• What does the Portolan Project come from? What need do we hope to satisfy?

Portolan charts are ancient maps used by navigators at sea, to help them find ports for safe harbor and avoid hazards (“Here be dragons…”) The SLF’s Portolan Project is designed to help writers and readers chart their own courses towards creating fabulous fiction and discussing terrific literature.

Its creation was influenced by two things: frustration with the current financial obstacles in creative writing and literature education, and admiration of Khan Academy as an easy-to-use, easy-to-access, free global educational resource.

At the Speculative Literature Foundation (SLF), we believe that everyone in the world (everyone!) should have free and easy access to reading and writing; storytelling/literature is our birthright, deeply important to our survival and growth as a species.

  • Why spec lit?

Magic and science spark the imagination. When we’re thinking about possible futures or fantasizing about new worlds and magical creatures, that generates energy and excitement that make reading and writing fun. For reluctant middle schoolers, reading a story about a kid they can relate to, who also has cool superpowers, can ignite a positive, passionate relationship with literature. And it’s evident from the thriving SF/F convention culture that common interests in magical and futuristic worlds bring people together.

  • What does the Portolan Project hope to become, and offer long-term?

The Portolan Project wants to first and foremost create free writing & lit. lessons, initially aimed at the undergraduate college level and then expanded to younger students (high school and middle school) and graduate / adult level. These lessons will be structured to serve writers and readers working individually at home or in small groups, but can also serve as a tremendous resource for teachers (of varying subjects) looking to add interest and diversity into their classrooms.

The Portolan Project also hopes to create a comprehensive database for speculative literature, tagged for easy searching (for example, you’re looking for eco-conscious science fiction from Asia? Or feminist SF from the 60s and 70s? Contemporary Black American Fantasy?). We’re brainstorming ways to facilitate that in a way that’s efficient and sustainable long term.

We also hope to take on literacy projects. Imagine learning to read with a story about a Mexican wizard kid, instead of Dick and Jane. Some of those stories exist already, so it’s a matter of adapting them into early literacy materials for small children, adults who didn’t have access to adequate literacy education, ESL learners and more.

  • What does the Portolan Project currently offer?

1) So far, with the help of paid staff and teachers and general volunteers, the Portolan Project has started to put together a growing library of what we call Deep Dives. The Deep Dives are brief, accessible video clips of professional writers discussing their work paired with thought-provoking discussion questions and engaging writing exercises. Each Deep Dive will also include a link to the longer interview with those authors for those who might want more.

Here’s an example of a Deep Dive with SFWA Grandmaster Nalo Hopkinson, talking about the use of vernacular speech in storytelling:


2) We’ve also created a podcast, Mohanraj & Rosenbaum are Humans, in which two experienced writers talk about writing, editing, literary culture, and interview writers, editors, agents, and more. We have 30 episodes out so far – check it out here: https://speculativeliterature.org/episodes/

3) And we’re launching a Discord community, where we’ll give SLF members weekly writing prompts based on the Portolan lessons, creating regional and global groups where they can share their writing, get business of writing tips and advice, and support each other.

  • How can I help?

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Portolan Project, drop a note to Summer van Houten, the Portola Project coordinator – we’re just starting to ramp up to being able to make good use of volunteers, but we could definitely use help with transcription (for accessibility) and outreach right now, and we’ll need help with a lot more going forward: development@speculativeliterature.org

Or, you can support the Speculative Literature Foundation as a whole by become a member, where you can have access to a growing spec lit community.

  • Want to learn even more?

Check out the episode of my podcast, Mohanraj and Rosenbaum Are Humans, where my co-host Ben, SLF managing director Darius Vinesar, and I discuss the origins and aspirations of the Portolan Project at length.

Check out the Portolan Project on the SLF site, as well as the available modules we’ve created so far.

Together, we can create a truly wondrous resource for creating and celebrating fabulous fiction, empowering *everyone* to tell their own stories.