Speculative fiction is a rose known by many other names: science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, dystopian…the list goes on, with each genre producing unique and wonderful blooms (if you will permit me to carry the metaphor through to its conclusion). What each of these, and the many other genres that fall under the umbrella of speculative literature, have in common is that all such books imagine worlds that do not quite exist, but might–whether in some near future, some recent past, or some alternate dimension in the present. In that lies the appeal of the genre for black writers; the space that it offers to imagine things differently and to tell a different kind of story. Whatever you call it and whichever genre you prefer, there is something in the black (here, I am going with black, rather than African American, because some of the authors that I will name are not American) canon for you.
The idea for this “Primer” came from my recent experiences and conversations about being an author of speculative fiction. In my travels, I have met many who believe that black authors are new to the game of speculative fiction. They name recent authors that have had success: Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, L. A. Banks are frequently mentioned as favorites. But too often that knowledge does not stretch beyond a contemporary few, which leads to misconceptions about the African American presence and impact on the world of speculative fiction.
So every Saturday, I am going to take you to school. This primer is about excavation. I will bring, in each blog, titles and authors that represent the depth and the breadth of the black tradition in speculative fiction. This column will be primarily chronological–going from some of the earliest examples of black speculative fiction and moving into the present. Of course, the past is so important to understanding the present. If, however, I happen upon something that lies outside of the chronology, I won’t let that stop me from bringing it to you. Many of the writers that I will mention over the next few weeks did not write speculative fiction exclusively. Some of them may have only written one work in the genre. Still, their contribution adds to the canon of black speculative fiction and, frequently, informs the fiction being produced today.
So, sit back, relax, and let the priming begin. It’s time to get your speculative mind right.