88. Crossing the Bridge Between Social Justice & Sci-Fi w/ Dr. Ashley King

This is a celebratory episode to close out PRIDE Month 2022. Dr. Ashley King is an inspiration. Her work empowers students, invites them to thrive and cultivate not just meaningful projects, they cultivate meaningful experiences that show them what they can accomplish. I want to acknowledge all the awe-inspiring work that Dr. Ashley King is doing out there, as well as all our LGBTQ+ colleagues in academia, podcasting, the art world, and beyond.

Dan is joined by guest host Danielle Lee speak with Dr. Ashley King about the strong ties between reading science fiction and teaching critical thinking & social justice, how science fiction opens the door to humanization in a world so focused on dehumanizing minoritized communities, the connections between science fiction and identity, Dr. King’s research work with Queer Religious studies, how her students are developing intensely critical projects beyond the essay, and so much more.

Dr. Ashley King is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Northwestern University, specializing in queer and trans studies in religion. Her other research and teaching interests include science fiction, social justice, and liberation theology. In 2019, she co-edited the book Feeling Animal Death: Being Host to Ghosts and contributed a chapter titled “Hos-pet-ality: Handmade Selves and Transspeciated Femininity” on gender identity, grief, and the human-animal relationship. Her current research focuses on spiritual practices through which trans people claim a past, imagine a future, and heal from gender-based violence. She holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Northwestern University and both a B.A. and M.A. from Missouri State University.

People and Texts Mentioned in the Episode

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“[Science fiction] is not an escape from reality, as it’s often discussed in relation to so-called realistic literature, but that it’s actually really deeply, deeply engaged in the structures and systems we are enmeshed in.”
–Ashley King

“Science fiction basically turned me into a reader. I wasn’t really interested in reading at all until my third grade teacher handed me A Wrinkle in Time.”
–Ashley King

“At the time, I was reading [The Left Hand of Darkness], that was really something I think I needed to read because it gave me the kind of space to stand a little bit beside the gender system that I was raised in and to look at it as a system, and in opening up that little space of distance is really something that can nurture kinds of critical reflection that I think is really truly unique in a lot of ways to science fiction because it’s not as bounded up in having to reproduce reality.”
–Ashley King

“There’s a real power in writing out of that, that experience of feeling strange or feeling estranged from the world.”
–Ashley King

“I think we’re in a time that is very strange. I think we’re in a time that is very speculative and science fictional in a way that the prevailing modes of realism seem increasingly ill-equipped to grapple with.”
–Ashley King

“There was no real positive self-representation of trans people before Janet Mock and Laverne Cox […] If trans women appeared in popular culture it was as some kind of Silence of the Lambs predator, it was a dead body in CSI, it was the butt of the joke in some slop comedy, and that has a real negative impact if you’re growing up and recognizing yourself in the body of those people who are being othered and often violently so in any number of those ways. To turn to science fiction and to read people like Ursula Le Guin or like Octavia Butler and like so many of the foundational authors of the genre who are writing about people of different gender identities and expressions, and showing them as fully human people who have a future, I think that does incredibly valuable work for people.”
–Ashley King

“It’s very nice and humanizing to be able to read just descriptive stories about people’s lives in an imperfect world. It’s so much more to read what our lives could be in another world.”
–Ashley King

“In some cases, I’ve been lucky enough to change someone’s major, which is always kind of really nice.”
–Ashley King

“Seven years of grad school and seminars and conference papers and all that has really disciplined me out of the idea that the argumentative essay is the most reliable form of truth telling, I have to be honest with that. It’s not.”
–Ashley King

This episode was recorded on May 27th, 2022. Because we recorded via Zoom, there may be occasional audio hiccups. The theme song is “4 am” by Makaih Beats. You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher and follow us on Twitter & Instagram  @WritingRemixPod.

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