I came across the concept of afrofuturism and Womack’s book Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture in an early episode of the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast. Before this book I knew almost nothing about black writers in SF, and I still
haven’t read much; I’ve read a little Octavia E Butler, some Nnedi Okorafor, I own one of Samuel R Delaney’s books, and I hadn’t heard of N.K Jemisin until she won her Hugo awards. Despite my limited knowledge I was interested, so I bought Afrofuturism and read it in two days, and I am fully dedicated to becoming more afrofuture-literate! If you need a way to beef up your TBR this book is the way to go, I have more books than ever that I want to read.
Womack’s book covers everything from art to music to literature to myths to history to science to explore this beautiful space in speculative fiction that black culture has carved out and reclaimed for themselves. I realise that up until this point I’ve not really explained what afrofuturism is, but really Womack tells you it all in her title; Afrofuturism is the world of black sci-fi and fantasy culture and it is amazing. Much like the collection of Chinese SF Invisible Planets that I recently reviewed, most afrofuturism has its roots in cultural heritage and myths in a way that makes it distinctive, in my experience Nnedi Okorafor is a great example of this.
However, afrofuturism isn’t just about speaking back to cultural heritage. Part of it is just about representation, we all know the story about Nichelle Nichols starring as Uhura on Star Trek snowballing into multiple careers being inspired. But it’s not always just about diverse characters either, it’s about diverse artists who aren’t always trying to make a political statement. For example here’s Butler talking about her short story ‘ Bloodchild’: “It amazes me that some people have seen “Bloodchild” as a story of slavery. It isn’t. It’s a number of other things, though.”
Though I’ve not mentioned this before, Butler didn’t get mentioned in my SF module at university. Butler was nowhere to be found when I traipsed through Hay-on-Wye for a weekend looking for secondhand SF. Butler didn’t come up when I checked the SF section at my library. Do you want to know how I found Butler? I got frustrated and googled black science fiction writers. This is why afrofuturism is important, I had to actively seek out SF that wasn’t white, and I’ve had to hunt for every scrap of diversity I’ve found since. Thanks to Womack I don’t have to seek it out any more, I have a map to find the diversity I crave.