This is an excerpt of an article that is featured in Issue 1 of The Seelie Crow.
There is an old proverb that says, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
I used to visit the library before the lockdown, where they put out novels for me to browse. I took what they gave me without question; I may have been a lazy reader, but it was what worked for me. I never read Fantasy titles. I didn’t read much Science Fiction either, and, until recently, I could not explain why.
When the global pandemic hit in 2020, I found clarity as to why I was turned off by these titles. Without access to my local library, I had to search for things to read on my own. I became a podcaster with my space Between The Reads, because of this experience, and began seeking out books by Black authors with calculated precision in contrast to more passive reading. Need had changed my outlook. I realized I had not been exposed to Black authors beyond those in the Black cultural canon, unless it was February when Black authors were conveniently on prominent display. These books rarely included Fantasy and Science Fiction. However, when they did, I hadn’t seen myself in them. The stories that were promoted were mostly written by white men, and they were writing about futures without Black people in them. When Black people appeared, it was never more than one thrown in as a token to qualify the book as being “diverse”.
How does that work? How do we arrive in a future where Black people have become suspiciously extinct? I didn’t, and still don’t, accept that narrative.
Through my own searching I found N.K. Jemisin and Octavia E. Butler. I read a few of their books and thought,
“Okay, there are Black authors writing us into the future. There must be more.”
I was so right.
When I started looking for Black writers, they weren’t hard to find. I started my search with Google, where I got a decent list of names. Still, I knew there had to be more, so I took to Instagram and began searching hashtags. That’s when my Black book world exploded! No matter what genre I searched, Black novelists were extant. I circled back to the Fantasy genre to see who I could find. Not only did I find Black authors who wrote Fantasy, but I found Black fantasy subgenres like “Sword and Soul”, “Blacktastic”, and “Black-tech”. I learned that N.K. Jemisin and Octavia E. Butler fell under the classification of “Afrofuturism”, a genre I hadn’t heard of – or hadn’t paid much attention to – due to that whole lazy reading thing (don’t judge me).
Then I came across a book called Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack. My mind was blown. This work is called a primer to Afrofuturism and after reading it I understand why.
Afrofuturism, as defined by Ytasha Womack in her book, is “an intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation.” Put more simply, it is viewing the future through the lens of Black culture. This is why Afrofuturism especially appeals to me: because Black people have the freedom to maximize their potential in worlds devoid of white supremacist ideologies and systems of oppression. (The irony of the term ‘Afrofuturism’ being coined by a white man is not lost on me, but that’s another discussion.)
The novels written within Afrofuturism aren’t just stories with Black people wandering aimlessly around in the future saying, “we exist.” They are narratives filled with storylines firmly embedded in the richness of African traditions and the beauty of Black culture, with characters who navigate worlds consumed with technological advancement. When I was making my way through primary education, I longed to see people who looked like me in books with narratives other than struggle and poverty. I felt like racism was this fenced yard that Black characters were trapped in. To have access to books like this now makes that little girl in me jump with bookish joy.
Be sure to snag a copy of Issue 1 of The Seelie Crow “Foundations of Fantasy” to see Audra’s book picks! You can follow her reading journey and learn about more Black Indie authors on her site Between The Reads