FIRST IN A WEEKLY SERIES FOR FEBRUARY 2013!
In the spirit of celebrating Black History Month, I’m dedicating my weekly blog posts to honor the accomplishments of black writers with a look into their work and contributions to the writing profession. I will be tasking myself with reading the work of one black author per week and reviewing their work as a blog post. These posts are meant to be educational, insightful and inspiring. In addition, I will be writing a post exploring blacks in a particular genre. The first post in the series will focus on the history of black writers in speculative fiction!
Within the various genres of speculative fiction, blacks are an even larger group of minorities than they are as a whole within society. And while the collective of black speculative writers is small, I believe that their voices are huge and resonate within the black fan community as a growing demographic.
Of black speculative fiction writers, some of the most popular to come to mind are Octavia Butler, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due and Charles R. Saunders. However, the roots of blacks in speculative fiction go back much farther than them.
One of the foremost U.S. black political leaders of his time was Martin Delany (1812 – 1885). In 1859, Mr. Delany published Blake, or the Huts of America as a serial in the Anglo-American Magazine. The novel dealt with an alternate history where a successful slave revolt in the Southern states led to the founding of a black country in Cuba. Unfortunately, the novel remained unfinished. Noted black speculative fiction writer, Samuel R. Delany (no relation), has described it as being about as close to a Science Fiction style alternate history novel as you can get.
Another noted early black speculative fiction writer was Charles W. Chesnutt. He wrote folkloric Hoodoo stories and published a collection called The Conjure Woman in 1899, which is the first known speculative fiction collection written by a person of color.
Most people don’t associate W.E.B. Dubois with speculative fiction however, he wrote several science fiction short stories including, The Comet which depicted a world where the only survivors of an apocalyptic event were a black man and a white woman. This marks the first post-apocalyptic fiction work where an African American appears as the subject.
By the 1920’s, African writers began publishing works of speculative fiction, which because of the social climate of the time, received very little if any attention.
In 1920, Thomas Mofolo (1876 – 1948) of South Africa published his novel, Chaka which was written in Sotho. The novel presented a magical realist account of the life of Shaka the Zulu king.
Another African novelist, Jean-Louis Njemba Medou wrote Nnanga Kon, a 1932 novel which covered the first contact between white colonialists and the Bulu people. In Cameroon, where Medou hails from, the novel became so popular it is the basis of local folklore.
In 1945, Makonnen Edalkaccaw, an Ethiopian writer, penned the story of Yayne Ababa in Amharic. It is noted as an early work of Muslim science fiction and depicts the adventures of a teenage Amahara girl who was sold into slavery.
In the years that followed, have been graced with a growth in the number of blacks writing stories and novels in speculative fiction which includes: Charles R. Saunders, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Octavia Butler, Maurice Broaddus, Nisi Shawl, Brandon Massey, Zaji, Milton Davis, L.A. Banks, Balogun Ojetade, Chesya Burke, Wrath James White, Valjeanne Jeffers, N.K. Jemisin, Talitha McEachin, Paul West, Alicia McCalla, Thaddeus Atreides, Brandon Easton, Xavier Moore, Seressia Glass, Hannibal Tabu , Sheree Thomas, Nalo Hopkinson and Nnedi Okorafor to name but a few.
Despite what’s displayed on the bookshelves of large chain bookstores, there are plenty new and emerging black speculative fiction writers who are making their mark and raising the various genres to another level. I encourage fans of speculative fiction, beginning with the readers of this blog to support these writers and help to give the genres a shot in the arm and to be representative of various cultures and subcultures throughout the US and the world. Modern black speculative fiction writers now cover a wide range of genres including: Science Fiction, Steampunk, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and Horror however, two emerging sub-genres to appear have been Sword & Soul and Steamfunk which predominately feature characters of color.
I challenge my readers to put aside a couple of hours each week and pick up a book written by a black author during Black History Month. I encourage you to start by checking out the works of the above mentioned authors, as you’d be broadening your horizons and expanding your minds, which are two components of reading I find most admirable. Trust me; you’ll be glad you did!
FRIDAY’S BLOG POST: A review of Zaji’s novel, “When We Were One.”