Michael Bennett is an associate research professor in Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society and at the Center for Science and the Imagination. He is also a lecturer at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Before taking part in a Zócalo event asking “Are We Living in a World Ray Bradbury Tried to Prevent?,” Bennett spoke in the green room about finding inspiration in high temperatures, making up stories with his daughter, and imagining what will be left on Earth 200 years from now.
Who was your childhood hero?
I’m from North Florida, Tallahassee. Like so many people in that place, all my earliest heroes were Black women. Among them would be my mother, who passed away recently. She was my gateway to loving the arts. Oftentimes, I’d sit next to her as she worked. She actually published a few poems. And she wrote regularly, several times a week.
What are you reading right now?
For edification, but also for work, I’ve just recently gone back to Fred Moten’s In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition. This is one of his earlier works, from 2003. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a study of avant-garde Black artists from the mid 20th century. I also just started a book by Christina Sharpe called In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. It’s Afro-pessimism in many ways. It explores the wake—like the ripples behind the boat—but also the range of ceremonies we might have after a person passes, to get at the state of the African diaspora in this moment. It’s pretty interesting stuff, if somewhat dark. And then the other thing that’s right next to me in my stack is the latest issue of the journal n+1. It’s pretty much the only journal at this point I read from front to back, so I just dove into that.
What is your hidden talent?
I’m becoming a decent baker. I have a 6-year-old, and she loves baking. Her mom’s a pretty serious baker, so there’s a bit of a competition there—I’m having to raise my game. We recently made a pretty solid poppyseed almond pound cake that we turned into muffins from scratch.
Where do you come up with your best ideas?
Two places compete: soaking in water that’s almost too hot to bear, and in the middle of the night, either after having stayed up way too late, or [having been] kicked out of sleep by some notion.
What year, past or future, would you like to time travel to if you could?
That’s a really difficult question because going any place into the past for Black men in this country is perilous. Louis C.K. had a great great joke on that; back when he was not canceled, I thought that was the best of him. So, I think I would have to go into the future. Being somewhat arbitrary about it, I’d like to see about 200 years out. Let’s call it 2222.
That sounds like the title of a future book.
It does. I’d be very curious to see what, if anything, remains of this so-called civilization at that point.
What was the last thing that inspired you?
My daughter said something to me the other day that got me thinking about a short story kernel. We have this nightly routine where we read stories, and I usually make up something and she will, with some regularity, make up some things as well. She was trying to prime me for the story I was going to make up that night. We were meditating on how hot it was outside, and she said something about how she wished she could get into the freezer—not just stand in front of it, but to step into it. So I just started spinning this story about this father and daughter who make their way into the freezer and have a range of adventures.
Which piece of produce best describes you?
I’ll jump right in and say a red beet. I feel a real connection to red beets—not that I have anything in common with beets. But there’s a kind of joy that they have. I like the texture. I like the color. I think there’s something really elegant about them. And I like the messiness of them. So, there’s something about them. I don’t have any of these qualities, that I know of at least. But I find them admirable. I have a kinship with beets.