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Professor partners with Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics to bring ASU Worldbuilding Initiative to life


Portrait of ASU Associate Professor Matt Bell smiling for the camera in an outdoor setting.

Matt Bell is a professor for ASU's Department of English and a published author.

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February 02, 2023

In her 2014 National Book Award acceptance speech, acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin said, “Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality.”

Le Guin’s charge that we become “realists of a larger reality” — and the similar charges of other science fiction writers and futurists who dream of better futures for our planet and the life it supports — lies at the heart of the new ASU Worldbuilding Initiative.

Masterminded by Matt Bell, a professor of creative writing in Arizona State University's English department and author of "Appleseed" (a New York Times notable book), the ASU Worldbuilding Initiative invites all members of our community — at ASU and beyond it — to come together in mutual inspiration, communal thinking and imaginative play. As the latest initiative incubated by the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, this narrative experience will kick off in the spring. 

“My goal for the Worldbuilding Initiative,” Bell says, “is to make it a home for like-minded thinkers, artists and other people to inspire each other to think about our place in our world, our relationship to others and how the choices we make in the present inevitably affect the choices we leave to the those who follow us. The stories we tell each other are part of what sets the bounds of the future; the more varied positive, inclusive possibilities we imagine, the easier it might be to realize those futures in the real world.” 

Bell describes the initiative as an endeavor to multiply the possibilities we have available to us by giving students and faculty a chance to participate in a narrative experience built around wonder, collaboration, curiosity and problem-solving, putting into practice the modes of inquiry, thought and imagination that will be essential to the envisioning of our future ways of life. 

The project partnered with the Lincoln Center in the fall of 2022 as part of its investigation into ways we can reimagine our futures and relationships with technology. 

“We are excited to be the home at ASU for Matt Bell’s Worldbuilding Initiative, and to be able to contribute in some small way to his remarkable work,” said Gaymon Bennett, associate director of the Lincoln Center. “The question of worldbuilding and the vital work of the imagination in creating more ethical futures go to the heart of our mission at Lincoln. With Professor Bell, we’re convinced that while our lives today can be riddled with uncertainty, there is enough collective wisdom and good will around to realize a more positive and inclusive future — if we’re willing to multiply the accounts of the future that get to count.” 

The Worldbuilding Initiative will consist of multiple hybrid and virtual workshops, bringing together speakers from a broad range of disciplines and exploring topics from artificial intelligence to constructed languages. 

The series will culminate in a special keynote speaker event and reception at the end of the semester, then return next fall with a full year of programming. 

“The Worldbuilding Initiative invites every humanities discipline, from philosophy and creative writing to media studies, history, religious studies, linguistics and languages, to imagine more humane arrangements of the world we have inherited and inhabit,” said Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “(It) is a community effort inspired by the ASU Charter and our mission of access and inclusion. We are fortunate to have the celebrated author and extraordinary thinker Matt Bell at its helm.”

Students and community members are invited to register for the first workshop, “Constructed Languages, Box-Words, and Neologisms: Ways of Naming (and Making) the World,” on Monday, Feb. 13, which will take place at ASU’s Tempe campus and also available to livestream via Zoom.

For more information on the initiative and to sign up for future events, check out the Lincoln Center website.

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