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Black People Love Fantasy Too…Don’t They? (Warning: This is a bit of a rant.)

I know that I can’t be the only black kid that grew up loving “The Wizard of Oz.”  I know that because I have siblings who were right there alongside me, huddled on the floor of the den, watching the movie deep into the night–with a bowl of the special popcorn my mom made–and singing the songs we knew.  (So, there’s at least us.)  We each had our parts.  I was the scarecrow (If I only had a brain).  My other siblings were the cowardly lion and the tin man respectively.   There was not a Dorothy among us…I guess because maybe we found the other characters more interesting.  If not “The Wizard of Oz”, then “The Wiz”, with Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor and that soundtrack.  Ease on Down the Road…

If not “The Wiz”, then how about “The Goonies”, “Back to the Future” (At Least Part I), “E. T.”, “Star Wars” (though I think the trilogy began in the seventies), “Ghostbusters”, and that’s just off the A-L list of 80s movies (Star Wars excluded).  What  about more recently, with “Matrix” (again, at least part one), the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy (ALL OF THEM), and Harry Potter.  I know that I was not the only black person standing in line for the midnight showing of “The Two Towers.”  All of these, whether they took place in worlds that were recognizable or worlds that were completely foreign from anything that we might imagine are a part of this genre, and if you love any of these, and countless others I don’t have the space to name, then you love fantasy too.

Where am I going with this?  Well, I guess, right now, I have had it about up to my ears with folks looking at me strange when I say that I write fantasy.  Yes, I, a black woman, write fantasy.  And no, I don’t write fantasy because it’s what’s hot in the streets (though it is).  And no, I don’t write fantasy because I want to be the next J. K. Rowling (though her success, in the sense that millions have read and loved her stories, is the goal, I am perfectly content with being L. M. Davis).  I write fantasy because I grew up loving the stuff, and I know that I am not the only black kid who did.  Moreover, I know that there are millions of black children today who love Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Bella (what’s her last name?) too.   So why is it that folks look at me so strange when I say it.

I had a conversation with another author a few weeks ago.  He asked me what genre I wrote, and I told him fantasy.  He looked at me with shock, and then said, in a rather dubious and decidedly less interested tone,  “Well, we need that too.”    That ended the conversation.  To be honest, I didn’t know what to do with that.  But as I thought about it, I realized his response reflected a certain unspoken attitude that I have been running into lately, which is that black people don’t write fantasy–or maybe, more to the point, considering the very tough issues that black people have to face in their daily lives, wouldn’t it be more fruitful to write about real life and real experiences.  Books that Sarwat Chadda might call worthy.

Here’s the thing, some of our most worthy thinkers, W. E. B. DuBois, Pauline Hopkins, and Samuel Delany, turned to sci-fi/fantasy genre at one point or another during their careers–Delany in fact is a well-known sci-fi author.  Don’t believe me, check out Dark Matter, an anthology of African diaspora science fiction and fantasy.  Why would these authors, known for their thinking about the serious issues that impact black communities, who have every other genre at their disposal, turn to sci-fi fantasy as a mode of expression.  Who can say for sure, but maybe their reasons are similar to mine.  Maybe they saw in sci-fi/fantasy a way to imagine a world that was more than what they saw everyday, a way to meditate on ideas that they could not address in the genres of writing that they normally employed.  Are the lessons of those texts and the ideas that they explore any less valuable because of the genre? I haven’t even mentioned here the whole slew of black writers who exclusively write/wrote sci-fi/fantasy :  Octavia Butler, L. A. Banks, Nalo Hopkinson, Brandon Massey and others(the list goes on and does not even begin to think about the “magical realism,” if you will, of Toni Morrison and where that positions her work), that make sci-fi/fantasy speak to black experience in powerful ways.   If the genre is worthy enough for these folks, I guess I am in pretty good company.

What’s my point?  There is an audience out there for my books, and that audience includes black people.  I don’t want that potential audience to discount my, and other writers, work because of perceptions about what is worthy material for black authors to write.   I don’t want people to pass over my books  because they fall outside of the realm of what black authors should be writing about and what black people read.  Sci-fi/Fantasy entices readers to expand their horizons and imagine beyond perceived realities; is it too much for those of us who write it to ask for a little of the same?

Your Rewards for Making it to the End.

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