EAAPES is a research group around feminist writings in science fiction, created in 2017 by Clara Pacotte and Charlotte Houette within The Cheapest University.
Joanna Russ is best known for her science fiction books 'The Female Man' and is regarded as one of the leading science fiction feminist writers.
One edition of EAAPES' fanzine
'Brave New World' (Chatto & Windus 1932) by Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley and George Orwell are largely considered two of the most influential dystopian and science fiction writers.
Samuel R. Delany and Joanna Russ had a myriad conversation on their crafts. One of these is 'A Dialogue: Samuel Delany and Joanna Russ on Science Fiction' Callaloo, No. 22, Fiction: A Special Issue (Autumn, 1984), pp. 27-35.
Octavia E. Butler interviewed in Across The Wounded Galaxies, 1990
'Metabolize, If Able' (Monster House Press, 2018) by Clay AD
Sabrina Calvo is a French illustrator, author and games writer. Published works include 'Toxoplasma' (2017) and 'Sous la Colline' (2015)
SK [Sherida Kuffour] Good Morning Clara, thank you for meeting with me today—I'm excited to speak with you, for a myriad of reasons, the first being because of your work as a writer and the second being your project EAAPES1 which I understand is a science fiction research group initiative around feminist writings.
CP [Clara Pacotte] Thanks for the invitation. So yes, I myself write speculative fiction. And yeah, like you mentioned, I run this project called EAAPES with my friend Charlotte Houette. We initially just wanted to translate the works of Joanna Russ2 from English to French because we found her interesting as a lesbian figure and an academic.
She wrote a lot of essays in different magazines which we followed up on, so the research ended up spiralling and having lots of different arms like an octopus. What we do now is investigate women like Joanna Russ and different kinds of feminist literary theory from - I would say, the 60s up until the present day. We try to incorporate different people in the process and show screenings of science fiction films and literature by women.
"The idea was to give people access to texts that had not yet been translated [to French] or where they'd stopped being produced or published."
SK And at some point, you went on to publish this research...
CP Yes exactly, once we decided to start publishing, we created a big fanzine 3, because we wanted all the research we found to be accessible to the general public. We started translating everything ourselves from English to French. The idea was to give people access to texts that had not yet been translated [to French] or where they'd stopped being produced or published.
In this fanzine, we incorporated archives, postcards, podcast transcriptions, interviews, and original texts from French writers. We also got a grant to continue this project about two or three years ago now, so we went to the Joanna Russ archives in the US. Whilst there we got to gather some personal correspondence between her and other women writers.
SK I think it's very interesting how you and Charlotte have been able to weave the personal contexts of Joanna Russ and also different mediums into EAAPES and it seems, without restriction. I've been busy with these themes myself, namely about how one brings the contexts of a science fiction writer to the table.
"I'm further also interested in science fiction that focuses on marginalised people. And there the context is really important because the conversation around dystopia or utopia quickly gets into addressing political questions, and then you can't really hesitate as to what your position is."
CP Yeah, I think our work in general kind of deviates a little bit from pure science fiction in that sense. But perhaps it's more interesting that way. We're also not attached to any university or government body, so there's a wide range of things we can choose to publish. For me and Charlotte it's important to have, like you said, a context and also to be able to propose a different kind of literary genealogy.
When you're working on these kinds of topics, everything gets kind of mixed up, because, I don't know if you agree, but in feminism, everything is interconnected at the moment and terms are overlapping. You can't really define what classifies as first-wave feminism or second-wave feminism. And I think it's interesting that texts from the 80s are now being confronted decades from they were written with responses that are maybe freer, also in terms of their literary forms.
SK Yeah I agree, also with what you said about things being mixed up once you look beyond the literature itself. As soon as you start to focus on the context of an author, you start to get other useful material or knowledge back.
With Brave New World by Aldous Huxley4, for example, which is quite an important text for me in this project, I read in the forward by Margaret Atwood that he was disillusioned with the growing consumerism in the US, and with how his wife was dying of cancer— you know, we very quickly get to a different type of conversation about what that book might've meant to him, how it affected his narrational tone, then how its audience at the time might've received it. Then the conversation is suddenly not only about core storylines about Bernard Marx or Mustapha Mond, but we get an additional conversation that includes the wider health systems– you see what I mean?
So I think it's a very natural progression, and even a necessary thing to acknowledge the relationship that an author has to their surroundings, I think it's absolutely a conversation we need to address when we talk about science fiction and the imaginings of other worlds. And then, I'm going on a bit of tangent here, but I very clearly see this in your publishing approach, with the correspondences from Joanna Russ and other women artists, their letters, the podcasts, interviews — I think you've managed to expand the conversation beyond just production of literature, I see a lot of reflection there too.
CP Yeah, no I completely see it that way too. And in seeing the wider picture like with Brave New World as you mentioned, I'm further also interested in science fiction that focuses on marginalised people. And there the context is really important because the conversation around dystopia or utopia quickly gets into addressing political questions, and then you can't really hesitate as to what your position is. Which is natural when you deviate from the main science fiction writers who are all mostly men and white.
SK Now that we're on the topic of personal contexts, what is your professional background?
CP So now, I mainly write and I make films. I went to an art school for three years but then decided to leave and do my own thing, at which point I started this project [EAAPES] with Charlotte. I was kind of tired of having to confront and defend alternate literary canons and genealogies to old white men.
SK Right, we're constantly struggling with canons that are largely white and often times bigoted or ignorant in their content, and they don't allow for other voices. What's worse is that within academic circles there are particular languages and practices that you have to adopt in order to succeed, and they don't always function with the literature or methodologies we're trying to introduce.
CP Yes exactly. When I started my fourth year in school I'd been producing fanzines and different publications from queer people from different parts of the world for about ten years. I had a bad interaction with one of my teachers at the time whilst presenting my work which was translation-based. The guy said to me that he didn't understand why I needed to publish such poor literature. He didn't see the value in engaging in feminist, queer and revolutionary texts, and that's when I said no, obviously we never gonna agree on anything.
SK I'm sorry that that happened to you, I hate that this is so common within academia. I had a similar experience during an early assessment in my Masters. I'd presented a mixture of material relating to racial battle fatigue following the murder of Trayvon Martin. I suppose my teachers had anticipated that I either exploit Black suffering or shut up basically, and when I didn't do that, this one white male teacher went on a five-minute tangent about how useless my work was and how he "could not possibly comment on any of this". He refused to speak to me for the rest of the year or even look at my work. As sad as that experience was, it was not the first time that something of that nature had happened. A lot of people, I even want to say most people who hold social and political or academic power do not want to engage in work that challenges them or their understanding of things, which is why it is urgent to carve out our own spaces for these kinds of projects. But now you've managed to find an institution that does align with your processes, you're working with a publisher for the next book right?
CP Yes we are, which is quite cool. I would say that me and Charlotte have kind of been pirates. Because neither of us are professional translators or anything and we don't always have the rights to the things we publish. But now that we're working with a publisher, we realise how long things take in preparing a book as opposed to a fanzine. It's been almost three years now and we still haven't published the book.
"I generally have a soft spot for Russ even if I don't necessarily like everything she wrote."
SK And how does the process of publishing now compare to what you guys have done in the past?
CP We're happy to have other things to work on because so far the process is very slow. For example, you have to send texts to be officially translated so that it can be approved by different people, but that can take months and for me, it gets a bit frustrating.
SK It takes away from the urgency I guess?
CP Yeah, it does because you can't just publish what you want like you would with the fanzine, it takes a lot of patience. it's probably the same with any project when you do the same thing for ages it stops evolving, at which point I personally start to lose interest, even if I initially thought it was a good idea.
SK I want to circle back to where we were earlier, about Joanna Russ and dig a little bit deeper on that front. You use her work as a compass and you mentioned her correspondence with different writers, could you elaborate on that and how she came to you?
CP Yeah sure. I had just written a Sci-Fi story when Charlotte brought me 'To Write Like a Woman' by Joanna Russ, which is a collection of essays around science fiction. And at the time, I was getting into Sci-Fi that wasn't Huxley or Orwell5 or something, but I didn't really know where to start. The essays in that book resonated so much with Charlotte's interest in Horror and my interests in Sci-Fi. What was also cool was that it opened a lot of doors to other writers because Russ referenced and quoted so many other people who were her friends like Samuel R. Delany6, and many more who were not well known in France. Suddenly you had like 20 references who were women, and queer, and black, which I found groundbreaking.
I generally have a soft spot for Russ even if I don't necessarily like everything she wrote. Also she was really really funny, she had a dark sense of humour which added a lot of depth to her work. I also really liked her relationship with Samuel R. Delany. They would share references and their manuscripts with each other to check over and make sure together they'd cover representation of different bodies, people and sexual orientation as accurately as possible. That's another reason why we also got interested in Russ and her correspondences because in a way, they connected their crafts to their friendships, which is how it has been with me and Charlotte on a different level. We both always send things back and forth to each other and speak to each other through the things we find.
SK If you had to name why you enjoy science fiction literature, what would it be?
CP I think that you can completely write from your perspective, and it can liberate you from the things in this world that impeach you. I like the possibility of being able to widen my horizons beyond what I am able to see right now.
SK And this is why I look forward to discovering more queer and marginalised communities engaging in science fictional literature. Like you said, it's about imagining a different world, whether good or bad, from your position and/or context.
CP Absolutely. I'm just thinking of Octavia Butler, we found an old Anthology7 where she speaks about how her writing is related to her experience as a Black girl in a specific area of the United States. She relates how she writes Sci-Fi and the development of other worlds with how she has had to move through life.
"[Science fictional Literature] can liberate you from the things in this world that impeach you."
SK Oh, that's fascinating, I didn't know she explicitly wrote about that. It seemed evident within her work and within her narrational tone but it's cool she chronicled that. Writing from a particular position also makes people feel like they have access to your work because they can gauge the settings you use and pick up the linguistic cues.
CP Which can be really important, because for me, or at least, I don't know if you read in English, but for us, that's why translation was the starting point. Because even though me and Charlotte both read in English, it's not as easy as reading in French and there are a lot of references that we miss sometimes.
SK I hear that. I'm hoping at some point with Brave New Lit., we're able to publish things in people's native language, and then work with translators to also have a conversation about translating, you know what I mean? So it's not just, here is the finished piece, but engage in some kind of discussion about what it meant to translate that particular text.
CP We are at the point now where we actively need to look for literature in other languages, because they're not gonna come just by themselves. For example, there was a woman from Kazakhstan who wrote a science fiction novella that got translated into English that we could translate into French. Next to that, there is a small Chinese queer and Sci-Fi bookshop in the US that are engaging in practices like this.
At the moment we don't have the capacity to translate texts from their native languages but it would be so nice to have a group of people speaking all different languages but to be able to translate them accurately.
SK I think that would be really cool. A community of translators and storytellers. Do you have any last favourite writers or science fiction writers, even in French that you like to read at the moment?
CP There's actually a really good book, it's not in French, but they're an American writer called Ad Clay8, whom I met in Berlin, they wrote a book called 'Metabolise If Able' which I want to translate into French. It's a sensitively written science fiction book about queer bodies. What I liked about it was that it was not written to make huge political statements, which can also be nice.
As for French writers, and maybe quite the opposite, there is a well-known author that I often quote called Sabrina Calvo9. She's a trans woman and Sci-Fi writer whose work is quite politically apocalyptic. It has lots of rebellion, people finding ways to rebel against the government, it's not contemplative...I like that vibe. I guess it's very French in a way.
SK That sounds interesting, I'll be sure to look up Clay and Calvo. Hey so, I don't know about you but this was super interesting, with lots of bones to chew on. Thank you very much for your time, Clara.
CP It was my pleasure, thank you for inviting me, it was a really interesting discussion and let's keep in touch.