Genre Deep Dive: Afrofuturism
While we all recognize the big genre categories like romance, historical fiction, thrillers, or fantasy, did you know that librarians and other parts of the book world have literally hundreds of subgenres that we use to help you find the exact perfect book? From boarding school murders to Nordic noir, there are some really fascinating genres out there! Today we’re going to be doing a genre deep dive into one of them—Afrofuturism. So, grab your spacesuits and dig up that vibranium and get ready to dive!
What is Afrofuturism?
If you saw Black Panther, you’re already familiar with the concept of Afrofuturism—the fictional kingdom of Wakanda is an amazing example. As a country that was never colonized, it maintained its culture along with its independence... And has amazing technology on top of all that.
Scholars have described this genre as “a way of looking at the future and alternate realities through a Black cultural lens.” Afrofuturism is generally considered part of science fiction and fantasy (collectively referred to as speculative fiction), though there are books that are in other genres like horror, satire, or post-apocalyptic fiction. In fact, Afrofuturist titles don’t even need to be set in the future! While the term is fairly new—it was only coined in 1994—Afrofuturist books have existed for much longer. Sun Ra, W.E.B. Dubois, and Ralph Ellison were some of the first to infuse the culture of the African diaspora into their imaginings of the future. They were followed by the likes of Octavia Butler (the widely recognized mother of the genre) and Samuel R Delany (who, while less well-known today, won several awards in his time). Now (partially inspired by Black Panther) we are seeing an explosion of books by modern authors.
Let’s Hear About Those Books!
While this is by no means a complete list, here are some popular Afrofuturism titles you can get from your local branch or online from our digital library.
Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor
“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.” That LINE. No wonder they put it on the publicity for this book. An alien artifact turns a young girl named Fatima into Sankofa, who causes death wherever she goes on her search to find out how she came to be this way, accompanied only by a fox called Movenpick. In this world, taser-wielding drones fly above yam fields, a woman in the market has "tattoos of circuitry" that "run up both arms like a disease”, and technology operates as a form of magic, separating the haves from the have-nots and operating as a source of power and influence. With folk lore interwoven with corporate greed and both just as dubious as the other, this novel is a must-read for sci-fi, fantasy, and surrealist fans alike.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
“There are no monsters in Lucille anymore, or so the children are taught.” Y’all, this book is WEIRD. The utopian city of Lucille has no more monsters... or does it? When Jam (the main character) gets a cut and a drop of blood lands on the canvas her mother is painting, the titular Pet--a feathered, clawed, horned being—comes to life. But Pet isn’t a monster. Pet is here to hunt the monsters. But what could be monstrous in this city? And why is Pet so convinced the monster is after Jam’s best friend? A quick read by an insightful author, this satire is today’s answer to Animal Farm, revealing the secrets we like to ignore and reveling in the kind of small, special moments that make up a family. Emezi is one of the most well-publicized authors of this moment and for good reason. If you enjoy this title, pick up some of their other books, including their recent memoir, Dear Senthuran.
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
Rivers Solomon doesn’t write easy books, so expect this one to hurt a little. 15-year-old Vern escapes her abusers in the Cainland cult and flees into the forest, 7 months pregnant with twins. But the community won‘t let her go so easily. For four years, they hunt her and torment her and her children. But as she raises her children in the wilderness, she begins to transform, experiencing a strange change—perhaps aftereffects of the abuse she experienced, perhaps something more—and finds herself in a place where she knows she needs to leave. No punches are pulled in this genre-twisting novel. One page is gothic horror, the next is hard sci-fi, then fantasy, followed by a dark psychological thriller. While this book is about Vern, it’s about so much more—power, control, community, hope, grace—and well worth the read.
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
Many dark fantasy fans keep a special place in their hearts for Lovecraftian horror. But Lovecraft himself was kind of awful as a person and extremely racist, even for his time. So what happens when a modern black author takes on eldritch terror? (hint--the cover is to the left). If you binged the first season of Lovecraft Country (or wanted to but couldn’t), this title is for you. When The Birth of a Nation (Wikipedia it if you’re unfamiliar, as it was a real film) is shown in theatres in 1915, it casts a spell that drew upon the darkest thoughts and desires of the citizens of the United States and releases literal Hell on earth, courtesy of the Klu Klux Klan. Fortunately, Maryse Boudreaux has a magic sword. And along with a Harlem Hellfighter and a foul-mouthed sharpshooter, she ventures out to save the world from the hate that would consume it.
Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James
What if you blended The Hobbit with Game of Thrones, made it even darker, and steeped it in African history? You’d end up with Black Leopard, Red Wolf. A quick word of warning—this novel is not for everyone. When I said dark, what I should have said is hyperviolent and yet literary. It’s almost like Haruki Murakami wrote The Walking Dead except for its epic fantasy. The main character, Tracker, lives up to his name-- "He has a nose”, people say. When he is hired to track a mysterious young boy who seems important to the warring factions in his region, he finds himself in a hunt like no other among a group of unusual characters where everyone is lying and no one truly knows what they’re hunting. As the first book of a planned trilogy, this starts a story that will captivate and very possibly horrify you.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
This is the “easy answer” on this list and I’m cheating a little and using the cover for the graphic novel edition, but can you blame me? Look at that art! When Parable of the Sower came out in 1993, the distant future world of 2024--featuring unprecedented crime, acute global warming, soaring joblessness, police services limited to the wealthy, and a pervasive fear of going outside--seemed dystopian. After the last year, though, it feels a little too close to reality. The story itself follows Lauren Oya Olamina, a teen living in a protected gated community. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others' emotions. As she struggles to find her voice, she and a few others are forced to flee in fear of their lives. Read if you love dystopian fiction or for Lauren’s kind and genuine voice and heart.
Go forth and read!