We had the good fortune of connecting with Fabrice Guerrier and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Fabrice, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and moved to the U.S when I was 13. My entire life I’ve searched for the perfect tool or process that holds the greatest ability to profoundly transform our societies for the better. I initially had gone the ‘International Relations’ route and when I moved in December 2016 to Washington D.C for work, little did I know there was about to be a seismic shift in the political landscape. It sorta was the death of my belief in what I had invested so much in studying and believing on how change could happen especially on a global and international level. So essentially as things worsened there, I really wanted to take things into my own hands but also find a way to align my personal gifts, align my vision and values, align my thinking altogether into something that I could dedicate the rest of my life to.
Let’s rewind just a bit, earlier that year I had traveled back to Haiti for the first time since I had left as a young boy. I joined PEN America as their PEN Haiti Fellow to work with the PEN Haiti center. A community center on the top of a wooded hill in Thomassin 32, it had a small library, four computers, sleeping quarters that actively welcomed writers from Canada and Paris for residencies. In this deeply creative community space I was surrounded by Haitian writers, poets and artists. It was there that I wrote my first two novels, two very bad novels that jump started my entire life into this world of storytelling. It was there that I also learned the important lesson that for Haitians writing was a creative weapon for change, a weapon they used to fight against colonialism and the legacies of Slavery, to fight against oppression, they use stories to claim their existence, claim their dignity, honor their past, imagine futures and transform their societies for the better.
My experiences going back to Haiti had a very profound shift in my life and my thought process behind starting Syllble especially in recognizing the importance of Afrofuturism. So living in Washington D.C. the big idea was to connect a writer that was working on their novel to an editor. Initially, I had sent a survey to about 50 people and I asked them if they would use this service but at the same time I also asked them questions about their writing experience. The results were startling because I saw a lot of the pain points that I had faced myself when I was writing, they faced it too. This was – – the lack of accountability, the loneliness, the doubt, writer’s block, not understanding the broader publishing industry and also lacking a supportive community.
So initially my hypothesis really grew from the idea that collaboration could address a lot of these pain points. I started to wonder why the classical view of writing, that individualistic way of doing things, working in a cave, working in a coffee shop by oneself was the dominant paradigm for especially prose writers. Why wasn’t collaboration something that was popular? or something that was readily accepted. When I began doing my research I drafted five little bullet points in a piece of paper of what a collaborative process could look like. I had decided to bring three creative writers from different backgrounds in my living room in my apartment I was renting in Dupont Circle in Washington D.C. I got them tea, coffee, raisins and cheese. I welcomed them in my living room that Sunday morning in October 2017. I handed them the piece of paper and I asked them to write a short story together.
What I saw was completely magical and an aesthetic splendor I will never forget – – I saw personal storytelling, I saw philosophy, I saw history being discussed, I saw them wrestle with the construction of the world and the characters, I even saw theater, one of the writers who was a playwright, got up and he extended his hands and looked left and right in the living room while describing the scene on they should position the character in manner in the story. It was amazing. The inspiration from that initial collaboration in 2017 still rings for me across time. These three writers wrote together within two weeks the first short story at Syllble called “The Cell.” I had then repeated the process six more times in person but also online with different writers from different places. I took the first three stories and edited them myself and published them as a small collection of collaboratively written short stories on Amazon as a proof of concept.
Since then over the years at Syllble, we experimented with different models, different collaborative processes to now bring together diverse creative writers and visual artists to form unique artist collectives. Each artist collective imagines a new fictional world together and they create within that world cannon. It’s a new way of doing things really, a new paradigm shift. I began to see that through collaboration in this intimate form where creators have control of the intellectual property we could not only help creative writers but also help transform society for the better, push the arts, be the future that we desire, a future of empowered storytellers.
Growing up in Haiti as well as the U.S. it really was the films and television that allowed me to dream of what was possible for myself in the future but often times in these settings I didn’t really see people that looked like me so when they traveled to a new planet or went to a new dimension or arrived in the deep past, it was as if I was not part of that crew, I was not a passenger, I was just a mere observer. I was just watching so It really created a fragmentation of possibilities and I think so many people grow up today in this world watching cinema, TV and reading books experience this sort of crisis of meaning tied to not having the proper representation in place or access to profound stories that change us as humans, stories that are not inherently capitalistic. That does something to the psyche, to our imagination, to our ability to connect with one another, to welcome and embrace those who are very different from us. It’s all so tied to the stories we consume now or growing up. I fundamentally believed that we don’t ever achieve things by ourselves and a big question for me around the idea Syllble being born in the entrails of a toxic political climate back in 2017 is how can I give power in space and community to creators to imagine together new possibilities, especially creators who have been pushed out on the margins, Black, Brown, LGBTQ, women, and creators from all over the world embedded in rich and unique cultures to indigenous groups. How can we tell their stories? How can we tell new stories? I think if done well, we are at the footsteps of the cultural Renaissance that is brewing and is waiting to explode, waiting to sweep the closed hearts of people and the upcoming generations.
Social impact: how does your business help the community or the world?
Syllble brings various creative writers and visual artists together into artists collectives to create a unique fictional world. They use that world to imagine new possibilities for our planet, engage in social commentary but also advance their own individual professional and creative aspirations.
The model of building artist collectives in our production house is about bringing equitable representation in the publishing and entertainment industry. I strongly believe the final battle to transform our society especially in this age of technology, the climate change crisis and these impossible problems that we have personally given up the belief in our ability to play a role in changing them will need to first happen in our imagination. I learned that from activist Adrienne Marie Brown and so many others. I saw this so much in the visionary work of Afrofuturist science fiction writer, Octavia Butler.
I think the imagination is at the center of so much of how we exist and how we choose to live and how we understand our past and our future. I personally believe that storytelling from groups of people who’ve been pushed out in the margin can essentially heal this broken world. Storytelling of groups of people coming together can transcend the outdated experiences that our planet insists on holding onto. Through artist collectives you leverage the collective genius of many people. With the merging of people’s talents and minds you can create something unique that we’ve never seen before. It was Einstein that said “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” I believe this wholeheartedly.
As a sci-fi and fantasy production house and book publisher what’s Innovative about what we do is that the forming of artist collectives, it’s all about subverting the traditional power dynamics that often places the diverse writers at the bottom of the totem pole and don’t always receive the same level of recognition especially in Hollywood. We are about empowering groups of people from different backgrounds and experiences to come together to imagine new worlds, to create in those worlds and support each other. It’s a basic concept that working together you can go further. I want Inspire social change through the arts and storytelling.
I think in our times today the storyteller will and must play a radical role to help us imagine possible futures that can transform how we understand ourselves and how we understand people from different cultures. Nietzsche famously said that we would move into a nihilistic age when the mythologies of the past no longer had an influence on our minds and I think this is the age that we’re living in now, and why so many feel lost and this battle is in our imagination.
When those visual artists and creative writers at Syllble come together to create their fictional world, I see it serves as a powerful Manifesto of what is possible and what is true for them and allows for the telling of stories that we’ve never seen before. It’s a manifesto that can grow and is deeply collaborative.
The artist collective model is about providing a unique experience that can shape their personal creative lives forever. The artist collective shared ownership, it’s about tapping into different cultures and peoples from different emerging parts of the world so they can imagine types of futurisms and types of unique worlds that we as a production house can elevate. That we can support the publication, adaptation into the next stories that the world, fans and audiences will need to see.
I gave a TEDx Talk titled “Gone are the days of the lone genius” which talks about all of this, in the times that we’re living in of massive technological, political, social revolution more than ever this concept of the lone genius artist is outdated. Collaboration, collaborative creativity will be the solution to remedy this problem because we need stories that can inspire the hearts and minds of people to feel new things, to see new things, to move them into action. Bring stories to Hollywood that can pierce the frozen seas of people. I strongly believe that this idea of social change through the arts at Syllble is about creating new paradigms, new meaning structures, new symbols, new ideas that can push us to see more, most importantly in the times we live in today. Syllble supports underrepresented writers and visual artists and gives them the tools to uplift their visions to succeed to do just that. Now at our current stage, I am really keen to explore art and technology and how it can amplify our work, in a very radical way.
Risk taking: how do you think about risk, what role has taking risks played in your life/career?
I think I’ve internalized this quote by Nelson Mandela: he said “I only win or I learn”. This ties into the idea that we’re so afraid of failing that this fear of failure prevents us from really stepping up to a new level in our lives and in our careers and in our actions. I know it sounds cliche but I feel like the idea that I have one life to live and that one day I will no longer exist be buried deep below, that I will fade away and only be a memory in the minds of people in the world continues to push me to take risk especially in the sense of self-actualizing everything that I can be or do. I want to see what I am capable of, I want to see what we are all capable of doing.
So why not take a risk that will yield more passion, more purpose, more alignment towards your goals and your dreams. Why not take the risk that can bring more joy in your life and achieve the impact that you desire in your communities and in this world? In this society we were not taught how to best leverage risk-taking, that deep gut feeling that tells you that you should dream bigger, that you should dream higher for yourself, and move in the direction where you should take an action that might not make sense to the world but make sense to you.
I have come to define failure right now as not trying because I think if I try at the most minimum what I will engage is the knowledge and experience of having tried something, I grow and that’s enough for me to continue.
Taking risk is almost this sort of subtle internal compass that you have to know when to take it, you have to know about right timing, you have to know when to make that jump, and take that action. It’s not always the best thing to take risks all the time either, so I think it requires a deep level of emotional intelligence but also a strategic thinking around your career and your life so you know how to connect with this very unexplainable force that has to do with luck.
How to know whether to keep going or to give up?
I do have to say the idea of whether to keep going or to give up almost ceases to exist when you find a path that is in deep alignment to your gift, your vision and your action. I think for me I strongly believe that change happens in the imagination and as a sci-fi and fantasy writer I also believe that stories or speculative fiction as a tremendous opportunity to stretch the soul and heart of mankind and that we desperately need new mythologies. So this is not an affair of giving up or keeping going, this is the work that I’m supposed to be doing here on this planet. This is bigger than ‘okay I’m going to stop or I am going to continue’ this is a responsibility to our times, it’s an unexplainable force that is pushing me towards creating change.