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New Suns: A Feminist Literary Festival 2021

A visual motif of three circles, a colour palette of blues and golds

The annual literary festival New Suns returns for a weekend of talks, workshops and a film centred around feminist storytelling. The weekend will feature acclaimed writers, activists, artists, and academics including adrienne maree brown, Season Butler and Dorothea Lasky. This third edition of the festival, running from Friday 5 – Sunday 7 March 2021, will take place entirely online for the first time. New Suns is a co-production between the Barbican and independent publisher and curator Sarah Shin

This year’s New Suns will look to the legacy of eminent science-fiction author Octavia Butler, to explore the power we have to both sustain and change the world around us, and how to commune with others. In particular, New Suns will reflect on Butler’s prophetic, unfinished Earthseed series, which imagines Earth in the 2020s ravaged by ecological disaster and violent divisions. The young Black protagonist Lauren Olamina not only survives a journey through a treacherous version of the American West after being forced to leave her home, but also seeds hope with her writing, and builds a new community that she believes one day will travel to the stars. 

The festival will navigate the books’ central themes, such as the inevitability of change, community-building, examinations of race and gender, and humanity’s relationship to the cosmos.

The New Suns 2021 programme includes a talk between writers and activists adrienne maree brown and Ama Josephine Budge, exploring the practice and legacy of Octavia Butler; poetry readings and a discussion with Izabella Scott of The White Review, poet Dorothea Lasky and artist and poet Precious Okoyomon, exploring the relationship between space and our existence on Earth. There will be a workshop led by Alice Spawls, the co-editor of the London Review of Books, inviting audiences to experience journaling as a foundation for creative writing; and a film about the feminist scholar Donna Haraway. Another highlight of New Suns 2021 includes a science fiction writing workshop with writer and performance artist Season Butler. The full programme details can be found below. Festival bookers can continue to watch back all New Suns content until Tuesday 9 March 11.59pm.

There are two ways for audiences to join this year’s festival: a standard offer with access to the weekend’s live online programme (£15), and a ‘New Suns Plus’ ticket which includes a limited-edition anthology and a merchandise package in the post, plus the workshop on science fiction writing with Season Butler (£25). There will also be a concession ticket of £5 / £15 for Young Barbican members. The festival is available to UK based audiences and all tickets are available to book via the Barbican’s website.

The New Suns anthology booklet includes an extract from Octavia Butler’s book The Parable of the Sower; poetry by Dorothea Lasky and Daisy Lafarge; guides for self-reflection and meditation; as well as herbal recipes for strength and healing to enjoy this spring and beyond. The anthology is accompanied by thyme seeds and instructions how to use the herb beyond the culinary.

Sarah Shin, New Suns Founder and Co-producer, said: ‘Taking inspiration from Octavia Butler’s Earthseed belief system and community, this year’s New Suns festival and accompanying anthology may be considered like seed: to sow ideas and practices to cultivate adaptation, resilience and hope to create inhabitable futures.’

Razia Jordan, Producer, Barbican, said: ‘We're super excited to celebrate the third year of New Suns. As always, the festival aims to be a space for the exchange of ideas on new types of community and societies, and a platform for the creators and feminists who help us to envision these new worlds. Given the current circumstances, we've transformed New Suns into an online festival, and, for the first time, have been able to commission a special anthology which people can enjoy at home. New Suns is a key part of the Barbican’s Level G programme, an experimental platform for projects that ask crucial social and cultural questions, spark conversations and bring people from different disciplines together.'

In lieu of a traditional book fair this year, New Suns is partnering with – a new online retailer for books that directly supports independent bookshops all over the UK and US. There will be a special New Suns section on from today, offering reading lists for audiences who would like to dive into New Suns-related literature, while supporting independent booksellers at the same time.

The festival’s name is directly inspired by Octavia Butler, who said in her third and unfinished Earthseed novel: 'There is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns’. In 2018 and 2019, the festival took place as a day of events, film screenings and workshops around a major book fair, featuring over thirty independent and major publishers at the Barbican Centre.

The Barbican believes in creating space for people and ideas to connect through its international arts programme, community events and learning activity. To keep its programme accessible to everyone, and to keep investing in the artists it works with, the Barbican needs to raise more than 60% of its income through ticket sales, commercial activities and fundraising every year. Donations can be made here:


Friday 5 March 2021

Keynote talk: The Parables of Octavia Butler
adrienne maree brown in conversation with Ama Josephine Budge

5 Mar 2021, 7-8.15pm, online

Writers and activists adrienne maree brown and Ama Josephine Budge will be in conversation to discuss the work and legacy of American science fiction author Octavia Butler. The power and inevitability of change is central to Butler’s visionary stories, as well as the reimaginations of social relations across race, gender and class. How can we collectively seed, cultivate and create the worlds we want, and build habitable futures?

Cinema on Demand: Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival
2016 Fabrizio Terranova, 90 min

Available to stream from 5 Mar 2021, online

Feminist thinker, writer and historian of science Donna Haraway shares her life, influences and ideas in this documentary film by director Fabrizio Terranova. An essential and insightful glimpse into the thoughts of a major contemporary figure.

Haraway is a passionate storyteller, presenting a playful exploration of ideas in this film. Discussing topics as diverse as capitalism, and science-fiction writing; the conversations - which are punctuated by quirky animation - have a casual and intimate feel, drawing the viewer into their confidence.

The film will be available to watch at any time over the festival weekend via the Barbican’s Cinema on Demand platform. Cinema on Demand is available to audiences across the UK with a rolling four-week programme of titles and events that reflect the Barbican’s international cinema programme.

Saturday 6 March 2021

Workshop: What-if?
A Speculative Science Fiction Writing Workshop with Season Butler

6 Mar 2021, 11am – 1pm, online

Writer, performance artist and teacher Season Butler will lead a workshop on fantastical, futuristic writing and share her insights into how to conjure voice, subjectivity, and compelling, engaging prose. Part of the workshop will include breakout sessions for participants to practice writing exercises. Writers at all levels are welcome. Only available to New Suns Plus ticket holders.

Panel talk: Among the Stars
A poetry live reading with Precious Okoyomon and Dorothea Lasky + discussion with The White Review

6 Mar 2021, 5-6pm, online

For millennia we have stargazed for inspiration and knowledge via astrology, astronomy and space exploration. This session will include poetry readings and a conversation with Izabella Scott, an editor at The White Review, poet Dorothea Lasky and artist and poet Precious Okoyomon, exploring the relationship between space and our existence on Earth: how can what lies beyond our world help us here on Earth?

Sunday 7 March 2021

Workshop: Journaling / Diary writing with the London Review of Books

7 Mar 2021, 12-1.15 pm, online

Led by Alice Spawls, co-editor of the London Review of Books, this workshop will explore journaling as a foundation for creative writing. Focusing on skills for independent editing, playing with time and structuring prose, the workshop will draw from a combination of Octavia Butler’s writings and the diary columns from the London Review of Books.