The boisterous collective talks writing sci-fi for the present, early internet nostalgia, and what it means to have a Philly state of mind.
Metropolarity is a collective of science fiction writers and activists, that write brilliant stories, perform, do workshops, and make zines and websites. The collective consists of Alex Smith, Eighteen, Ras, and Rasheedah Phillips. They have been around since 2012 and in the words of Eighteen, have been “boisterous nonstop.” Based in Philadelphia – home of MOVE and Samuel Delany and kids on dirt bikes who pop wheelies on potholed roads that sometimes open up into sinkholes– the Metropolarity crew are experts at making space. They take over galleries and make them feel like home. I read their work and it feels like putting on armor. If you like science fiction, if you’re interested in time travel, if you’re pissed off about gentrification, or if your other body is in the shop, Metropolarity is for you. If you’re in Philly, visit the Community Futures Lab or keep your eyes peeled for an event.
For me, Metropolarity has always been a guiding light of how to do it right. Not just in terms of writing smart sci-fi that plays with and busts through genre conventions – which they do. I love Alex’s queer superheroes and Eighteen’s genderfuck cyborgs and Ras’s tender and scary online romances in the chatrooms. But they also do it right in terms of how to have a collective and how to be in and of a place. To them, that means investing in that place and building a community,and bringing your resources and your energy to that community. To me, they define what Philly is really about. If you are inspired by them, the best thing you can do is to do your own good work in your own place: think about who your people are, who your community is, who your ride and dies are, and what you want to accomplish in this world. Hold your own local events. Make your own thing. As Ras says in this interview, “What are you doing in your neighborhood? Who do you know in real life? Who’s gonna ride for you when things get tough?” Be real, be careful, don’t front. Do your own good work, and pay Metropolarity for theirs.
Ras, Eighteen, and Alex from Metropolarity sat down with me one night after we had all gotten off of our day jobs. We were all tired but talked for hours about sci-fi and organizing, how much we love Philly, and their new book Style of Attack Report –which happens to be a Lambda Literary Award Finalist in LGBTQ Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror. (Rasheedah Phillips, who is a founding member of Metropolarity, wasn’t able to be part of the interview. She founded Afrofuturist Affair, Community Futures Lab, and Black Quantum Futurism Collective and you can find more of her work by checking out those projects.)
Metropolarity seems like it’s blowing up right now – why now? Do you think it has to do with science fiction being “in”? Who seems to be paying attention, and has that shifted as you’ve been doing this work?
Alex: I think art and activist communities are interested in what we do because we are artists and activists. We also speak to a sense of reality, urgency, time and place, and storytelling that is somewhat familiar to them while still challenging them. The science fiction community is the exact opposite – they don’t like change, they don’t like all those darn “coloreds” coming into their institutions. No it’s real, they don’t like it at all. So when they see us approach their institutions and demand space, they get agitated and they close things off. You know, to a lot of them it’s not fair, because they have spent hours applying to get these grants, trying to get into Clarion, they did this MFA stuff and all the schmoozing at conventions like Comic Con and all this stuff. And here we come, putting out zines and websites, holding readings and making it visceral, you know.
Ras: I think we all have had experiences of trying to access those spaces and not being able to because our writing seems like gibberish. It seems rachet in some manner.
Eighteen: There’s an anecdote that somebody told me. They were like, “My parent is black and they were writing sci-fi and submitting all these years and they never got accepted. I started to think my parent was a bad writer or something. But lo and behold, it’s just that motherfuckers are racist.” Now they are getting published, but they had stopped entirely because no one was accepting them. Scifi people who do get ahold of us are like “holy shit”.