Black science fiction
Black science fiction or black speculative fiction is an umbrella term that covers a variety of activities within the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres where people of the African diaspora take part or are depicted.
In the late 1990s a number of cultural critics began to use the term Afrofuturism to depict a cultural and literary movement of thinkers and artists of the African diaspora who were using science, technology, and science fiction as means of exploring the black experience.
According to Jess Nevins, "a fully accurate history of black speculative fiction ... would be impossible to write" because very little is known of the dime novel authors of the 19th century and the pulp magazine writers of the early 20th century, including notably their ethnicity. Although the concept of science fiction as a discrete genre had already emerged in the late 19th century, its early black exponents do not appear to have been influenced by each other.
In 1859, Martin Delany (1812–1885), one of the foremost U.S. black political leaders, began publishing Blake, or the Huts of America as a serial in the Anglo-American Magazine. The subject of the novel is a successful slave revolt in the Southern states and the founding of a new black country in Cuba. Samuel R. Delany described it as "about as close to an SF-style alternate history novel as you can get." The serialization ended prematurely, but the entire novel was eventually published in serial form in the Weekly Anglo-African, in weekly installments from November 1861 to May 1862.
Charles W. Chesnutt (1858–1932) was a noted writer of folkloric hoodoo stories. His collection The Conjure Woman (1899) is the first known speculative fiction collection written by a person of color. The 1892 novel Iola Leroy by Frances Harper (1825–1911), the leading black woman poet of the 19th century, has been described as the first piece of African-American utopian fiction on account of its vision of a peaceful and equal polity of men and women, whites and former slaves. In contrast, the 1899 novel Imperium in Imperio by Sutton Griggs (1872–1933) ends with preparations for a violent takeover of Texas for African Americans by a secret black government.
Early 20th century
Of One Blood (1902) by the prolific writer and editor Pauline Hopkins (1859–1930), describing the discovery of a hidden civilization with advanced technology in Ethiopia, is the first Lost Race novel by an African-American author. Light Ahead for the Negro, a 1904 novel by Edward A. Johnson (1860–1944), is an early attempt at imagining a realistic post-racist American society, describing how by 2006 Negroes are encouraged to read books and given land by the government. W.E.B. Du Bois's 1920 story The Comet, in which only a black man and a white woman survive an apocalyptic event, is the first work of post-apocalyptic fiction in which African-Americans appear as subjects. George Schuyler (1895–1977), the noted conservative U.S. critic and writer, published several works of speculative fiction in the 1930s, using the framework of pulp fiction to explore racial concerns.
By the 1920s, speculative fiction was also published by African writers. In South Africa, the popular 1920 novel Chaka, written in Sotho by Thomas Mofolo (1876–1948) presented a magical realist account of the life of the Zulu king Shaka. Nnanga Kôn, a 1932 novel by Jean-Louis Njemba Medou, covers the disastrous first contact of white colonialists with the Bulu people. It became so popular in Medou's native Cameroon that it has become the basis of local folklore. 1934 saw the publication of two Nigerian novels describing the deeds of rulers in a mythic version of the country's past, Gandoki by Muhammadu Bello Kagara (1890–1971) and Ruwan Bagaja by Abubakar Imam. In 1941, the Togolese novelist Félix Couchoro (1900–1968) wrote the magical realist romance novel Amour de Féticheuse. The story Yayne Abäba in the 1945 collection Arremuňň by Mäkonnen Endalkaččäw, an Ethiopian writer writing in Amharic, is notable as an early work of Muslim science fiction, describing the adventures of a teenage Amhara girl sold into slavery.
Writers such as Samuel R. Delany, Octavia E. Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Minister Faust, Nnedi Okorafor, N. K. Jemisin, Tananarive Due, Andrea Hairston, Geoffrey Thorne, Nisi Shawl, and Carl Hancock Rux are among the writers who continue to work in black science fiction and speculative fiction.
Samuel R. Delany is a noted science fiction writer, literary critic, and memoirist whose science fiction explores and experiments with mythology, race, memory, sexuality, perception and gender. In 2013, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named Delany its 30th SFWA Grand Master.
Delany addressed the challenges facing African Americans in the science fiction community in an essay titled "Racism and Science Fiction."
Since I began to publish in 1962, I have often been asked, by people of all colors, what my experience of racial prejudice in the science fiction field has been. Has it been nonexistent? By no means: It was definitely there. A child of the political protests of the ’50s and ’60s, I’ve frequently said to people who asked that question: As long as there are only one, two, or a handful of us, however, I presume in a field such as science fiction, where many of its writers come out of the liberal-Jewish tradition, prejudice will most likely remain a slight force—until, say, black writers start to number thirteen, fifteen, twenty percent of the total. At that point, where the competition might be perceived as having some economic heft, chances are we will have as much racism and prejudice here as in any other field.We are still a long way away from such statistics. But we are certainly moving closer.
Octavia E. Butler was an extremely influential science fiction writer and instructor. In 1995, she became the first sci-fi writer to win the MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed the "Genius Grant." In 2007, the Carl Brandon Society established the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship which provides support to a student of color attending Clarion Writers' Workshop or Clarion West Writers Workshop. According to the Carl Brandon Society's website, "It furthers Octavia’s legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color."
Nalo Hopkinson is a renowned science fiction and fantasy writer, professor, and editor whose short stories explore class, race, and sexuality using themes from Afro-Caribbean culture, Caribbean Folklore , and feminism. Skin Folk, a collection of short stories which won the 2002 World Fantasy Aware for Best Story Collection, is known for its influence from Caribbean history and language, with its tradition of written storytelling.
The Carl Brandon Society is a group originating in the science fiction community dedicated to addressing the representation of people of color in the fantastical genres such as science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The Society recognizes works by authors of color and featuring characters of color through awards, provides reading lists for educators and librarians, including one for Black History Month and has a wiki specifically for collecting information about people of color working in these genres.
- Afrofuturism, Science Fiction, and the History of the Future, by Lisa Yaszek. Journal of the Research Group on Socialism and Democracy, Volume 20, No. 3
- Nevins, Jess (27 September 2012). "The Black Fantastic: Highlights of Pre-World War II African and African-American Speculative Fiction". io9. Retrieved 28 September 2012.
- Kumat, Onitaset "Part 1 of Martin Delany’s 'Blake or the Huts of America' with Notes" African Blood Siblings (24 December 2012). Retrieved 27 February 2014.
- Grayson, Sandra M. (2003). Visions of the third millennium: Black science fiction novelists write the future. Africa World Press. ISBN 9781592210220.
- Name, Adilifu (2008). Black space: imagining race in science fiction film. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292717459.
- v.a. Dark Matter, a collection series of stories and essays from writers of African descent
- Carrington, André M. (2016). Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.