Invoking Worlds with Ama Josephine Budge
Footnotes and figures

  1. On Utopian Communities: A digital roundtable hosted by Loraine Furter with Iyo Bisseck, Senakirfa Abraham, Hélène Alix Mourrier, Sherida Kuffour, Eunice Tchitchiama and Estelle Pom

  2. Between Gut and Belly with Babeth Fonchie Fotchind

  3. Spliced: An Obituary in Three Movements in collaboration with Mohammed Z. Rahman

    Read/performed at Margate NOW 2021: 'Sunken Ecologies' guest curated by Anna Colin

  4. Octopus Practices and Pirates in Translation with Clara Pacotte

  5. No Home Left Behind by Ama Josephine Budge, illustrated by Fernanda Peralta

Further reading

  • The Apocalypse Reading Room at the Arts Bar & Café | Toynbee Studios, 28 Commercial Street, London E1 6AB
Margate NOW · Spliced: An Obituary in Three Movements, By Ama Josephine Budge
Brave New Lit · In Conversation with Ama Josephine Budge



Realm One: Collaboration


SK [Sherida Kuffour]  0:00  Last week I did a small event just like a digital round table1. And it's my first event actually, so, or like, the first thing around this. And what I found nice also for myself was to ask everyone how they were doing at present, or like how you're feeling now. I think it helps me to kind of ground myself in this moment, and of course, you've already told me what's happened today. But yeah, how're you're feeling right now. And what things are going through your mind at the moment before we begin?


AJB [Ama Josephine Budge]  0:40  
Okay. I quite a contradictory place, at the moment because, on the one hand, I'm feeling very grounded in my practice. And I've had some really exciting projects that have come to fruition or are about to be finished in my artistic kind of iteration of my work. And that feels really exciting and gratifying and validating, and I feel quite supported in that work. 

On the other hand, my PhD work is kind of consistently being sidetracked. And that's really challenging. It's challenging to find the time; it's challenging to be concentrating to make more time and get consistently eaten. And yeah, I think trying to be excellent at multiple things is difficult. It's quite a challenging time. And I'm feeling that very much it within my kind of warring—motions and priorities within my body.


SK  2:07  
I do appreciate having you here. I'm looking forward to our conversation, I tried to make it a lot more structured. Sometimes I structure a bit to my detriment. But please feel free to break it at any point...


AJB  2:26  
I'm really happy to have the structure, and actually I think structure, when you're feeling a bit depleted, can be a real saving grace. So I'm really happy for the structure.


SK  2:40  
I think maybe it's good to start reintroducing the project. So it's also clear for me, I mean, the more I explain the project, the more I'm also able to understand it myself. 

I'm working on this project called Brave New Lit. And this project focuses on science fiction and dystopian literature and the combination of science fiction with paratexts. So paratexts are everything around a book like typography, pagination, etc, that make a book or a publication basically. I'm looking at the project two folds just because I consider myself twofold. I'm a graphic designer. But I also really like to read, I don't do much of it. But I like to read, and that's all that matters.

It's about how do you design paratexts, the things around the publication to make it as accessible to people as possible. That means what do I do in the design to ensure that people of different backgrounds and abilities can adequately read and engage with the literature? And then, on the other side, this question also applies to how we read, in what way do we when we read, and does the context affect the way we read and write literature. 

This [project] is inspired by Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. And I don't have a particular opinion about the book, actually, which is funny that I named the project after it. Still, for me, it's about the experience of reading the book, which is that I read it, I think, almost ten years ago now. I just went straight to the literature itself, and I didn't read anything else around it. I didn't read the cover. I didn't read the back cover; I could barely remember the guy's name. None of that mattered to me. And so I read it, and I hated it. I thought it was a crappy book. And for some reason, I think I said to myself, Oh, I just need to grow. I need to mature into it. Like, I don't know if you have that, but when I was younger, I'd say like, "I need to mature into this".


AJB  5:10  
That's what I had with Beloved [by Toni Morrison]


SK  5:12  
Oh, so I had that with The Bluest Eye. Toni Morrison was the first time that I had that experience.


AJB  5:20  
Toni Morrison generally, I'm just now able to start reading her... And James Baldwin, actually.


SK  5:27  
Yeah, I had the same thing. When I moved from Holland to England, I was twelve. And I read Toni Morrison's, The Bluest Eye. And I remember thinking, I can see myself, I can see myself in the character, but I didn't understand what the book was about. I remember thinking, I need to put it away. And then when I'm older, like 23, then I'll be able to read it. So it's yeah, this thing of like, constantly dealing like chewing literature, I feel like, with literature, I want to have this like cow stomach where you eat it, and you regurgitate it, and you're constantly like doing this thing with it.

And I want people to have this with my favourite designers and favourite writers. And I want people to, you know when they come on this, this Brave New Lit. platform that they read your work, and that there's always stuff to like come back to there's always stuff to chew on, and then go away, and then come back and kind of have like this experience. 

So in a lot of ways, I want these conversations also to be never-ending. And I want there to be flexibility in the sense that, let's say in a couple of years, we look at what we've done here together again, that you say, hey, this was a few years ago, I don't quite agree with that. Or I'd like to add more to that, that it just becomes this flexible thing, which is also why it's a digital platform to allow for that accessibility for myself, but also for other people to see the versions. 

So that is pretty much the crux of the project. And so how I'm tackling this is I'm looking at different realms with different people. And so, with you, I was looking at space, just the idea of spatiality and worlds. Whereas with another writer [Between Gut and Belly with Babeth Fonchie Fotchind2], it was about the bodily thing of feeling writing, like where you feel it most when you need to write and your bodily habits when you need to write. 

I'm kind of trying to pick at specific subjects. Really, for practical reasons, that makes it easier for me, and it makes it easier to communicate with different people. Exactly. So that is pretty much about the project. And how this will be published is by texts. I love your voice. And I would like for it to be public. And so obviously, we can discuss at the end whether or not there should be a video or whether it should be video and transcription. I think that the transcription part is really important also, just to reference back to it as well.


AJB  5:56  
Yeah, I agree.


SK  7:59  


AJB  8:00  
I've been doing quite a lot of readings of my texts lately, like just all year readings so that people can listen to them, which I think is quite good for accessibility.

If I show you...this is a new project that has just been launched, which is a text commission. And I had an amazing illustrator who worked with me on it. And I did a reading of it. And at the end, you can listen to me... 3


[Ama plays Spliced: An Obituary in Three Movements (in collaboration with Mohammed Z. Rahman)] 



SK  9:50  
Right. Right, exactly. And actually, this leads me a bit into a kind of cross thing because this morning I discussed with artist [writer and publisher of EAAPES], her name is Clara Pacotte 4, and she's a Paris-based artist [writer and publisher of EAAPES]. 

We talked about the relationship between writers and other people or their collaborators. I want to ask how it was writing and working with this illustrator. Was there a kind of an ebb and flow between you two? How did that relationship work?


AJB  10:35  
So in this piece, we worked really quite collaboratively. I got the commission; I actually worked with Mohammed [Zaahidur Rahman | he/they |] on, partly because they're one of my mentees. And so, I've been, I tried to give my mentees work or recommend them for things. I mean, obviously, he's amazing. But also, because I was really tired. And working with people, I find, really helps to bring energy to the project.

So I was really tired and overwhelmed. And I knew that I wasn't going to get the best out of myself with the project as well. But I also brought on a collaborator to share the resources of the funding. I knew I wanted to do this kind of ode or elegy to these species of plants and to kind of think with them through how plants and bodies are and were displaced through colonialism. 

I went to the garden, took loads of pictures, met with the head gardener because it was commissioned by this sunken garden off the coast of Kent. Sent them to Mohammed, [and said] "I'm thinking about working with these three species in particular, here are loads of pictures". And then they went off and did some research and said, "Oh, I found this, and this is a great and I found this and this" — so we had kind of an exchange of links and research. 

And then I said, I'm thinking about like these images are coming to mind. And then I sent them the first movement, which is the first response to the plant, which is called Maidenhair or was called Pohuehue originally. And then they said, okay, from your words, I'm picking out these images, right, so you can see, clearly, I think, in the second with the feet. So, for example, this is a vine that was using matrices. So I was telling them that this vine was using matrices, and I wanted to write about the matrices part.

So I kind of halfway down this bit here about "Lie with me on me in me fill me with your dreams and nightmares". You know, like, damn, just roll naked, you know, like to dream on me. And so they kind of created this matrice here. And then they said, like, I'd like it to be exploding out of the matrice. And I said yes, and I wonder if there could be some kind of feet or ankle that's ensnared by the vine. So we really collaboratively ideated them. And then for the fig, the second movement, they actually told me about it being an invasive species, which I hadn't found. So then we talked about a plant that is too much or too invasive, and what that means and how that feels to be an immigrant who's too much or too invasive or a displaced person. 

So we talked about that. Then I had written about them as like eyelashes and stubby fingers. Then they created these beautiful hands. You know, so it was a very, like, collaborative process. That's the way that I like to work with people that I know. I'm not great at or particularly interested in working collaboratively with people that unless I know people, I just actually turned down a project for that reason. Because I find that if you haven't got the flow and the trust, which is so important with art, it's too much work. If you don't trust them with your work, they don't trust you with their work, and you're chasing people up, you're following up, you're watching them like a hawk to make sure they don't bastardise what you've done. It's just not worth it, and it's not fun. It's not joyful. It's not enjoyable for them. It's not enjoyable for you. So I really try not to work collaboratively with people I don't know. And I'm obviously meeting new people all the time, right? Yeah. So it's not like, it's not like I only work with a small number of people. But I'll do a workshop with someone, right? Or talk with someone, and then we'll have coffee, and then we'll have lunch, we'll exchange poems or book suggestions or listen to music together. Then I'll be like, let's work together. You know, we flow. And I trust where your mind is. 

So an alternative would be this link I've just sent to my Architectural Review piece 'No Home Left Behind' 5, which was illustrated with this beautiful illustration by this Brazilian artist. The Architecture Review found this amazing artist [Fernanda Peralta] and invited them to respond to the story. And they sent me that Instagram page and said, Do you like this style? I said, Yes, I love it. Let's go with it. 

They read my finished story and responded, and I had sent some prompts. Like, I would like there to be some images of the house. I'd like there to be some images of the lily pad fields, for example. And then I think the first draft of this they sent back of the house wasn't quite right. It was in done in an almost Turkish temple style. But that, look, that aesthetic informed a lot of their practice, but it was not quite right. Stylistically the houses were supposed to be these kinds of colonial-style...


SK  17:05  
Right like New Orleans or The Bayou kind of architecture?


AJB  17:08  
Exactly, but that has been exported with a quote-unquote third world. And that was a really important visual cue for me that this westernised [house] to be located in the Global South, right, which it is, right, any of us who have gone to the global south or have family in the Global South are consistently finding Portuguese architecture. Spanish architecture, French architecture —it's fucking everywhere, right? In unexpected places, often because it's the architecture that lasts. 

Because, you know, often indigenous architecture; number one either isn't built to last, it's built to be transient, because people move or because there's a process of sustainable repair, as opposed to using unsustainable materials that don't erode. Or because a lot of money was brought in to build these huge stone houses with deep foundations. And they're the ones that have survived or are surviving climate change.


SK  18:20  
So if I understand correctly, you have different processes of working with these illustrates. The first one was way more of an organic fusion of both of your crafts together. Whereas with 'No Home Left Behind', it was commission-based...


AJB  18:40  
Yes, and that is entirely based on my relationship with the artist. When I work with Alberta Whittle, for example, who is a dear, dear, dear friend, and she's a member of my family really, it's emotional, spiritual, long term, deep work.


SK  19:11  
That makes me think of what I was talking about with Clara Pacotte. We talked about the relationship between Lynn Randolph, and Donna Haraway who was a writer. She had this special relationship with a painter; Lynn Randolph who responded to what [Donna] wrote with paintings. So it was a relationship that was based on trust.  And just I want to read this tiny bit that Lynne Randolph wrote on her blog, actually, and it's a really sweet show of the process between her and Donna Haraway. 

"So I placed my human-computer/artist/writer/shamans/scientist in the center and on the horizon line of a new canvas. I put the DIPswitches of the computer board on her chest as if it were a part of her dress. A giant keyboard sits in front of her and her hands are poised to play with the cosmos, words, games, images, and unlimited interactions and activities. She can do anything. The computer screen in the night sky offers examples.

There are three images that graphically display different aspects of the same galaxy, using new high-technological imaging devices. Another panel exhibits a diagram of a gravity well. The central panel offers mathematical formulas, one from Einstein and the other a calculation found in chaos theory. In the same panel, a game of tic-tac-toe has been played using the symbols for male and female and the woman has won. The foreground is a historical desert plain replete with pyramids, implying that the cyborg can roam across histories and civilisations and incorporate them into her life and work.

Finally I placed the shamanic headdress of a white tigress spirit on her head and arms. The paws and limbs of the tigress reveal its skeleton. They both look directly at the viewer. The underlying intent was to create a figure that could visually do what Haraway was describing as the potential for re-figuring our consciousness.  Shortly after completing my cyborg painting, I sent a slide to Donna Haraway. She had recently begun teaching at the University of California at Santa Cruz, History of Consciousness program.

She called me at the Bunting Institute to ask if she could use the Cyborg painting for the cover of her new book Simians , Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. She explained that it had already gone to press and that there would be no accompanying text. I was delighted. We talked about the painting, and I felt that she completely understood my effort. She asked to see other work that I'd done, and I began regularly sending her slides of completed work.

A year or so later, she wrote asking if she could use a black-and-white print of the Cyborg painting as the final image in her essay, "The Promises of Monsters." Her essay included a description of the painting. She put into words everything I was trying to articulate in the painting. She made me aware of the way I had used skeletons as an organising tool. "The painting maps the articulations among many cosmos, animal, human, machine, and landscape in their recursive sidereal, bony, electronic, and geological skeletons," she wrote, "The mathematics and the games are like logical skeletons." Haraway's description helped me talk about the painting when I presented it to others.

Our dance had begun."

And then, she goes on to describe how their dance had basically begun. I find this really special also in how you are describing your relationship with Muhammad. But how this relationship you have is the dance, you know, Donna Haraway also describes it this way. She says it's a kind of back and forth, where of course, you need trust, and it seems as though it's really important for you as well. Yeah. And I think that there are a lot of different [writers who've done the same], for example, Joanna Russ, and I think his name is Robert Delaney. He's a science fiction writer.


AJB  23:42  
Uhm uhm uhm Samuel Samuel. R. Delany!


SK  23:45  
Yes, exactly, exactly.


AJB  23:47  
Yeah, there are, I mean, not quite so intimate, but Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler both were informed by each other's practices.


SK  24:00  
That I didn't know, about Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler 


AJB  24:04  
Yeah, they never met, but they read each other and exchanged letters. 


SK  24:08  
Oh, that's so cool. 


AJB  24:10  
Yeah. There are definitely beautiful overlaps, and it's very much about trust, I think, when you're working against structures and systems, but also within them. All the work is on fugitive ground, right? All the work is fugitive. And the work is constantly being consumed and assimilated, no matter what you do. 

So having these pockets in which you can actually develop an artistic practice, actually, like grow your intellectual, theoretical, creative, spiritual, you know context, grounding, thinking like where you can be Ohh, completely change your mind about a thing. Well, you can have your mind blown. Having these pockets of insulated wombic environments where you can actually be nurtured that aren't like on the front line is absolutely essential.


SK  25:20  
I think that's invaluable. In a way, we have to be multidisciplinary or we have to work, you know, where disciplines overlap; I think that this is the only way that we can move forward.


AJB  25:44  
I think part of it has been the explosion out of non trained artists. For example, after working with Alberto for about three years on lots of art films, I'm now making art films. 

And so I think there's there's this kind of leaping and people just trying it without being trained without having institutional permission because we have kind of peer permission, peer training, peer support. We're subsidising those structures and systems that have kept us out and been exclusive. 

So I think also that trans-morphing of disciplinary boundaries is something that's really exciting that's happening at the moment and maybe feels a little bit new.


SK  26:40  
Absolutely. I also think it came a lot from hacking, you know, people no longer using the tools that cost an arm and a leg, but there are actually people creating their own tools and their own programs. And so then a lot of the art and making art became also a lot more accessible than before.


AJB  27:01  
Yeah, absolutely. And I think even more than than the artworks being accessible. It's like, the ways that we're self-teaching to read art, that question of who knows how to read art? Who has the artistic context to know? Oh, well, I can read this because this has been inspired by this there, right. That's a formula from chaos theory. Black West African artists, right. Like one way of reading art, how do you read out if you don't have that canon? 



Realm Two: The Contract Between Space and Literary Rituals


SK  27:42  
I want to know about your personal habits and your rituals. And what Ama Josephine Budge needs to write and to create these spaces and galaxies? And if you go somewhere? I mean, I told you in a few emails ago that I read 'A Shoal of Lovers Leads Me Home', and I just saw colours. But this is coloured by the fact that I'm a graphic designer, and at the moment and really gradients and so everything is like a gradient to me, you know. 

Reading through your work and your histories, or as much as is available online, these are the things that I'm really curious about. So I divided them into these realms, which means we can meander around them, but it does not have to be set in stone. And the working title that I had was 'The Contract Between Space and Literary Rituals'. And the first realm that I was thinking about was the physical thing of writing. So if we think about a lot of these, you know, writers; Did you know that maybe you already know this, that Toni Morrison used to look after...was it, Alice Walker? No, Nina Simone? It must have been either like an Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Nina Simone. And they used to watch each other's kids while the other would go into a room and lock themselves up in order to write.


AJB  29:41  
Wow, I've never heard of that.


SK  29:45  
I found it somewhere, and I haven't been able to find it again. 


AJB  29:49  
Oh wow, Can you find it?


SK  29:49  
I will, I will for sure. Like, I can't remember who exactly it was. If it was Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and one other person. And they talked about having kids and that being the reality but also needing to write. They'd have this communal based writing practice where one person would go and lock themselves up in a room. And so I was thinking about your practice...when we're talking about in-between stories, what does your tabletop look like? Do you also have to shut yourself in a room? Or what?


AJB  30:28  
Messy as fuck. 'A Shoal of Lovers [Leads Me Home]' was written surrounded by colour. I wrote it in Martinique on an Erasmus. So it was like a paid-for three months trip to Martinique, which was insane. And my placement kind of fell through. So I just hung out for three months, which was incredible. I was desperate for it. I was in a very difficult relationship. And our relationship was really in a shit place. I was very lost in who I was and where I was at. And I was deeply exhausted and very depressed.

I had these three months staying with a friend's sister, who's now a very close friend. And I also wanted to kind of get my French together while I was there. But of course, she's English. So we ended speaking in English, and we would just talk for hours and hours, like every day, and it was so healing. I had this room that looked out onto the trees and the ocean. I sat there at this desk, and it took me about two, three weeks to write that story. Now I write stories in like two days. And I felt I was having a direct conversation with Ghana, you know, but mostly, it was my first time in the Caribbean. Which was just it was an intense experience in lots of ways. 

I think being mixed and being light-skinned. And in Martinique, in particular, it was a very interesting experience. Because it's the only place, I've ever been where I've walked around and just looked like loads of the people there. Being mixed, I look like I could be from lots of places. So I have this really; I think of it as a privilege that I can go lots of places. And when I was in Morocco, people thought I was Berber. And I was in South America, people thought I was Brazilian when I was in Colombia, people thought I was Colombian, and when I was in Los Angeles, people thought I was Cuban. You know, like people adopt me. Which can be very useful. But I've never been someone where there are so many light-skinned black people. And it was a really weird experience for, like, a bunch of reasons. But it was also kind of amazing.


SK 33:26  
In what way was it weird? 


AJB  33:29  
Well, I suppose because of the reasons why there are so many light-skinned people. Politically it was intense because of the Béké culture, who are the white settlers and the light, very light; it's like a whole class of very light-skinned Caribbeans, and lots of them white-passing or nearly white-passing. I remember saying to my friend. Oh, so they're mixed, right? And they were like, no, they have two black parents. And I was like, how can they have two black parents?. And they were like because their parents are both that light. And so are their parents and their parent's parents, and it was like the manifestation of the stories that I know about the Caribbean. You know, about colourism, marrying quote-unquote, within your shade, but then coming to life around me. It's very odd.

Actually, one thing I will say about being in a mixed light-skinned black, female, thick, queer body is I feel loaded. Wherever I am in the world. I've never been somewhere where I haven't felt that the politics of my body is not loaded in terms of what's being read on to me. It's intense and odd. But then it was also amazing because nobody looked twice at me. And that was incredible. I felt really invisible, and free quote-unquote naturalised in a way that was very important for me at that time in my relationship to my identity and my body and blackness. And you know, like, I never feel like that when I'm in Ghana, for example. I remember when I went to Ghana with my ex, who was Jamaican, everyone just adopted them into Ghanaian culture. They were like, why are you with this white woman? And it was like, I'm the Ghanaian one! Hi! It was deeply upsetting and painful for me. 


SK  36:03  
Because you grew up in Ghana, partly right?


AJB  36:06  
Yeah, from nine to twelve. And then back and forth quite a lot. My parents are both there, but I don't know the local language because, in Accra, they speak English. And my father never taught me to speak, so that doesn't help. But it was interesting because they were going through a whole relationship of return. And what that might mean for them and our oppositional displacements were incredibly present.

So anyway, I digress. All of that to say, I was in Martinique, having a really particular healing experience, a time that was about me. My life up until that point had not really been about me, and it had been about caring for others, and making other people comfortable with my existence, and supporting other people. And that was a time when it felt like I was able to make a space for myself. And what emerged in that space was science fiction. 


SK  37:15  
So when you went to Martinique, was that your first foray into science fiction, or had you been dabbling in it beforehand? 


AJB  37:23  
Oh, yeah. So I've always read and written science fiction—epic fantasy when I was 17 that I wrote for four or five years. I already had a book on the back burner that I started when I was 24 that I'm still writing. But it was the first time that I'd written a short story ['A Shoal of Lovers Leads Me Home']. I guess the first time I finished it a thing now. I wrote it, I edited it. I finished it. 


SK  37:45  
It's a very generous story. I don't know what the landscape is like in Martinique. You said in the beginning how you thought of Ghana and how parts of Martinique also triggered your feelings of Ghana—did that also influence the characters' cultures?


AJB  38:17  
I mean, I was very surrounded by water. And the story was very informed by this idea of a kind of future who defied the ocean. I felt very in conversation with the ocean and, weirdly, geographically felt like I was in direct conversation. Because I mean that is what the transatlantic triangle is. I've never been on the other side of it before. So I felt like I was having a direct conversation, and I felt like I was looking from the ocean because Martinique is mountainous, hilly, and volcanic. It's got the famous black sand beaches. But there are parts of it that look unwesternised. And by that, I mean kind of urbanised. There are massive swathes of Bush. You can go on a boat around one side of the island, and it looks like nobody lives there. You know, it looks like there are people who live under the tree cover. So the presence of a post-Western human civilisation was aesthetically present in my imagination.


SK  39:45  
I also feel your work on ecology and climate is so present in this text. When I read the text, it reminded me how important it is to have non-white writers write speculative fiction and science fiction because you just bring such different imagery. 

You're talking about red sand; for example, I immediately see Ghana; that's where my brain goes because that is where my frame of reference is. Of course, for someone who's never been to such a place, that red dust is like this crazy thing, whereas for us, it's familiar. 


AJB  40:35  
You can feel it coating your skin and how it clogs up your pores. I think we have our own kind of dust devils, you know, that appear on my dirt roads. And I think of people walking along endless dust tracks, seemingly for hours. 

I think of driving past people walking up with trees on their heads. And [us] going and having a beer or meeting someone and driving back and seeing them still walking up the hill, like three hours later. I think about that idea of time, longevity, sluggishness. And the other thing I was doing when I was writing that story was writing my PhD proposal.


SK  41:40  
Oh, really? At the same time?


AJB  41:42  
At the same time, so it was really informed and influenced by that proposal. And actually, I would say all my speculative fiction of the last four years are explorations into my theoretical research. Or my theoretical research is trying to articulate what my science fiction can't articulate.  

So I think there's something around space. Heat is really integral for my writing; I find it very hard to write in the winter, I find it very hard to write in cold places. But I'm also incredibly commission-driven. So 'A Shoal of  Lovers Leads Me Home' was my first commission. It was a submission to Anathemas that came through a friend of mine called Sarah Saab, who's an incredible science fiction writer and poet who had been invited to submit to Anathema. And they said that if they were going to submit, because of that particular kind of racial privilege, they wanted to invite other black and brown writers to also submit, and I was one of them, which was amazing.  

I was also writing to a deadline, and that is how I write. I'm very commission-based, which is why my book always gets pushed to the last thing on the list. Because I write to deadlines, I write to commission, which also means I have the wonderful, wonderful joy and great honour of being edited. And I would say that, that my relationship with editors has been integral to my development as a writer academically and fictionally. But my best work, I think, comes out of being in warm places, green places and having time.


SK  44:09  
Maybe you should come to Switzerland.


AJB  44:12  
Is Switzerland warm?


SK  44:14  
Switzerland is very warm, actually. Honestly, I think people don't rate Switzerland.


AJB  44:23  
I definitely don't, and it's not in my head!


SK  44:27  
Maybe don't come and live here. But if you want a couple of weeks to have the time of your life in absolute quiet. I mean, I live in the bushes. I mean, not in bushes, but I live on top of a hill, and it's completely quiet when I go back to Holland or England. I always have a day where I'm in constant panic because of the noise and the sheer number of people, like I'm just not used to it anymore. So definitely you can swim in the Rhein and the river, and you can swim everywhere; oh my god. Consider this an official invitation.

You can go to the Italian speaking parts of Switzerland to Ticino. Switzerland has three parts, right? The French part, the German part, which I live in, which is the ghetto. And then the Italian parts. And the Italian part is super nice. It's so warm; the people are warm—it's just what you would expect. And then the French part is where everything is happening. I was in Lausanne the other day for a book launch, I think, and it was so nice. Like I met so many Ghanaian people that live there as well, which in Zurich, I've seen maybe like four black people. Like, there's not, there are not that many people.


AJB  45:54  
I have a friend who lives in Zürich; I should connect you with him. He's not black; he's Brown. 


SK  45:59  
Who is he?


AJB  46:00  
He's called Krishna; He's a filmmaker?


SK  46:02  
No, I don't know him. You know, it's so small here that [you tend to know most creatives] But yeah, that would be great.


AJB  46:10  
Yeah, it'd be really great. I was thinking that I should plan in a couple of three-week trips next year to finish with my PhD writing. So maybe I should consider Switzerland.


SK  46:26  
if just in case you would like to take some time. I have a spare room. No pressure, of course. But it would be open anytime you would once.


AJB  46:37  
I'm incredibly honoured, thank you.



Realm Three: Tools for Invoking Other Worlds


SK  46:41  
Okay. You've been so generous with your answers that this actually already answers quite a few points that I had. I mean, I had the question of were there any worlds that you wanted to invoke? 

We've already spoken about this, but this is more a practical question whether any particular manners of like organisation methods or tools in grounding this story specifically in 'A Shoal of Lovers Leads Me Home'...Or any other science fiction writers? Do you have particular tools that help you?


AJB  47:20  
Well, I type mostly. I love typing, actually, because I think really quickly. And I have always been frustrated in school; I was frustrated with writing essays by hand. And so my mother eventually typed them out on our humongous computer—this massive brick we had in Ghana, and I used to pace behind her, picture me, I was like 11 [years old] pacing. And we had lived in a tiny room, and everything was in the room. We lived in this room with her and my stepfather and three bikes, and everything was in the kitchen; everything was in the room. And there was this desk with the brick on it, and she'd be there typing. And it was like, you know, 38 degrees, and I'd be pacing and "DehDehDehDehDeh".

My grandpa thought his daughters would be secretaries and marry rich farmers because they lived in the country. So my mother had been forced to go to secretarial college. So she was a very fast typer. So she would just go DrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrMp. And I would speak, and it was like a revelation. And then I had in Ghana, a really strict typing teacher who used to put you know, they'd have wood covering the keyboard, and you couldn't look down, at your hands, and this woman had like six pairs of eyes on her head. She could be looking the other way, and she'd go 'Ama!' and she could sense you! So I'm actually a very competent typer, I'm a pretty fast typer, and I can write and have a conversation. 


SK  49:13  
So you also have this thing where like your mind goes before your hand?


AJB  49:18  
Yeah, my wife is always freaked out 'cause I can be like, "What do you want for dinner?"[whilst typing] And she's like that's creepy. I've tried the whole mapping characters thing.  

I used to write character profiles. And it's not a waste of time; it's probably a good exercise—I've actually just joined a fantasy writing class to do some of those things because I don't take the time. But most of my characters, when I meet them, they already fully formed people. They have fully formed lives and histories, and I'm just kneading them.


SK 50:00 
That's interesting. This is maybe a chicken and egg question. But do you do the characters first or the world first? Because I think when I write, I do the world first. I imagine the complete space where the things are before I come up with who's actually in it. And then I just get, like, bored. And I have to come back to it.


AJB  50:27
So I'm quite a cinematic writer; I see an image. And the image could be of a world. The novella that I'm trying to finish is about a world in which the cycle of a day takes an entire year. So that's like four months of dawn, four months, in a day, and then like four months of Twilight, and then like, it's nighttime. And so I saw this world that that had a three-month-long sunrise. And then the story emerged around the world. I don't know if I can remember what I first saw with Shoal of Lovers. It may have been the idea of Elmina castle as a ruin in 500 years as the only thing that remained overgrown, you know, covered in vines. With No Home Left Behind, I knew I wanted to write about a sentient home. So the sentient home came first. I have a mind that is a universe in that way. 

I have about 300 or 3000 stories in my mind at any given time. My characters, 90% of the time, have a name, have a backstory have intentions and desires. I can hold multiple timelines, multiple generations, multiple nations in my mind at a time. That's how I think science fiction makes my brain makes sense—it doesn't in so many parts of the world that I live in, I can't function particularly well. But with science fiction, it's like, Oh, yeah. This is why my brain makes sense. You know? I see an image and the world; it's a little bit like a puzzle piece.

And sometimes, I get stuck. It doesn't make sense why someone will have done something. I have an amazing, by the way; this is also essential list of readers, people, friends who I respect to read my work. Most of the time, they'll say, I don't understand why she did this thing. And then I'll go Oh, because of this, and they'll be like, then tell me that how am I supposed to know! And I'm like, because I know! So most of the time, the questions that come up or the dots that aren't connected are ones that I haven't explained. Sometimes I hit dead ends, or I get bored with my characters, or I don't know where it's going long-form, I find short stories. I almost always know where they're going. 


SK  54:05  
do you have any plans to release a novel or anything where these challenges will be way more, I suppose, glaring?


AJB 54:14  
Yeah, so I'm writing this novella, around any 80000 words that should be finished by the end...well, we're trying for the end of the year. 


SK  54:23
But you have your PhD! 


AJB  54:24 
I know! We'll see. We'll see. I mean, I find it quite useful to write fiction and academically together because it's kind of a similar part of my brain.


SK  54:43  
I would have thought that because they are opposite parts of your brain that actually they'd work really well together.


AJB  54:50  
It's, freelancing and PhD-ing is almost impossible. I find it really hard because with freelancing; I'm in a reactionary "do this, do that" mode. Whereas with the PhD, you have to like, sink into this quiet, mysterious place your mind can kind of function and novel writing is like that as well. Also, London's a trap. I hate this city. 


SK  55:20  
Do you have a bittersweet relationship with London because I definitely do?


AJB  55:25  
No, it's just bitter now. The sweet has been sucked out, and the husk is dry and sour.


SK  55:33  
Very last thing. Which is realm three. I call this Setting the Space. And I thought of what do you when you think of space concerning your writing? What or who do you think of? 

I think for me, it's important to have people around me that can make space for me or that I can make space for them. And so I thought about if you had a particular song or lyric, or person that grounds you, or an object or something.


AJB  56:13  
Yeah. So a person that grounds me is my wife.


SK  56:20  
What is her name?


AJB  56:21  
Angela. I think because she's not also an artist. She doesn't like science fiction, to my deep grief. I'm still convinced that there's gonna be something that's going to get her into it. But it's not her. She's a nonfiction lover. She keeps me grounded because she's not in my world. If it doesn't make sense to her or feel important to her or relevant to her, then that's really important for me to know. 

She keeps me from...trying to think of a better word for circle jerking too much, you know? God, yeah. I was thinking this incestuous circle jerking. I suppose being self-indulgent, but it's more like talking to ourselves in a kind of self-indulgent way. I think that's really important. I think it's important to have those moments, but that can't be all of your whole practice, I think.


SK  57:48  
Like a mix, a balance of finding community, but then also having people outside of that community.


AJB  57:58  
Yeah, I think it tethers us in the real world. Because our love and our relationship is also a Utopic grounding space for me, it exists in a different world to my academic world, which is all my speculative worlds, my other like utopic grounding space. So Venn diagram where those two worlds meet is somewhere that's very generative and validating and important for me. There are particular essays; I think I told you about Samuel R. Delany's 'The Necessity of Tomorrow'. Ursula Le Guin's 'Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction. 


SK  58:55  
Can I ask you a question about Ursula Le Guin's 'Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction?  I'm finding it very hard to read.


AJB  59:05  
Oh, no, no, it's fine, but I think it's like one of the most accessible essays, no go on.


SK  59:14  
I bought the book. And I read it every time I go out. I'm trying to like, I cannot...okay, I don't understand.


AJB  59:24  
So it's a super simple concept. So it's built on this scientific or feminist scientific principle of what's her name? Karen Whoever. A carry bag theory is that there are all these ideas about human inventions. That humans invented spears, and humans invented fire and are the dominant species. 

Actually, it's far more likely that the first and most important invention that humans made was a container. Right? Which meant that when hunter-gathering, humans were able to collect things, let's say oats or seeds, or berries, for later and that that was a really important turning point in human development.


SK  1:00:13  
And that's all she is saying?


AJB  1:00:14  
No, no, no, that's the scientific theory. Because you would take berries for the sick or the elderly, right? And that there would be some kind of communal active gathering, the gathering part of hunter-gathering that doesn't get as much attention. 

And the point of the Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction is that what's important in this theory is the story. So she's saying, the story of the hunter is the Hollywood story. Right? That's the story that gets the big bucks. And it's dramatic, and it's full of conflict. She uses the example of the mammoth hunter. They go off, and they kill the mammoth. And that's the story everyone wants to hear. Oh, you know, this guy's leg got crushed, and then this one was victorious, but he died horrifically in his arms; we were stuck inside the mammoth's tusks and whatever. And everyone wants to hear that story. 

Right? No one wants to hear the story of Oh, and then I picked this oat. You know, she's like, "I rescued this oat from the vine!" is not as compelling or dramatic a story, right? And she says the story in which humans or the world in which the story that is most valued is the hunter story is a story of what mankind is, but she doesn't understand, it doesn't resonate for her, it doesn't it make sense to her. And she thinks that that story is actually a huge part of why the world is fucked up in the ways that it is. It's a huge reason why colonialism happened,  it's a huge reason why climate change is happening, because of the story, that humans are people who conquer things dramatically, bloodily, terrifically and that, without that gore and conflict, we don't have value and will not be remembered. 

She's saying another way of writing, another way of storytelling is thinking through what we gather. And if we're gathering things, that creates a lot more space. So she says there is space enough, there is time enough to listen to this joke, to gather these oats to check that the baby's okay to gather some extra wood so that they can make a better splint for this person who's broken their leg and there is time enough in the Carrier Bag Theory for an entire universe of stars. Whereas in the singular mammoth hunting story, there was only time for one hero. Right? 

And it's this completely different way of thinking about storytelling, writing, the world, and crucially, what human beings are and what we are capable of, and why we exist. That is why it is an incredibly radical essay because she says the stories we tell about who we are and who we can be changes everything about the world. 

And my theory in my work, I talk about sentences such as humans are naturally hierarchical, right? Humans always want power. Humans always create nuclear family groups; that's the natural order of things, how these colloquial truths destructively shape our world. Because the other story is, humans can actually be non-hierarchical. Humans can actually have all different kinds of family groups. Many humans are actually not monogamous by nature; many humans are actually not parental by nature. These are other kinds of ways of living that have been forcibly and violently eradicated from our force from view in our understanding, at least in the west of what the human is. 

I love this essay.


SK  1:04:44  
I'm going to go back, and I'm going to read it again. 


AJB  1:04:48  
Do please. So the thing in particular from that essay that I carry with me is her invitation, and it's a challenge, really an invitation to write stories that are not driven by conflict. This is something, of course; in writing classes, you learn, you need to have a protagonist.


SK  1:05:12  
Right. Our entire literary education is informed by what she's describing.


AJB  1:05:19  
Exactly. So my novella is really trying to not respond to conflict. And it's really hard. But I'm really trying to think about, doesn't mean there's no drama, but that it's not shaped by conflict.


SK  1:05:39  
That is incredible. Thank you for explaining that to me.


AJB  1:05:42  
You're so welcome. Okay, very quickly. Audre Lorde's 'Thesis of the Erotic', The Erotic is Power. And M. Jacqui Alexander's 'Pedagogies of Crossing'.


SK  1:05:55  
I hope that everyone who will read this and encounter what we just spoke about will also feel empowered. I love that we deviated so much. This is really important.


AJB  1:06:06  
Deviation suggests that there is a centre.


SK  1:06:09  
Yeah, that's true! We meandered, we meandered.


AJB  1:06:13  
within the carrier bag, there is time and space.


SK  1:06:16  
Exactly, exactly. Okay. Great. Yes. Thank you so much for your time


Thank you very much. have a lovely evening. Bye-bye.


The purpose of this conversation is to dissect Ama's literary rituals in three realms. The first realm delves into the collaborative processes that she's engaged in so far, and in how much they impact her practice. The second entitled 'The Contract Between Space and Literary Rituals' is about the necessity of physical requirements in order to invoke intangible worlds. The third 'Tools for Invoking Worlds' continues to question how worlds may be crafted, and what tools might be needed to achieve that(i.e. a desk, a laptop etc.). Finally, we close the conversation by exchanging references and figures.
Note From Editor

In her speech and essay 'A Room of One's Own', Virginia Woolf argues that one of the things (the other being money) a woman ought to have is a room to which they retreat to consume and produce fictional literature. It implies a specific transformative process of which space is integral to imagination. What does space do to writing? More importantly, how might a writer's space reveal or suppress elements of the worlds they build within their fictional works. How is space predetermined by colonial realities, and what are the methods and tools that contemporary fiction writers such as Budge use to swim, float and sink upwards? We draw heavily on Budge's ecological works, from the red dust and desolate ocean in 'A Shoal of Lovers Leads me Home' to the nooks of the Apocalypse Reading Room guests.
About this author

Ama Josephine Budge is a Speculative Writer, Artist and Pleasure Activist whose work takes a queer, decolonial approach in challenging climate colonialism in Sub-Saharan Africa with a particular focus on inherently environmentalist pleasure practices in Ghana. Ama is the initiator of the Apocalypse Reading Room project, and she is a member of Queer Ecologies collective with Hari Byles and Linden K. McMahon, as well as the Lead Artist on the MycoLective project with Chisenhale Studios and Feral Practice. Ama is a PhD candidate in Psychosocial Studies with Dr Gail Lewis at Birkbeck University of London. - The profile photo for Ama was by Zachary Maxwell Stertz and depicts a mixed-race woman of medium tan complexion photographed against a black background. She's wearing long trapezoid earrings which dangle to the top of her shoulders and a vest with cut-outs at the shoulders. Her face, which is turned slightly to the side is illuminated and she is smiling directly at the camera.