A UTOPIAN CURRICULUM

PART FOUR: VOGUING

By Ibtisam Ahmed

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Iara Silva

As I continue to write this Utopian Curriculum series, it feels important to address questions raised from previous essays. In online conversations and email exchanges around parts two (Black Panther) and three (Sultana’s Dream), a particular point raised was whether something can be truly utopian if it is only positive and ideal for a specific demographic. It is apt, then, to dedicate part four to the art form of voguing.

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Queer Phenomenology: ‘While Standing in Line for Death’ by CA Conrad

Clara Hancock

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Illustration by Яachel Lee

‘We are time machines of water and flesh patterned for destruction, if we do not release the trauma.’ (CAConrad, 2017) 

CAConrad is a gender non-conforming poet and activist. I first came across their work in the 2018 Beatrice Gibson film I HOPE I’M LOUD WHEN I’M DEAD, which emphasises the necessity of poetry during the current American political crisis. Since discovering Conrad and their ‘(soma)tic’ bodily rituals, my own writing practice has been significantly altered, as I developed a deeper awareness of poetic embodiment. While Standing in Line for Death (Conrad, 2017) consists of 18 (soma)tic rituals, alongside poems that result from them. (Soma)tic poetics is a union of ‘soma’, a spiritual term derived from Sanskrit, meaning ‘to press and be newly born’ and ‘somatic’, the Greek term for the body. Conrad’s (soma)tic poetry investigates the space between body and spirit, and exposes the ways in which corporeality is integral to creativity, grief, expression and survival. ​The writing that emerges from these rituals repeatedly reminds us of the ways in which emotion is both bodily, cognitive, and a meeting point between the world and ourselves (Herd, 2017).

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Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman: a Mirrored World

Erin Hutton

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevado

Artwork by Natasha Ruwona: https://www.behance.net/natasharuw40cf

I read Noughts and Crosses when I was about thirteen. It is the first powerful book that I can remember reading. However, re-reading my slightly battered copy at eighteen was a very different experience.  It was easier to understand that good people, like the characters in the book, could react so badly to violence. The terrorism in the story is painfully similar to current news headlines. Finally, after studying the fight for Black American civil rights at school, I could clearly see where Blackman got her inspiration. The scene where nought children face a mob of angry crosses to get into a decent school could have been drawn straight from the textbook photos of Little Rock Central High School, Arkansas, 1957.  This seems especially important when one considers the things people said to the author as she was writing: “‘Slavery is in the past’, ‘Why d’you want to rehash something so painful?’, ‘Why do black people always harp on about slavery?’”(Penguin Random House, 2016). Perhaps, if books like Blackman’s were studied at university level, people would be less likely to have these attitudes, especially if the novel’s stark confrontation of cruelty made them consider that their comments are insulting. There are many example of history where people have ignored atrocities as they occurred.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Jasmine Thakral

Edited by Karl Egerton

Illustration ‘Double Consciousness’ by Natasha Ruwona, https://www.behance.net/natasharuw40cf

The Hate U Give deals with the way in which police brutality and systematic criminalisation of black bodies damage African American communities, depicting the struggle often felt by people of colour between who they are and how they are perceived by the world. The events of the novel are particularly resonant in light of recent cases of police brutality which have resulted in the death of victims such as Trayvon Martin, which sparked the activist movement, Black Lives Matter. The Hate U Give follows Starr Carter as she negotiates the fallout from the horrific police brutality suffered by her friend Khalil. The novel explores Starr’s journey to finding her voice so that she can explicitly challenge police brutality against African Americans.

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The Inner Courtyard by Lakshmi Holdström

Avani Udgaonkar

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Illustration by Olivia Prenderghast: https://liviprendergast.wordpress.com/

TW: sexual violence mention

The study of Indian literature in Western universities has always been disappointing. Even in the best of courses, Indian literature is still limited to the Salman Rushdie – Jhumpa Lahiri – Vikram Seth (if you’re lucky) trifecta that is as irresponsible as it is exhausting. While the works of second-generation and diasporic writers are important, to use their limited voices as representative of an entire subcontinent with hundreds of languages and cultures, hardly constitutes an education. The depiction of Indian women, in particular, from Slumdog Millionaire (2009) to The Satanic Verses (1988), are hardly more than one-dimensional stock caricatures of stereotypically oppressed “third world” women. Individuality, independence, rebellion, and cultural nuances, all vanish against this overwhelming backdrop of Bollywood tropes and toxic masculinity.

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Perfect Little Mouthfuls by Patricia Lockwood

Phoebe Anson

Edited by Muireann Crowley

Illustration by Holly Summerson hollysummerson.wix.com/arts

Recently, I started searching for interesting contemporary writers for my creative writing module. This was so I could draw inspiration from up and coming writers to improve my own writing. I came across Patricia Lockwood, an American essayist and poet. Her poem ‘Rape Joke,’ (2015), was the work that first invited me to explore her comedic and absurdist style of writing. Drawing on her own experience, Lockwood, in ‘Rape Joke,’ presents the common stereotypes associated with rape incidents and the perpetrators themselves, questioning whether it is acceptable to joke about sexual assault. Reading this persuaded me to buy her collection Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals (2014) in which she tackles many current topics, like the media, gender and identity, in a fascinating and innovative way, making her work relevant to contemporary society. The poem I will be focusing on in this essay is ‘Perfect Little Mouthfuls,’ in which she presents the current issue of the impact of societal expectations on young girls, which I feel is very relevant today, especially with the power of the media in contemporary society.

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The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Lily Thwaites

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Holly Summerson hollysummerson.wix.com/arts

Ying-Ying, you have tiger eyes. They gather fire in the day. At night they shine golden”’ – Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club 1989) (246)

Many times in my life I have wished to be more like my mother; she is strong, independent, smart, but also a little bit wild. When I was eleven, I went over to one of our bookshelves and found a fairly worn copy of The Joy Luck Club, picked it up and brought it to her. She told me to read it and I did.

Seven years later and only now am I beginning to understand the significance of this book for women like my mother; strong and independent women who were once caught between cultures, but also for others, who cannot grasp the complexities of a mother-daughter relationship strained in a cultural cross-fire. It is a book my mother and her friends have all given their partners to read, and it is one that deserves attention, specifically in English Literature syllabi, where I find texts with Asian influences are often disregarded.

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Black Girlhood in ‘Bone Black’ by bell hooks, and ‘Zami’ by Audre Lorde

Francesca Sobande

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Art by Olivia Twist: http://www.yesoliviatwist.com/

For some, the work of bell hooks needs no introduction. It may have represented their entry into Black feminist media and cultural critique, or the starting point of their understanding of the intersections of sexism and racism. I will always remember when I first came across the writings of hooks. I found such excitement in reading a distinctly Black feminist voice that is rarely found in university curricula. As I read hooks’ engaging analysis of media and consumer culture, I thought to myself “I never knew that academic writing could be like this!”.

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More Than Just Blood: Bloodchild by Octavia E. Butler

Angie Spoto

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Iara Silva https: https://www.instagram.com/iiaraz_/

I hadn’t felt my baby move yet and wasn’t sure I wanted to. I confessed this to a friend in a café, who, bringing his hands together in front of his chest and clawing his fingers, said, ‘Yeah, it might feel, you know, like Alien.’ And his hands exploded outward, raining imaginary blood across our lattes.

My friend touched on a fear of mine: that having a baby would be like hosting an alien creature in my body. A fear no doubt inspired by my consumption of science fiction. Immediately, the prospect of pregnancy makes me think of the 1979 movie Alien, which undeniably plays out humanity’s pregnancy fears in the form of chest-ripping, murderous alien children. There’s also the ‘mystical pregnancy trope’: women in science fiction media are regularly forcibly or accidentally impregnated by aliens (Sarkeesian). This trope appears in Stargate SG-1, the X-Files, and Torchwood among other television shows and films.

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