HomeAll postsDonna Haraway Award: the Cruel Stars

Donna Haraway Award: the Cruel Stars

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series 2020 CripLit Keys
The 2020 CripLit Keys presentation video and podcast is here and on all good podcasting platforms. This post is about the award itself.

Wikipedia says of Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto (edited and partially paraphrased):

Donna Haraway wrote “A Cyborg Manifesto” and the Socialist Review published it in 1985. She uses the concept of the cyborg to reject rigid boundaries, particularly those separating “human” from “animal” and “human” from “machine”. The “Manifesto” criticizes traditional notions of feminism, particularly feminist focuses on identity politics. Instead Haraway encourages coalition through affinity. She uses the figure of the cyborg to urge feminists to move beyond the limitations of traditional gender, feminism, and politics.

Basically, if all the minorities of the world united, we’d be a majority. And we could get shit done.

When you combine Haraway’s cyborg manifesto with disability studies, you get cyborgs – because most if not all disabled people are cyborgs in one form or another – who are equally human with all the other equal humans.

The inaugural winner of the Donna Haraway Award includes cyborgs of many kinds, including a person who is, effectively, a quadriplegic using a wheelchair. No one considers him “wheelchair bound”. Just like no one considers a nondisabled person “mobile phone bound” or “car bound”.

Congratulations to John Birmingham for The Cruel Stars.

Donna Haraway Award for representation of disability as a cyborg

My choice of winner

Throughout 2019 I read many books and celebrated good and mostly-good representations of disability. 2020 has been a shit show, which, ironically, was the impetus for me battling my inner demons, and spending months making these awards to celebrate good representations of disability.

Although in his acceptance speech John Birmingham specifically mentions one character who survives in a “wheelchair”, I felt The Cruel Stars represented disability in many ways that can only be done justice by a detailed extended essay (not this post). Class structures, poverty, and training of a princess also created difference between various people.

Science Fiction has long tended to represent science as cure and cyborgs as solution or villain. However, The Cruel Stars is more complicated. And genocidal Nazis planning to kill all cyborgs – everyone who drives a car and uses a mobile phone in today’s parlance – is a delicious twist.

The Award itself

I participated in a workshop at Wrapped In Paper teaching me how to make a rougher, smaller version of this award. It was my first attempt plus the class was only 3 hours long. In contrast, it took – on average – a couple of weeks to make each award in this series, from planning to execution.

The frames, boss, the frames

First I purchased frames from Big W. They’re plain wooden frames in light wood tone or painted black, with a piece of craftwood (cheap almost-cardboard) allowing for a gap between the glass and the backing. I discarded the wide mat that would have reduced the visual real estate, removed the glass until assembly, discarded the shiny paper displaying dimensions, and began by painting the backing and craftwood with black gesso.

I also roughly coated the frame with texture medium then, when that was dry, painted over that with black gesso. Two coats over everything.

The backing board I later “painted” with metallic beeswax “top left corner, bottom left corner, middle side” and the opposite with another color and mottled together with a third color. I did my best to make the frame an extension of the colors on the backing so, when I assembled the finished piece, it was crucial that the backing was inserted the correct way up into the frame.

Cogs, simple cogs

Several cogs cut from craftwood also met the black gesso. As did oh-so-many cogs die-cut from cardstock. Many of the cogs gain dimension by gluing varying numbers of layers of die-cut cogs together. Likewise for the “cyborg” and other elements like the coil of copper wire and the clock key.

I purchased the actual key and lock as precut craftwood then painted them black.

Heads Up

I used a “HUD” (Heads Up Display) stencil on the background with texture paste to gain the texture on the backing board, which I then painted with black gesso. (I used A LOT of black gesso.)

Jigsaw puzzle

When it came to placement, I started playing then nearly hyperventilated from stress and second-guessing myself. Edward stepped in to help: he spent ages playing with the components to organize placement then gluing them down.

The text printed onto thick watercolor paper, die cut. And then I glued three layers of that paper together to give the award itself more “weight”. I inked the award to age it and dug out some screw-head embellishments.

From plain black caterpillar…

Then came the metamorphosis: I used three different colors of metallic beeswax to transform the dull black frame and backing to glowing metallic shades.

Reassembling the award was simple: make sure the backing matched the frame, insert glass, clean glass interior, insert craftwood buffer, insert backing board with hook for the wall, and bend the fasteners closed. Voila. It only took weeks and lots of agonizing. But I think the Donna Haraway Award is fun: fun as art & craft, fun as an award, and the recipient is fun to read.


I don’t know how many people will read to the bottom of the page but, if you did, YOU ARE AWESOME AND AMAZING. Whether you did or not, I wish you all the best. Stay safe!

Series NavigationPaul Darke Award: Dawnhounds >>
Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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