Author Andrea Hairston was moved by the way her local community in Northampton, and Western Massachusetts more broadly, worked together during the height of the pandemic – lending her inspiration for the setting of her newest novel, “Archangels of Funk.”

In “Archangels of Funk,” scientist, artist and Hoodoo conjurer Cinnamon Jones lives in an alternate Massachusetts. In a reality where Water Wars have affected the world, invisible darknet lords troll the internet and nostalgia militias wreck havoc, Cinnamon tries to bring her community together with a Next World Festival. Along with her circus-bots, dogs and community of motor fairies and wheel-wizards, she helps forge a future that can support her community.

Hairston joined GBH News to talk about her speculative fantasy book and her ties to communities in and around Northampton. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Haley Lerner: Can you tell me a bit about the premise and inspiration behind “Archangels of Funk”?

Andrea Hairston: COVID hit Western Massachusetts, and I was so impressed with how all these different groups of people came together to solve really impossible problems. So I decided to locate the book here.

It's the story of Cinnamon Jones, who is a scientist, artist and Hoodoo conjurer. And she wanted to be in the tech field, but it didn't work out. And she's an older woman now. This is a dystopia, as it's after the water wars have devastated the world. The tech world is reeling. Farmers are desperate. And she's also a theater artist, so she wants to use all that she has to help all the people in her community survive from all these intense events.

The book charts her struggle to help the refugees of the water wars deal with the ethical issues of the tech world, to figure out how to be in relationships with people because she's in her 50s and she still hasn't managed to make that work. She manages to make friends with a very diverse group and get them all to maybe show up at the festival.

Lerner: Can you speak more to how Western Massachusetts inspired you in writing this book?

Hairston: I really lift people from Western Massachusetts and put them in the book. All these different groups came together to figure out what to do to help people who didn't have necessarily all that they needed to survive.

I felt like I was living in a mindful community where a large number of people were thinking and being creative together. I was able to see up close the despair that we all were feeling and then the remedies we were finding for that. We weren't like letting despair win.

I had thought maybe I was going to put it in Western Mass – and then I did a great tree walk, and I met all the wonderful old ancient trees that have been in our town for longer than the people.

I thought of the people in the town who had been under those trees 100 years ago, 200 years ago. Where I live in Florence [a village in the city of Northampton], free black people lived here. Sojourner Truth has a monument here because she lived here. David Ruggles – he was a major abolitionist, free black man. This was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Rooted in the history of Florence and Northampton, it was very comforting to find out that people had struggled, really profoundly, with some of the same issues we were struggling with for a long time.

I felt like, “Oh my God!”, this is a historical community that has been doing that for hundreds of years. I'm an Afrofuturist, so I really felt that I had ancestors talking to me.

I wanted to bring into a near-future setting the sense that we can solve our problems, that we have hope. And then I could use my town.

Lerner: What inspired the fantasy elements you included in your book?

Hairston: I'm a professor emeritus of Africana Studies and theater at Smith College. I'm very much influenced by West African and indigenous American cosmological practices and thoughts. I was also when I was an undergraduate physics major – physics is amazing.

I am able to use my knowledge of West African culture, religious practices, and also African-American Hoodoo. My great aunt was a Hoodoo practitioner.

That sensibility of if I can come into the zone and do all my rituals or all my rehearsal practices – then I suddenly have to make connections that I cannot make when I'm at the mundane, everyday level. And the same thing with physics.

Lerner: You also bring into this world ideas of internet culture and technology. How did you get the idea to include these aspects in your book’s world?

Hairston: I got invited to a “Black to the Future” conference at Princeton with really amazing people who were thinking where are we going with internet culture with the possibilities of so-called artificial intelligence, with algorithmic thinking, and how does race and gender and class and all that stuff play into it?

People have the notion that algorithms are neutral and people are biased. But of course, people write the algorithms. So, it's kind of impossible for the algorithm not to reflect the bias of those writing it.

There are a lot of people who are afraid that technology is going to dominate and destroy us. That’s us – it's not technology. So, we need to change ourselves an then we get the technology we want.

We have beautiful, amazing possibilities with our technology. So, what we have to do is look at our value system. What do we want to do with it? Who is it for? How will we implement it? How can we use the insights and the capacities that we have to be empathetically connected with each other and solve our problems?

That to me is the hard question, not that the technology is evil and not that it's neutral either. And that's what I'm hoping to do in this book.