Photo by Rosalie Winard
This weekend, the Twin Cities Anarchists Book Fair returns with lectures, workshops, and lots of materials covering a wide range of leftist and radical topics. One of the guest speakers is Terry Bisson, an award-winning science-fiction author who has written and edited several non-fiction books about radical individuals and topics.
Although not an anarchist, Bisson comes from the New Left movement of the 1960s. "I'm pretty much a Marxist," he says.
Born in the South, Bisson was particularly moved and radicalized by the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-white-supremacy movement. He was active in fighting against a resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan. He also did work around the Puerto Rican independence movement (as well as other national liberation movements) and the Black Power movement, as well as participating in anti-war protests.
Bisson says that he thinks he would be surprised if he knew back then how the present turned out today. "It was a time when the world was going through great changes," he says of the '60s. "I was part of the New Left. One of the tenants we believed was that national liberation movements were going to open the door to socialism." In other words, the defeat of the U.S. in Vietnam would open the door to a new world -- a better world -- where countries like Palestine, Ireland, and numerous countries in Africa would gain independence.
But radical politics is very different today than it was in the '60s. "Right now, the radical movements are extremely small," he says. "In the '60s, we weren't as radical, but it was huge."
There's a struggle for continuity for every generation. "When we came along, a lot of us knew very little about the labor and communist movements of the 1930s," he says. "It's important to learn that continuity. We didn't invent the idea of socialism or liberalism. This stuff has a history. People have to plug into that. Every generation starts over, but they don't have to start completely over. In the U.S. it's particularly disjointed."
Bisson has done quite a bit of research into radical history. He wrote a screenplay about Paul Robeson and an "ultimate history" novel about the abolitionist John Brown. In the novel, he imagines what would happen if Brown's Harpers Ferry raid in 1859 had turned out differently and had been successful. In the book, the year is 1959, one-hundred years after the raid. It describes a world where the South is an independent nation and socialist, and the American Indians never lost the High Plains.
When Bisson's not writing on politics, he writes science fiction (although even that can be a bit "lefty," he says). One thing he's found is that as a science-fiction writer, he can take "the longer view." Two-hundred years in the future, "all these guys against gay marriage or against any kind of environmental stuff -- it's a defensive action. If you take a longer view, I think these trends are unstoppable. But corporations are going to try to delay defeat for as long as possible," he says.
Bisson didn't always want to be a science-fiction writer. "I wanted to be Jack Kerouac," he says. "I've been privileged to make a living as a writer. Besides, science fiction is kind of cool. I like the people."
Bisson is speaking at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday at the fair, and will also speak along with anarchist theorist and historian Andrej Grubačić at the University of Minnesota on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Blegen Hall.
IF YOU GO:
Twin Cities Anarchist Book Fair
Powderhorn Park (3400 15th Ave. S., Minneapolis)
5-7:30 p.m. Friday
10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday