Black writers, filmmakers and musicians have used speculative methods to defamiliarize our assumptions about “familiar” social issues.


Project overview


Letting the literature lead, this project seeks to engage students in exploring what aspects of their culture would they take with them/need to survive a dystopia.

The class units are as follows:

  • In the Beginning…
  • Science Fictions
  • Fantasy
  • Horror
  • Alternate Histories

At the end of each unit, based on the readings, I will ask students to share an aspect of their culture that corresponds to the texts and pulling from our readings. For example, in the final unit, Alternate Histories, we read Pauline E. Hopkins, Of One Blood; or the Hidden Self (1902). The question I would pose to students is: what hidden/unknown/little known aspect of your culture, one that would disrupt the hegemonic understanding of it, would you add to your toolkit and why?


Why did you select this project? How does it relate to identity and purpose?


I chose this project because it will allow students to dig deeply into their own cultural backgrounds and begin to explore/recognize the importance of the culture/heritage. Hopefully, this will help engender a stronger connection to their culture while also recognizing and supporting the overlaps within other cultures and their practices.


What advice do you have for other faculty who would like to implement a similar project?


To implement a similar project, I say “go right ahead!” Think about what aspects of culture and/or identity that you want to explore with your students and jump in. This can be a broad or narrow assignment, or series of assignments. While I am choosing to incorporate this throughout the term, you may want to do this for a singular assignment.


Related materials


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