As Black History Month draws to a close, some of the members here at the Daily Geekette would like to help the celebration continue by suggesting some of our favorite books by black writers, both past and present.
As someone who reads a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, it would be easy for me to spend most of my time reading books by white male authors, but I’ve instinctively sought out women authors for years, growing up reading writers like Tamora Pierce and Tanith Lee. In recent years I have been trying to shift that to also include more writing by authors of color, which was how I stumbled onto Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon in 2015.
Nnedi Okorafor was born in the US to Nigerian parents, and her work often makes use of African cultures and folklore, leading her to be regularly included on lists of Afrofuturist writers. Set in Lagos, Nigeria, Lagoon follows a marine biologist, rapper, and soldier, in the aftermath of an alien object crashing into the ocean nearby. With multiple points of view, and the inclusion of some Nigerian folklore, Lagoon is a rich sci-fi story set on Earth as humanity faces first contact with an alien life form. I’m pretty sure I read the book in one day.
Since stumbling onto Lagoon I have read three other novels and one novella by Okorafor, and loved every one of them. The novella, Binti, won a Hugo and a Nebula for best novella, and I was so excited when I read it I started passing it off to everyone I knew, telling them to read it too! There’s now a sequel and I’m eagerly waiting for my library’s copy of it to become available.
Nnedi Okorafor has become one of my go-to authors to recommend to people when they say they like sci-fi because, in addition to her frequently feminist heroines, her writing is just downright beautiful (seriously, go read Binti right now).
Some other Afrofuturist writers I have enjoyed reading: Tananarive Due, Walidah Imarisha, Dark Matter and Octavia’s Brood anthologies
I’ve been wanting to write something on Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) for some time now, and, upon completing her masterpiece Kindred, I decided it was time to do so. I’ll be honest, for I’ve read only a handful of her novels (including Imago [Xenogenisis #1] and Parable of the Sower [Earthseed #1]). However, I am eagerly anticipating delving further into the highly-varied worlds she so beautifully created during her sadly short life and career. If you’d like a preview of why Ms. Butler’s work was and continues to be so groundbreaking, here is an article succinctly recommending Parable, as opposed to, say, Orwell’s 1984, as it frighteningly parallels today’s social, political and racial climate.
Ms. Butler has the distinction of being a preeminent trailblazer in Afrofuturism, with her spellbinding combination of science fiction and African Spiritualism. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, awarded both during her career and posthumously.
Firstly, I have to say: You should read Kindred if you have not already done so! Even if you’re not a big sic-fi fan! Honestly– this book’s big sci-fi device deals only with time travel, and it’s not even convoluted time travel that leaves you scratching your head overly much about paradoxes, and all of those other, time-travel-related complications that can be so confusing and frustrating. What Kindred DOES deal with primarily is Dana, an African-American woman from 1976 who is suddenly and mysteriously sent back repeatedly to a plantation in Antebellum Maryland.
The story spans a period of time from a little pre- 1815 to twenty or so years after Dana’s first trip to the 19th century (specific dates are not always mentioned when Dana returns to Maryland, but she ALWAYS returns to present-day 1976). Her husband, Kevin, who is a white man, even gets sent back during one of Dana’s trips, and, as the story is told in a first-person narrative through our protagonist’s eyes, we get a good look at that pervasive, rampant white privilege, despite the continuing argument as to its existence.
Dana is sent back to the 19th century every time a white boy named Rufus, is in life-threatening trouble. Dana eventually discovers that Rufus is one of her ancestors, so, naturally, despite the conflicts that arise between the entitled boy growing-up in the slave-holding south and a headstrong, modern Black woman, Dana is frequently stuck between a rock and a hard place, at least until Hagar, from whom Dana is a direct descendent on her mother’s side of the family, is not only born, but also somewhere safe.
Kindred is one of those emotional rollercoasters(I was angry! and sad! and relieved! Although I spent a lot of time being angry!), and, even though the action isn’t blockbuster movie-grade, it’s still a fast-paced, heart-thumping ride ’til the conclusion of the story.
The aforementioned wordsmiths are definitely by no means an exhaustive list, and if you have a particular black author you’d like to recommend, we’d love to hear from in the comment section below!