To celebrate the official print release of Our Beautiful Reward on March 16th (virtual release party Sunday the 19th, you’re invited!), I asked some of the contributors a few of the questions foremost on my mind. It’s been too long since we’ve run many interviews here, and I’ve missed it; getting to know writers and how they think and feel has been one of the most rewarding aspects of Reckoning for me since the beginning. I hope their answers prove as englightening to you as they have been to me.
We’ve been posting one mini-interview a day. This one is the last—at least for now….
Leah Bobet’s devastating poem “fertile week” is online here. She was also poetry editor for the award-winning Reckoning 5.
Michael: How do the tools of speculative writing help you to think and communicate about what’s being done to personal freedoms around our bodies?
Leah: In some ways, speculative fiction is the literature of consequences: it’s not much of a jump from what if? to if-then. And the question of personal freedoms, of bodily autonomy, strikes me as being fully a question about consequences. When you make the decision to restrict people’s intimate physical choices, what happens to their lives? What happens to their world as those individual consequences silt up and impact each other?
One of my favourite (and most frustrated!) questions in the past few years is: “And what did you think would happen five minutes after that?” and speculative fiction is sincerely a good place to play that consequence-modeling out. Not to scare people, not to go “it could happen to you!” but to think well. To show each other, in digestible format, what and how we’ve been thinking.
Michael: What are you reading and thinking about that helps put this issue in perspective for you?
Leah: This month, Maude Barlow’s Still Hopeful: Lessons From a Lifetime of Activism. Barlow is a climate organizer who started in the 1970s Canadian women’s movement—at quite a high profile—and moved through that into free trade and water sovereignty issues; the book is a small condensation of what she knows about going the distance for a cause.
I was born just after women’s lives changed massively in Canada—higher awareness around domestic violence, wage gap legislation, and women having our own bank accounts—and I always find a lot of perspective in reading about the 1970s women’s movement, especially from people who didn’t stop there, but expanded their work from it. It helps me peel apart always from the world that had just started to happen when I was born, and see attitudes I’d assume were static as the result of motion—and deliberate action.
That reading helps me think about the rollback of rights happening now as the result of kinetic—and moveable—forces, too. Things that moved once can be moved again. It’s a way to rotate the problem: to look at the flood of daily horror stories as not inevitabilities, but calls to organize around each other’s needs and show up for each other.
I’m also keeping up with One Million Experiments, which is one of the million ideas Mariame Kaba’s involved in: a place to profile community-based projects that rethink what it means to keep each other safe. It’s a great space for looking up a model, seeing what you can get involved in, or feeling less alone with the work, because people are out there doing it. We’re doing it every day. There’s a reproductive justice section, and if anyone’s feeling stuck when it comes to community work, organizing, or just how to show up and do the thing with your colleagues, their podcast is excellent. It’s all you need to know about trying, failing, adjusting, and getting back up.
Michael: Tell us, if you’d like, about something you’re doing, outside of writing, to make the world a less hostile and dystopian place for human beings with bodies to exist in?
Leah: The project that’s getting most of my time right now is a 300-person mutual aid network that’s delivering home-cooked food to unhoused and underhoused people in downtown Toronto.
It’s pretty simple: in early 2021, a few people found out what hot or nourishing food unhoused and underhoused Torontonians actually want, and told a few friends, and so forth. We cook it at home on a weekly signup roster, and a small network of volunteer drivers brings it to the Seeds of Hope resource centre. People who need nourishing, hot food get fed—but more importantly, they get that weekly, persistent reminder that hello, we are here, we are a community, we care about them. They are not discarded. And those of us doing the cooking get that weekly, persistent reminder that we are a community too, and we aren’t helpless in the face of any of this. We can take care of each other. We are being constant for and with each other.
I’ve moved from cooking once every other week to being one of a core group of volunteers that’s come together to make this thing sustainable. We redesigned our backend and dropoff/delivery system this fall, cross-trained each other to share more responsibility together, and relaunched this winter. We’re looking at how we can work better with other mutual aid groups now.
I knew no one involved in this project before we started. They’re amazing people. I’m so glad I signed up.
Michael: That’s awesome! Thank you very much for these answers—and for doing that work.