Kathryn Allan's Blog

In addition to running Academic Editing Canada, I'm an Independent Scholar of disability studies and science fiction (specializing in cyberpunk and feminist SF). I'm the proud co-editor (with Djibril al-Ayad) of Accessing the Future, a disability-themed SF anthology; editor of Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure; and the inaugural recipient of the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship. My PhD thesis is awesome: Bleeding Chrome: Technology and the Vulnerable Body in Feminist Post-Cyberpunk SF [pdf].

CFP: Anomalous Embodiment in YA Spec Fic

Wednesday, 04 June 2014 04:10

“I don’t think I am like other people”: Anomalous Embodiment in Young Adult Speculative Fiction.

Editors Sherryl Vint and Mathieu Donner are seeking submissions for a volume of essays on young adult literature entitled Anomalous Embodiment in Young Adult Speculative Fiction.

The large commercial as well as critical successes of such works as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials or Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series have pushed young adult fiction to the forefront of the literary world. However, and though most of these texts themselves engage in one way or another with questions related to the body, and, more precisely, to a body that refuses to conform to social norms as to what a body ‘ought to be’, few academic studies have really explored the relation that young adult fiction entertains with this adolescent ‘abnormal’ body.

In her work on corporeal feminism, Volatile Bodies, Elizabeth Grosz suggests that adolescence is not only the period during which the body itself undergoes massive transformation, shifting from childhood to adulthood, but that it is also in this period that ‘the subject feels the greatest discord between the body image and the lived body, between its psychical idealized self-image and its bodily changes’ and that therefore, the ‘philosophical desire to transcend corporeality and its urges may be dated from this period’ (Volatile Bodies 75). Following upon Grosz’s observation, this interdisciplinary collection of essays addresses the relation that young adult fiction weaves between the adolescent body and the ‘norm’, this socially constructed idealized body image which the subject perceives to be in direct conflict with her/his own experience.

This collection will thus be centred on the representation, both positive and negative, of such body or bodies. From the vampiric and lycanthropic bodies of Twilight and Teen Wolf to the ‘harvested’ bodies of Neal Shusterman’s novel Unwind, YA fiction entertains a complex relation to the adolescent body. Often singularized as ‘abnormal’, this body comes to symbolise the violence of a hegemonic and normative medical discourse which constitutes itself around an ideal of ‘normality’. However, and more than a simple condemnation or interrogation of the problematic dominant representation of the corporeal within young adult fiction, this collection also proposes to explore how such texts can present a foray into new alternative territories. As such, the collection proposes a focus on what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s label the anomalous body, or embodiment re-articulated not necessarily as the presumption of an inside and an outside of normality, but rather as ‘a position or set of positions in relation to a multiplicity’ (A Thousand Plateaus, 244), one which interrogates and challenges the setting of such a boundary by positioning itself at the threshold of normativity.

We are particularly looking for contributions on works which either (1) interrogate, problematize the dominant discourse on normative embodiment present in YA fiction, (2) emphasize, by a play on repetition or any other means, the limitations of the traditional discourse on the ‘abnormal’ or ‘disabled’ body, and signal the inherent violence of such normative paradigms, and/or (3) propose an alternative approach to the anomalous body. Relevant topics include (but are not limited to):

· (Re-)Articulating disability;

· The adolescent as ‘abnormally’ embodied;

· Transcending gender and the sexuated body;

· Medical norms and the violence of ‘normative’ embodiment;

· Bodies and prosthetic technologies, or the posthuman boundary;

· Genetics, Diseases and medication, or transforming the body from the inside;

· Cognitive readings of the body, or how do we read body difference;

· Embodied subjectivities, anomalous/abnormal consciousness;

We invite proposals (approximately 500 words) for 8’000-10’000-word chapters by Monday 15th September. Abstract submissions should be included in a Word document and sent to Sherryl Vint (sherryl[dot]vint[at]ucr[dot]edu) and Mathieu Donner (Mathieu[dot]Donner[at]nottingham[dot]ac[dot]uk). Please remember to include name, affiliation, academic title and email address. Postgraduate and early-careers researchers are encouraged to participate.

CFP - Indigenous Futurism (Extrapolation)

Thursday, 03 April 2014 14:52

I am not keen on publishing in academic journals these days, but this particular CFP is important and definitely worth signal-boosting. If this is an area of interest to you, I highly recommend Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction by Grace L. Dillon.

Extrapolation special issue on Indigenous Futurism, edited by Grace L. Dillon, (Anishinaabe), Michael Levy, and John Rieder.

In the last decade and a half, a number of scholars have explored the way that SF throughout the last century and a half  has borne a close relationship to colonial, and later postcolonial history, discourses, and ideologies. One of the most prominent features of colonial ideology in SF has been the widespread assumption that the future will be determined by the technological and cultural dominance of the West, the “progress” of which often entails the assumption that non-Western cultures will either disappear or  assimilate themselves to Western norms. Indigenous Futurism designates a growing movement of writing, both fictional and critical, that envisions the future from the point of view of Indigenous histories, traditions, and knowledges—and in so doing situates the present and the past in ways that challenge (neo/post)colonial ideologies of progress. This special issue of Extrapolation aims to bring together critical and scholarly explorations of and responses to fictional or theoretical and critical work in or on Indigenous SF, where SF is broadly conceived of as including science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, and slipstream.

Topics might include but are not limited to:

· fictional and theoretical confrontations of Western science and Indigenous knowledges
· use of Indigenous traditions in fiction or theory to envision a sustainable future
· responses to and evaluation of Indigenously-inflected SF in any medium from any geographic location
· representation and use of Indigenous traditions in classic SF texts
· Indigeneity and SF adventure fiction, Indigeneity and space opera, Indigeneity and the New Weird
· challenges of publishing and distributing Indigenous Futurism

We invite submissions of 5,000-12,000 words to John Rieder (rieder[at]hawaii[dot]edu) by April 1, 2015. Submissions should conform to the usual requirements of Extrapolation.

On Embracing Ambition

Wednesday, 12 March 2014 16:06

A few weeks back I tweeted: “After leaving academia, I had to really think about what I wanted out of life. I have far more ambition now than I ever did before.” For whatever reasons, the sentiment resonated with a lot of people and the positive response I received prompted this post.

The entire time I spent in academia, from undergrad through to the completion of my PhD, is best characterized as deadline oriented. Write a paper. Submit. Receive grade. Apply for next course/program/degree. Rinse and repeat. Of course, there was a lot more complication to that process, but the way in which I approached every year of my higher education was essentially the same: meet pre-existing deadlines and fulfill pre-existing requirements. The end goal was the degree, obviously, but I can’t honestly say that I was driven by a specific sense of ambition. “I want to be a professor” was not so much a statement of ambition as it was an assumption of the final outcome of my academic efforts. Once I realized that a professorial life was not in my future, I was faced with a question that I had been avoiding for the entirety of adult life: What do I want to do?

As a person who most often did what was expected of me—I truly excelled at listening to authority figures—it was extremely difficult to not have my efforts directed by an outside force when I found myself no longer a graduate student and unemployed. In my mind, I was a failure. I tried to work for my spouse. That experiment failed spectacularly within a few weeks. In those first long months out of my PhD program, I can only imagine how awkward and challenging it was for my partner to have me (unconsciously) looking to him for the direction and guidance in my life that he couldn’t provide. My housekeeping and pet tending efforts were doubled. But a spotless house and an increasingly spoiled cat did nothing to give me purpose. I was depressed for quite a long while (and it certainly didn’t help that I was coping with chronic pain, which, at that time, was quite severe and debilitating). I was completely adrift without institutional structure. I had no deadlines to meet. I had no ambition.

Graduate school showed me what I didn’t want—an academic career—but it also provided me with experiences of work that were outside of any possibilities I was exposed to as a child. People can, and do, make a living from researching, writing, and exploring difficult and new ideas. There wasn’t any discussion of an intellectual career happening outside of academe, but I read enough to know that independent scholarship—respected, widely read, and transformative engagement—does exist. When I made the mental leap to thinking of myself as an independent scholar, all of the institutional rules of "what is possible and who can do what" started falling away. Freed from other people’s deadlines, I started making my own. The first goals I set were small: set up a website, read a book, write a blog post. Then they started to grow: present at a conference, start a business, edit an essay collection. Each time I devised of and completed a project of my own choosing I became more confident in myself. And I started wanting more.

I want to write a book. I want to write a screenplay. I want to edit science fiction. I want to be an invited keynote speaker. I want to be the next big theorist. I want to never limit myself to the options in front of me. I want to go beyond the obvious outcomes of my current labour and find new ways to grow as individual.

To make my new found ambition public is both terrifying and liberating. Part of me worries that people will say, “who does she think she is?” Another part whispers to me that these dreams are too big for such a small person. But there is also an ever increasing desire to try. I finally understand now that I am only a failure if I don’t take risks. I spend much of my time alone and it is easy to become lost in my own world. My newly found ambition pushes me to write, to learn, to reach out to other people. I have no idea what my future holds but I no longer feel like I am staring into some horrible directionless void. Instead, I am curious and eager to find out what I’ll be doing at this time next year. While not every project I dream up will work out, some of them will.

When asked about her best advice to writers, Octavia Butler (in Bloodchild, p. 144) said that it was to persist: "It’s a truth that applies to more than writing. It applies to anything that is important, but difficult, important, but  frightening. We’re all capable of climbing so much higher than we usually permit ourselves to suppose. The word, again, is 'persist'!"

I have ambition. I will persist.


As the inaugural Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction fellow, I am busy finalizing the travel plans for my research trip to the University of Oregon's feminist science fiction special collections. I am going to spend 10 days in the archives, pouring over the letters, papers, and research notes of some of my favourite feminist SF authors. To say that I am excited is an understatement--receiving the fellowship is a huge honour and marks a major milestone in my scholarly life. This will be my first time performing this kind of archival research, so I've been making sure to read up on the archive's holdings and narrow down my research goals as much as possible.

I would like to thank the Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship and its sponsors (Center for the Study of Women in Society, Robert D. Clark Honors College, and Knight Library Special Collections and University Archives) for providing me with this amazing opportunity.

What follows is an excerpt from my research proposal to give everyone an idea of my project and what I hope to discover in the archives.


“The Other Lives”—Locating Dis/Ability in Utopian Feminist Science Fiction

It’s a crip promise that we will always comprehend disability otherwise and that we will, collectively, somehow access other worlds and futures.
—Robert McRuer, Crip Theory

Will you tell us about the other worlds out among the stars—the other kinds of men, the other lives?
—Ursula K. Le Guin, Left Hand of Darkness


My research at the Knight Library’s feminist science fiction (SF) special collection will form a central chapter on utopian feminist SF in my upcoming planned monograph on disability and temporality in SF. Starting with the so-called Golden Age of SF in the 1950s and extending into today, I want to trace the ways the genre has reflected the Western cultural attitude towards disability and people with disabilities, a vision that, while often well-intentioned, is condescending and ableist. Disability studies theorist Tobin Siebers notes the temporal tension inherent in discourses of disability: “the ideology of ability makes us fear disability, requiring that we imagine our bodies are of no consequence while dreaming at the same time that we might perfect them. It describes disability as what we flee in the past and hope to defeat in the future” (Disability Theory 9). I believe that the utopian feminist SF of the 1970s (and, to a lesser extent, the 1980s) helped shape the conversation of disability in SF, either through the problematic “defeat” of disability (seen in the genetic engineering of the Whileaway women in Joanna Russ’ The Female Man) or through an insistence on recognizing shared vulnerabilities while celebrating bodily difference (as exemplified by the Gethenians in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness).

Alison Kafer importantly asks in Feminist, Queer, Crip, “Why is disability in the present constantly deferred, such that disability often enters critical discourse only as the marker of what must be eliminated in our futures or what was unquestionably eliminated in our pasts?” (10). My research project arises out of my growing curiosity to explore this question through the critical study of disability in SF (with a special focus on feminist SF). I am interested in the Knight Library archive’s holdings—in particular, the research notes, essays, and personal correspondence dating from the mid-1960s through to the 1980s—for Suzette Haden Elgin, Sally Miller Gearhart, Joanna Russ, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Active during and after the civil rights movement, these four prolific authors created utopian feminist SF that theorized and advocated new ways of being for women and the LGTB community. My proposed archival research will focus on the (self-identified) politics that inform their work throughout the 1970s and 1980s, seeking out lines of inquiry or attention in the differently abled body. To date, most discussions of these feminist SF writers address their engagement with the sexed and gendered body (and, to a lesser extent, the raced and classed body), but I am keen to discover if there are threads of disability awareness, or even overt advocacy, in their personal correspondence and research materials. To my knowledge, my proposed project will be among the first to investigate the archives with a disability studies framework in mind.

Given their progressive engagement with “deviant” bodies in their works (both fiction and non-fiction), the archives of Elgin, Gearhart, Russ, and Le Guin are ideal sites for this line of inquiry and will significantly inform my proposed book’s chapter on feminist SF, “Locating Dis/Ability in Utopian Feminist Science Fiction.” From her early novels such as Communipaths to her celebrated Native Tongue trilogy, Elgin’s oeuvre shows a sustained interest in the way language shapes our perception of people with different abilities. Well-known as an activist, Sally Miller Gearhart also explored the construction of cognitive and physical difference, most notably in The Wanderground, where an open narrative follows the telepathic (and flying!) “hill women.” Russ’s The Female Man, with its contrasting worlds of dystopian suffering and utopian genetically-engineered perfection, directly raises a conversation about the role of technology in shaping humanity. I am particularly interested in Russ’ correspondence with fellow SF writers—such as Samuel Delany, Marge Piercy, James Tiptree Jr., Vonda McIntyre, and Suzy McKee Charnas—where I hope to find mention of disability rights among the passionate debates about SF, minority rights, and feminism. In her Earthsea series, The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Dispossessed, to name only a few titles from her large body of fiction, Le Guin takes special care in giving non-normative bodies agency and self-direction by placing them at the centre of the text. Through examination of her newly archived papers—along with the holdings for Elgin, Gearhart, and Russ—I would like to identify material to support my reading of these feminist utopian SF texts as foundational in creating a space to openly discuss dis/ability in a genre that often elides positive recognition of people with disabilities.

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