Utopia for Whom?: A Plenary Panel Discussion with Neal Shusterman and Nnedi Okorafor (CORES 2022)
Utopia for Whom?
A plenary panel to open this year’s Conference on Religion, Ethics and Science (CORES 2022), “Brave New World? Revisiting Utopia.”
This event is also part of the Virginia G. Piper Writing Center’s Distinguished Visiting Writer’s Series.
As the 90th anniversary of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” approaches, we reflect on how so many utopian endeavors—fictional and otherwise—can so easily be viewed as dystopian based on the lens of observation. In the novel, the purportedly utopian World State has technologically advanced beyond the need for natural reproduction, living in a haze of overmedication, indoctrination, and social engineering. As the novel progresses, it forces the reader to confront the question at the heart of this panel: Utopia for Whom?
The opening plenary session of CORES 2022 features science fiction writers Neal Shusterman and Nnedi Okorafor, whose expertise in world-building and imagining alternate futures speaks to the question: “Utopia for Whom?”
This panel explores how—or even if—a utopia can be envisioned that does not flatten the human experience. In a culturally pluralistic society, is it possible to envision a utopia? What does that look like? And who needs to be included to ensure inclusive and representative utopian ideals that do not exclude the marginalized?
Her works include “Who Fears Death” (in development at HBO into a TV series), the “Binti” novella trilogy (optioned and in development with Media Res), “The Book of Phoenix,” the “Akata” books and “Lagoon.” She is the winner of Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Locus and Lodestar Awards and her debut novel “Zahrah the Windseeker” won the prestigious Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. Her next novel, Noor, will be in stores November 2021.
Nnedi has also written comics for Marvel, including “Black Panther: Long Live the King and Wakanda Forever” (featuring the Dora Milaje) and the “Shuri” series, an Africanfuturist comic series, as well as “LaGuardia” (winner of the Hugo and Eisner Award) and her short memoir “Broken Places and Outer Spaces.” Nnedi is also co-writing the adaptation of Octavia Butler’s “Wild Seed” with Viola Davis and Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu. Nnedi holds a PhD (literature) and two MAs (journalism and literature). She lives with her daughter Anyaugo and family in Phoenix, Arizona.
Neal Shusterman is the New York Times best-selling author of over thirty novels for children, teens and adults. In 2015, he won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for “Challenger Deep,” and in 2017 his novel, “Scythe,” was a Michael L. Printz Honor book. “Scythe” is currently in development with Universal Studios as a feature film. Shusterman’s novel, “Unwind,” has become part of the literary canon in many school districts across the country, and has won more than 30 domestic and international awards. He co-wrote his most recent novel, “Dry,” with his son Jarrod, and in addition to being on numerous award lists, “Dry” is currently in development with Paramount Pictures. His upcoming novel, “Game Changer,” is in development with Netflix as a TV series, and he is co-writing the pilot episode.
In conversation with ASU faculty:
Mako Fitts Ward is an educator, writer, facilitator and social justice advocate with over 15 years of experience teaching core principles of justice and social change to college students and advocating for racial and gender equity in communities around the country. She is a clinical assistant professor in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. Her teaching and research focus on intersectional, feminist analyses of popular culture, specifically urban youth cultures and their impact on contemporary social movements.
Ward is the co-founder of Women Who Rock, a digital archive project at the University of Washington and collective of musicians, media-makers, performers, artists, scholars and activists committed to documenting the role of women in popular music and the formation of cultural scenes and social justice movements.
She has published in Huffington Post, The Conversation and Ms. and has published popular and scholarly essays on body ethics and aesthetics among women of color, media and gender images in popular culture, gentrification and cultural displacement and women’s political organizing. She teaches courses on intersectionality, gender and hip-hop, ethnic studies, the African diaspora, justice and women’s social movements.
Lois Brown, PhD is ASU Foundation Professor of English and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Arizona State University. She is a public historian and a scholar of African American literature and culture whose groundbreaking research reshapes our understanding of race, class, gender, faith and place in America.
As director of the ASU Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, Brown oversees the only entity at ASU and in the state of Arizona that positions race and democracy in direct relation with each other. The Center, which is based in the Office of the University Provost, advances and creates initiatives that intensify the intellectual, pedagogical and programmatic efforts of the Center. Brown is committed to programming, partnerships and outreach that enable the center to focus on race and democracy in the context of education, social justice, public history, poverty and economic opportunity, the arts, law, government, the sciences and the environment. Brown's public speaking and presentations on equity, leadership, justice and inclusion complement the Center's efforts to support and achieve positive systemic change and justice.
COVID 19 Guidelines: Please keep in mind the CDC recommendations as well as ASU Community of Care health protocols on how to keep yourself and others healthy. Consistent with ASU’s current guidelines, face coverings are required during this event. Face coverings will be available upon entry for those who may have forgotten them.
Learn more about the conference and the project that supports it:
February 10–11, 2022
In 1932, Aldous Huxley published his ground-breaking dystopian tale of a futuristic “Brave New World.” Published at a time when societies around the world were broken along lines of class, caste, color and creed, the novel depicted a World State scientifically and technologically engineered to advance a vision of a perfect environment.
Ninety years later, in February 2022, ASU’s Conversations on Religion, Ethics, and Science (CORES) will host a series of provocative and timely conversations titled, Utopia Revisited: Brave New World?, to examine the ever-present push towards utopian visions. The conversations among writers, activists and scholars will explore utopianism through a series of questions: How is utopia imagined? How inclusive can utopia be? What promise and perils may emerge from new technologies aimed at bringing about utopian improvements of humans and the human condition? What spiritual ideas inform our utopian visions, particularly in our digital age? What role is there for ethical, political and religious guidance in realizing (or critiquing) utopian visions?
CORES is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.