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The importance of world building/ world making

Last summer, I took a creative writing class on speculative fiction hosted by Kitchen Table Literary Arts and taught by Silk Jazmyne. It was virtual and most of the students resided in Florida. I learned so much from the facilitator and other students. One lesson that particularly stands out is the importance of world building. World building allows your reader to enter the story through a fictional space. Good creative world building brings life to the imagined. As one writes, one writes a story based on a premise, a what-if. The world in which the story takes place is built from that premise. NK Jemisin does it as the reader is introduced to an otherworldly New York City. P. Djèlí Clark does it as we are introduced to an alternate New Orleans.

Beyond the page, world building is so necessary now. Our world is full of pain and mourning stemming from colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, gendered violence, climate change, personal loss and grief- the list continues. Palestinians are being killed with impunity, Black and Brown people face prejudice and multiple forms of violence daily, anti-Shi’ism remains in the Gulf, anti-Asian sentiments continue, anti-immigrant rhetoric persists, transphobia runs rampant, colonial powers still suppress former colonies as we have seen most recently in Niger. How do we create the worlds we imagined? Worlds free of hunger and harm? Worlds where people are free and liberated? Worlds full of joy, not just despair?

There isn’t one solution, there isn’t a single way toward intentional world-building—building worlds of equity, worlds of healing, worlds of art and knowledge, worlds of safety. This work is already happening. It happens as we raise our voices in solidary with those silenced, ignored and harmed. It happens as we hold an ethic of care. It happens as we act, making our dream worlds tangible. As Caulen Smith (2020 link to Sojourners) reminds us, Black Feminist Utopias were/are imagined and were/are built across eras- the Combahee River Collective, the community built by Rebecca Cox Jackson and generous, hopeful, joyous, loving communities cultivated and maintained by so many who remain unnamed. These new worlds are not unique to a particular group of activists, artists, dreamers, workers, etc. Us fellows are participating in world building, too. During this fellowship year, we are involved in work we have engaged with for varying lengths of time. We capture and interrogate the worlds that are being built and broken around us. We are witnesses and offer testimony in our own ways, rooted in our differing methodologies and fields. What worlds are already here? What worlds are coming forth?

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