• An Interview with Rivqa Rafael About Problem Daughters

    by  • January 11, 2017 • Interviews • 0 Comments

    Photo of Rivqa RafaelFuturefire.net Publishing and co-editors Nicolette Barischoff, Rivqa Rafael, and Djibril al-Ayad are fundraising for a new pro-paying speculative fiction anthology. Problem Daughters will amplify the voices of women who are sometimes excluded from mainstream feminism. It will be an anthology of beautiful, thoughtful, unconventional speculative fiction and poetry around the theme of intersectional feminism, with a specific focus on the lives and experiences of women of colour, QUILTBAG women, disabled women, sex workers, and any intersection of these. Please support the fundraiser by pre-ordering a copy of the anthology or picking up another perk at https://igg.me/at/problem-daughters.

    Rivqa Rafael joins us to answer a few questions about the anthology.


    Is there a particular type of story you’d love to see in Problem Daughters? In a perfect world, what sort of story would open the anthology?

    I’d like to see things that I don’t even know exist! I’m hoping that Problem Daughters will expand people’s horizons, and I include myself in that. Non-Western narratives, different forms of feminism (such as womanism and Chicana feminism), folklore from around the world, the lived experience of women whose existence might be similar to mine, but vastly different in others.

    To open the anthology, I’d love something richly complex that reflects this in some way. Exactly what manifestation is hard to say before we’ve read any submissions, but I feel like we’ll know it when we see it. Will it be an easy read? Quite possibly not, but that’s not really the point, is it?

     

    What are some of your favorite works of speculative fiction? Why is speculative fiction an effective genre for anthologies like Problem Daughters?

    My favourites seem to be more transient than they used to be, but I’ll answer based on things I’ve read this year: Ann Leckie’s The Imperial Radch trilogy has brilliant worldbuilding and gave me so much to think about; Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti is one of the best novellas I’ve read in a long time; and Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories both left me with a beautifully aching heart.

    They’re all very different, yet all three authors easily and simultaneously transport me to another place, make me care about it even though it doesn’t actually exist, and keep me thinking about their underlying themes long after I’ve finished the book. To me, that’s speculative fiction at its best, and exactly what Problem Daughters will be aiming to do, with intersectional feminism being the underlying food for thought.

     

    Why do you think traditional feminist narratives have a tendency to leave people out? What do you think Problem Daughters will add to the conversation of feminist literature that more generally themed pro-woman anthologies cannot?

    Fiction has the same problem as reality in this respect. Tribalism, both acknowledged and subconscious, makes us put people like us first. People try to reduce complex, systemic issues to a pithy slogan or headline. We tell the most vulnerable people to wait their turn and accept the scraps from the big kids’ table.

    This is not OK, and with Problem Daughters we want to turn oversimplified feminism on its head and welcome nuance, messiness and complexity. Without specifically aiming to do this, even the most well-intentioned feminist anthology editor could subconsciously select those simpler messages. We want to move beyond the “strong female character” who has no feelings. Way, way beyond.

     

    Why is representation in fiction important? Why do you think it’s so necessary for people to be able to see characters like themselves (or very unlike themselves) in what they read?

    Rudine Sims Bishop’s metaphor of “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” (https://www.psdschools.org/webfm/8559) covers this really well. Both are important: having a window—a small taste of another experience—can help us build empathy and understanding for others (that’s when the window becomes a sliding door), while seeing ourselves mirrored in fiction can build self-esteem and lead us to consider possibilities we otherwise might have thought impossible.

    But when you’re only ever looking through a window, and never into a mirror, the imbalance can be incredibly damaging. Generally speaking, minorities already over-empathise with majority populations, managing the fragile egos of people who don’t want to be called “cis” or informed of their own racism—but very little of this courtesy is returned.

    As galling as it is for me to hear cis men say that they can’t relate to female characters, they are in fact numerous and well-represented—at least, as long as they’re cis, straight and white. By contrast, mainstream spec fic representations of Jewish people are few, far between, and rarely more than revolting stereotypes. It was particularly disheartening to see, over and over, while people talked about antisemitism as if it was a relic of the past (although that’s been less of common in recent times). The rare occasions when I have read a good Jewish representation is affirming and inspiring; it’s only through that experience that I’ve started to develop the confidence to write Jewish characters of my own. More and better representation would have helped me as a writer and a person, no question.


    Rivqa Rafael is a queer Jewish writer and editor based in Sydney. She started writing speculative fiction well before earning degrees in science and writing, although they have probably helped. Her previous gig as subeditor and reviews editor for Cosmos magazine likewise fueled her imagination. Her short stories have appeared in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications), The Never Never Land (CSFG Publishing), and Defying Doomsday (Twelfth Planet Press). In 2016, she won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. When she’s not working, she’s most likely child-wrangling, playing video games, or practising her Brazilian Jiujitsu moves. She can be found at rivqa.net and on Twitter as @enoughsnark.

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