Q&A with The Future Fire Editor Djibril al-Ayad: Problem Daughters Anthology

The Future Fire, a speculative fiction journal and press, is raising funds for their next anthology, Problem Daughters, to be edited by Nicolette Barischoff, Rivqa Rafael and Djibril al-Ayad. This intersectional feminist anthology  will contain speculative stories and poems focusing on marginalized women.  Djibril al-Ayad answered a few of my questions about the anthology, and the Q&A is below.  Chip in if you can–it’s a much-needed project in a time when the voices of the authors need to be amplified all the more.

Freethinking Ahead: I’m curious about the title, “Problem Daughters,” as it’s been noted that the “you should care about this woman because she’s someone’s daughter/mother/sister/wife/etc.” argument obscures the personhood of the subject of this argument (as opposed to “you should care about this woman because she’s a person”). How do you see daughterhood functioning in the anthology?

Djibril al-Ayad: That is an interesting question: we hadn’t thought (well I hadn’t, anyway) of the title in terms of the word “daughter” humanizing women, which as you say is a distraction from considering all people human in the first place. Nor do we necessarily expect stories to focus on daughters in a family context (we’re just as interested in featuring mothers and grandmothers, for that matter!) or to take the title literally in any other way. For us, the title started with the word “problem,” both because we were highlighting issues with exclusive feminisms (most obviously the kinds that focus on white woman, or that exclude trans women or sex workers or any other “problematic” category), and because we wanted to problematize feminist conceptions and speculative genres by including stories and voices that are marginalized and excluded by some gatekeepers in one or the other world. We wanted to highlight women, yes, as humans in all their complexity and relation to each other. The word “daughters” came later to our working title, partly I suppose because it has a nice ring to it, echoing “daughters of the revolution” and with connotations such as heiresses, receivers of the baton. Daughters are not always listened to, are often expected to be seen and not heard (and ideally not seen either), but they are the future, they are stronger than their families think, and when they’re willing to make trouble, they can turn everything upside down. (And we need that, don’t we?)

FTA: In light of the current US/UK political climate, some who would have not previously voiced bigoted opinions publicly are doing so, and others who have are feeling more empowered. How might fiction, and in particular speculative fiction, work against this trend?

DA: Yeah, in this dangerous political climate all over the world we need a hell of a lot more than art to fight for progressive values! But I think you’re right that there is a place for fiction in helping to encourage and empower people who push back against bigotry, who believe in inclusiveness and diversity and tolerance. Just as hearing people in a position of power (whether political or in art/media/Hollywood) normalizing fascism is giving courage and voice to an ugly undercurrent of society that has never really gone away, so hearing people speak up loudly and successfully from a variety of platforms in publishing and other arts with a more liberal, feminist, intersectional and social message can help to remind those of us that are terrified by world events that we’re not alone, that there are others who want to hear our voices, that we are also here and strong. In Ursula Le Guin’s words: “If we don’t keep preaching to the choir, the choir will stop singing.” (In this case, of course, it’s not we who are preaching at all—rather we’re inviting the choir up into the public to let the world hear what they have to say.)

FTA: What would you like readers to take away from this anthology? What can they expect?

DA: I hope the first thing every reader who consumed this anthology thinks is, Wow! That isn’t what I expected. I hope the stories blow them away, fill them with fear and wonder, confound them, shatter preconceptions and open horizons. I’m sure every reader will fall in love with some stories and be left shaken (or even cold) by others. I would love readers to come out thinking, This is a story I’ll never forget! For good or for ill. I hope we will all (editors included) learn about experiences and marginalizations and intersections that we hadn’t considered before, as well as recognize problems and personalities and emotions that we thought we were alone in feeling. But we also won’t forget that we’re reading an anthology of excellent science fiction and fantasy—and related genres—and we’ll be carried away by escapist adventure, thrilled by magic and gods and monsters, dazzled by astrophysical and xenobiological mysteries, oppressed by dystopias and apocalypses, terrified by nightmares and tyrants, caught up in struggles of good against evil. Or y’know, maybe even less cliché than that!

FTA: In turn, what do you hope writers—including those whose work is accepted and those whose work isn’t—take away from writing stories aimed at this anthology?

DA: There are a few different ways to look at this question. For one, authors of “own voices” stories—who are writing about marginalizations and intersections of discrimination that they live—already know the issues they face, and have probably written and talked about them before, and don’t need our invitation to work through issues, dreams, utopias, healing, or whatever in fiction. That said, sometimes the opportunity to write something for a particular call can open the floodgates, be cathartic, or lead to new ideas that you might never have written otherwise. I hope it will also be encouraging to have a publication ready to pay 6¢ per word (which is not a living wage, by any means, but it is the SFWA qualifying professional rate) to hear voices that are sometimes actively sidelined and excluded even from feminist venues. For writers who are filling their stories with marginalizations and intersections different from their own (as well as travel to planets they’ve never visited, dragons they’ve never fought, laws of physics they’ve never broken…), I think every time we try to write the other, to walk in differently shaped shoes/look through different colored lenses, we learn to use our primordially evolved empathy that much better.