Maria Dahvana Headley

Author of The Mere Wife (2018), a contemporary adaptation of Beowulf, from MCD Books and Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. She is a New York Times-bestselling author and editor, playwright, and screenwriter—most recently of the young adult fantasy novels Magonia and Aerie (HarperCollins), the dark fantasy/alt-history novel Queen of Kings (Dutton), and the internationally bestselling memoir The Year of Yes (Hyperion). Her essays have been published and covered in venues ranging from The New York Times to Harvard's Nieman Storyboard and range from creative nonfiction to analysis of topics such as the ethics of writing about a vulnerable subject, inequitable gender representation in mainstream media, and sexual harassment in geek culture. Her work has been supported by The MacDowell Colony and Arte Studio Ginestrelle, among other organizations. SLC, 2019–


Previous Courses

Speculative Fiction Craft: This Story Changes the World: Imagined Manuals, Feminist Utopias, and Furious Fantasies for Crafting New Worlds


You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit or it is nowhere.—Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (1974)

The creation of fantastical worlds in order to address and analyze real-world problems of radical inequality—gender-, sexuality-, race-, and class-based oppression—is a tradition that can be followed easily through the history of speculative fiction. For writers, both utopian and dystopian narratives can be tools for greater analysis of our own structures and assumptions, revising our cultural mythology, and ultimately changing the world around us. In this course, we’ll look at the ways in which speculative writers have used genre to “What If?” their way out of oppression, looking at everything from excerpts and analysis of the worldbuilding and conceptual follow-through of Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland to the nonfiction and fiction of Ursula K. le Guin, Octavia Butler, Sofia Samatar, Charlie Jane Anders, Carmen Maria Machado, Brooke Bolander, and more. We'll pry apart the found materials of our world—ranging from political rhetoric to kernels of science, expedition, and exploration— to fuel our own imagined narratives. In writing exercises, we’ll learn to use our own cultural assumptions as tools to recalibrate notions of heroic POV, to rip from the headlines, to add mythic elements, and to shape the worst that the news has to offer into fantastical stories and concepts interrogating and exploring worlds brewed from the one in which we live.