Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Problem Daughters: An interview with Djibril al-Ayad on a New Anthology

An upcoming anthology of speculative works around intersectional feminism.

Fans of thought-provoking SFF may already know of The Future Fire. They’ve published wonderful social-political and progressive fiction and poetry. (Please note for transparency: I’ve been published there, but there is no bias on my part as I was a huge fan before I ever submitted.)
Currently the publishing arm of is working on an exciting new anthology, Problem Daughters: An Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy from the Fringes of Feminism. Here is the description of the project: “Problem Daughters will amplify the voices of women who are sometimes excluded from mainstream feminism. It will be an anthology of beautiful, thoughtful, unconventional speculative fiction and poetry around the theme of intersectional feminism, focusing on the lives and experiences of marginalized women, such as those who are of color, QUILTBAG, disabled, sex workers, and all intersections of these.Currently, the anthology is working on fundraising and then will open for submissions.
I talked with the general editor of The Future Fire—who is also co-editing the anthology, Djibril al-Ayad, about the anthology and about the deep need for this type of anthology (especially right now).

1. How did the idea for the anthology come about?

It began with a very informal online chat between Nicolette and Rivqa and myself (who have never met, and hadn’t even chatted often before that, although I admire both of their work) on definitions of feminism, including jokes and parlor-game style expositions like the Bechdel Test. This led to more serious criticisms of exclusionary feminisms, and what it would take to foreground those women who are marginalized by the mainstream: women in sex work, trans women, disabled women, women of color, women wearing veils or other markers of (non-Christian) religion, and others. Once we had drawn up our own inclusive, intersectional definition, it seemed a shame not to do something with it, so we expanded it into a Call for Submissions! We’re now fundraising to turn this into a professional paying anthology, and pretty confident that it will go ahead.

2. What is your editorial process like when you approach an anthology?

Every anthology I have worked on (this is the sixth) has been a collaboratively edited project, which for me is 90% of the fun. So we write the call for subs together, we plan the campaign (if we need to fundraise, or promote to reviewers and bloggers, for example), and we read slush together. Usually what happens is that we split submissions between us—once we’re sure we’re sufficiently on the same page to be able to filter out the 1/2 – 2/3 of stories that don’t really fit the call—and compare notes on those that we think are worth a second opinion. Anything we both/all unambiguously love goes into the shortlist, which is revisited at the end of the reading period. The shortlist usually ends up two or three times as long as the final table of contents has room for, so some hard decisions have to be made—not only based on quality, but also on fit to the theme, balance with other works accepted, coverage of the field as a whole, etc., and sometimes it is precisely those stories that one editor was lukewarm about, but another had a different experience or insight and talked them into realizing how wonderful and important they are, which prove to be the best fit and most impactful. Of course the hard work doesn’t stop there, we have to edit, typeset, negotiate contracts, send out review copies, format e-versions, copy-edit, promote, but that wasn’t what you were asking about!

3. Why do you think it's important to have an "intersectional anthology"?

The short answer is that any work or project that claims to be feminist or anti-racist or any other social justice focused should be intersectional, because marginalization and discrimination do not happen in a vacuum. In the words of Flavia Dzodan, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.” In my experience, the best stories—by any standard, including quality, sense-of-wonder, what have you—that were submitted to any of our previous anthologies on body politics, postcolonialism, disability issues or multilingual literature, were those that recognized and represented the intersection of identities, that you cannot talk about sex with out race and sexuality and class and language and disability and religion and education, and vice versa.

In the case of Problem Daughters what we will focus on in particular is those aspects of women’s identity that are often excluded from some aspects of mainstream feminism. Not only quietly including all marginalizations (which everyone should be doing anyway), but specifically challenging problems in that definition, such as insisting on stories in which trans women or disabled women are wholly and completely women, in which issues facing women of color or non-English speakers are important as those prioritized by white feminists, in which veil-wearing women or sex workers are not considered “enemies” of feminism.

4. In what ways can readers and writers help support the anthology?

Most importantly? Buy the anthology! Read it. Review it. Write stories or poems for it, and submit them when the CFS is open. We’re doing this project because we want great content and we want squillions of people to read them. In the meantime we need as many people as possible to support the campaign, which will help make the anthology happen and be as big and fabulous as possible (which has got to be a good thing whether you’re a reader or a writer…). Several ways you can do that:

        i.            Back the fundraiser ( This is effectively pre-ordering the anthology, in e-book or paperback versions. If you want to support at a slightly higher level, there are also limited edition hardcovers, and other perks from our friends including art prints, jam, dolls, story or TV script critiques, and more.
      ii.            Boost the signal. We’re blogging, tweeting, facebooking, and otherwise spreading the word on social media and elsewhere, and every share, like and repost helps get it in front of more eyes. Ideally you will post about the campaign in your own words, so your friends know who it’s coming from. Most valuable of all is if you can send details to mailing lists or other fora that we haven’t reached at all yet. Your friends, your writing group, your scifi or feminist activism convention.
    iii.            Offer to interview the editors on your blog—or even better, for a wide-circulation site or magazine—host a guest post, or run some other kind of promotion for us. Round table discussions and chats are a good way to get some buzz going, as are games and contests if anyone has any ideas.

Any and all ideas welcome. Do get in touch!

5. What would you say are the ultimate goals for this book?

We’re a small press, so we’re realistic in that we know we’re never going to sell a million copies or hit the NYT bestseller lists, and the editors aren’t going to get a Hugo for this. The idea is and always was, as I said, to get as many people as possible reading, and talking, and riffing off the ideas, and being inspired to new projects, and looking for (or commissioning) more work from authors of their favorite pieces. It would be great if some of the stories were recognized in best-of volumes or award nominations (our authors from previous anthologies have had a few of these). Probably my favorite thing that has happened with these books is when we’ve been told that a college professor has assigned the book to be read by their students, which is kind of the ultimate endorsement! Of course all of these things are kind of side-effects, and in any case totally dependent on, the one thing that is in our control: making this as brilliant an anthology as we can, full of amazing and mindblowing stories that people want to read and then aren’t able to forget. I can’t want to start seeing them!

6. What question do you wish I'd asked and how would you answer it?

“What has been the best thing about working on this anthology project, Djibril?”

Well, I’m glad you asked me that, Chloe, because it has been an amazing experience so far, and I could talk about meeting so many wonderful authors, artists, editors, bloggers and others who helped us with getting the word out, or the eye-wateringly generous people who have backed the fundraiser (either financially, or by donating perks), or the Twitter followers who have responded to our discussions of intersectional feminism so positively and helpfully. But if I were to pick one thing, it would have to be the honor and pleasure it has been to work with and become friends with my co-editors Rivqa and Nicolette, who have been energetic, professional, knowledgeable, delightful, and most importantly (for the project) both bring unique perspectives and experiences on the theme, which will be essential for the process of reading submissions and editing stories, as I was saying before. We’re extremely fortunate to have them both on board, and—what a bonus!—we’re having a world of fun in the process!

It was a pleasure conducting this interview with Djibril—who has long been an extremely supportive and generous voice within SFF—and I can’t wait to read this anthology!
For more information on the editors:

Djibril is by night the dashing, queer general editor of The Future
Fire, by day a mild-mannered, bespectacled historian and educational
futurist. He previously co-edited the anthologies Outlaw Bodies, We
See a Different Frontier, Accessing the Future, TFF-X and Fae Visions
of the Mediterranean for Publishing.
Rivqa Rafael is a queer Jewish writer and editor based in Sydney. She started writing speculative fiction well before earning degrees in science and writing, although they have probably helped. Her previous gig as subeditor and reviews editor for Cosmos magazine likewise fueled her imagination. Her short stories have appeared in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications), The Never Never Land (CSFG Publishing), and Defying Doomsday (Twelfth Planet Press). In 2016, she won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent.

Nicolette Barischoff was born with spastic cerebral palsy, which has only made her more awesome. Her fiction has appeared in Long Hidden, Accessing the Future, The Journal of Unlikely Academia, Podcastle, and Angels of the Meanwhile. She regularly writes about disability, feminism, sex- and body-positivity, and how all these fit together. She’s been on the front page of CBS New York, where they called her activism public pornography and suggested her face was a Public Order Crime.