People of color writing fantasy about people of color.
Fantasy is huge right now, particularly for young adult readers. I don’t have the numbers, but I am sure that every week dozens of new fantasy novels are released. Probably 90 to 95 percent of the novels are written by white authors about white characters. These books may have black and other “minority” secondary characters, or they may have none at all. (Side note: Those books always seemed kind of strange to me. I always wondered where these authors lived that the world that they saw only came in one shade. )
Recently, there has been a reemergence of a cyclical trend: white authors writing novels where the main characters are people of color. Rick Riordan began publishing his Kane Chronicles late last year. They feature a mixed race main character, Carter Kane, who is immersed in a world of Egyptian magic and myth. Karen Sanders published Tankborn in 2011. Her main characters Kayla and Mishalla are GENs, genetically engineered non-humans (which seems vaguely problematic to me) in what sounds like Aldous Huxley brave-new-worldish type of tale. (To be fair, I have not read either of these series.)
Don’t get me wrong, I think that it is great that these authors are taking on the challenge of envisioning a sci-fi/fantasy landscape that is more representative of diversity of both world histories and of the contemporary landscapes that we live in (particularly if it is carefully and mindfully done). With a name like Riordan’s on the cover, not only will the book appeal to young people of color, who have been looking for characters that look like them in the literature that they love, but the book will also appeal to and reach Riordan’s typical audiences, who love his stories regardless of the face on the cover. All of this is a good thing.
However, I do feel some kind of way about the fact that traditional publishers can not look into communities of color to find the authors that are writing stories about people of color. There is no lack of people of color who are writing these stories; authors who do not have a platform from which to share their stories with the world. It is a shame when, of the relatively few fantasy books in the bookstore with brown faces on the cover, a good portion of them are not written by people of color. It reinforces the notion that such authors can not be found; that people of color are not writing in this genre–which we unequivocally are.
The success of Rick Riordan’s novel (at the time that I am writing it is in the top 25 on several Amazon lists) subverts the notion that “mainstream” audiences will not read books about people that look differently from them or about worlds and ideologies that lie outside the expected Western landscapes. Traditional publishers need to abandon this sort of reasoning as an excuse as to why they are not actively cultivating works by authors of color.
So why is this important? The reasons are multitude; I am sure that you are thinking of a few right now, but I will offer just this one:
I visited the Sci Fi Laboratory, the radio show, again last Thursday to talk about a program that I would be presenting during Black History Month. One of the show hosts, Xavier, asked whether we (the other authors on the show) were visiting schools and talking to young people, because he had never really encountered people of color who were working in the field. He went on to say that he might have been more interested had he been exposed to people like myself and the other writers in the room, because of the example that we represented.
I believe that. I believe that when young people see people that look like them doing different and amazing things in their lives, their sense of their own possibilities expands exponentially. They begin to envision themselves as writers, filmmakers, graphic novelists (engineers, physicists, whatever). To me, that is a core part of why I write fantasy and a core reason of why I write fantasy for a young adult audience.
This is why it is so important to show people of color writing in this genre.
Check out what other bloggers are saying on this topic:
Winston Blakely, Artist/Writer– is a Fine Arts/Comic Book artist, having a career spanning 20 years, whose achievements have included working for Valiant Comics and Rich Buckler’s Visage Studios. He is also the creator of Little Miss Strange, the world’s first black alien sorceress and the all- genre anthology entitled – Immortal Fantasy. Both graphic albums are available at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other online book store outlets. Visit him: http://blakelyworks.blogspot.com/ or http://blakelyworkstudio.weebly.com/
Milton Davis, Author – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: http://www.mvmediaatl.com/Wagadu/.
Margaret Fieland, Author– lives and writes in the suburbs west of Boston, MA with her partner and five dogs. She is one of the Poetic Muselings. Their poetry anthology, Lifelines http://tinyurl.com/LifelinesPoetry/ is available from Amazon.com Her book, “Relocated,” will be available from MuseItUp Publishing in July, 2012. The Angry Little Boy,” will be published by 4RV publishing in early 2013. You may visit her website, http://www.margaretfieland.com.
Thaddeus Howze, Author– is a veteran of the Information Technology and Communications industry with over twenty-six years of experience. His expertise is in re-engineering IT environments using process-oriented management techniques. In English, that means he studies the needs of his clients and configures their offices to optimize the use of information technology in their environment. Visit him: http://ebonstorm.wordpress.com or http://ebonstorm.weebly.com
Valjeanne Jeffers, Author — is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls. Her fourth and fifth novels: Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork will be released this spring. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/
Alicia McCalla, Author- writes for both young adults and adults with her brand of multicultural science fiction, urban fantasy, and futurism. Her debut novel, Breaking Free will be available February 1, 2012. The Breaking Free theme song created by Asante McCalla is available for immediate download on itunes and Amazon. Visit her at: http://www.aliciamccalla.com
Carole McDonnell, Author–She writes Christian, speculative fiction, and multicultural stories. Her first novel is Wind Follower. Her short fiction has appeared in many anthologies and have been collected in an ebook, Spirit Fruit: Collected Speculative Fiction. Visit Carole: http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/ or http://writersofcolorblogtour.blogspot.com/
Balogun Ojetade, Author—of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steampunk) and the feature film, “A Single Link”. Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/
Rasheedah Phillips,Author–is the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair in Philly. She plans to debut her first spec/sci-fic novel Recurrence Plot in Spring 2012. You may catch her ruminating from time to time on her blog, AstroMythoLosophy.com.
Nicole Sconiers, Author-is also a screenwriter living in the sunny jungle of L.A. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and she recently published Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage. Visit her: http://nicolesconiers.com/index.html
Jarvis Sheffield, M.Ed. is owner & operator of TheDigitalBrothers.com, BlackScienceFictionSociety.com & BlackCommunityEntertainment.com. Visit him: http://www.blacksciencefictionsociety.com/profiles/blog/list?user=2stjwb1h216fd
10 thoughts on “The State of Black Sci-Fi 2012: Why It is Important to Show…”
Wow! Blacknificent post, L.M.!
You have driven the point home. We cannot have another generation that isn’t even aware that authors of African descent EXIST in Black Speculative Fiction, let alone that they can see themselves as the heroes (and villains) of such stories.
Thanks. There are so many more reasons why this is important…I could have gone on and on and on…
When I became part of this blog tour, I decided to check out younger Black writers of sci fi and fantasy, so, natch, I started by looking in my local bookstore, googling, etc. Blech. What a waste of time .. not because they aren’t out there, but because, somehow, mainstream media apparently doesn’t take them seriously. Thanks to the other participants of this blog tour, to a couple of websites, and a friendly librarian or two, I dug up plenty of authors to check out — but, hey, why does it have to be this hard to find them? It’s disgraceful.
Right, because they are out there both in terms of larger and smaller publishing houses, more from the latter I think (I include indie publishers in this designation). Books by people of color almost never get the kind of push that a Rowling, Meyers, or Riordan get–particularly if they fall outside of a type of prescribed representation of African American experience. I think that the traditional publishing apparatus is clinging to some outmoded ways of thinking, trying to reinscribe a status quo that hasn’t existed for years.
LM, I always love your thoughts. We’re on the same wave length. I did read Rick Riordan, for that same reason, I wanted to know if a large Disney author could pull it off. For the most part, he did. Here’s my post: http://www.aliciamccalla.com/blog/25-kane-chronicles
It’s so hard to find stories that features African-American boys and with Disney, none-the-less. My students love this series. I can’t keep it on the shelf. I would love, though, to be able to show them books that are written by African-American males. We need something for those elementary and middle school boys. Thanks for sharing this, it’s important.
Alicia, don’t forget about my book. 😉 I am not a man, but my book is definitely written for boys and girls.
Good words, LM. My motivation is so all people can see people of color in a strong positive light. We’ll make it happen.
Thanks Milton 🙂
Really interesting discussion. I must admit, I do not read a lot of fantasy, if any, and catch fantasy films sparingly, so I am counting on all of the fantasy writers in the blog hop to really school me, and you are:). I agree with a lot of what you are saying here. The notion of white authors writing fantasy with predominantly white characters doesnt strike me as too, being that I, as a Black scifi writer, tend to write with predominantly Black characters. I can abstract my reasons for doing that to someone in another culture/race doing the same. But as you stated, what becomes troubling is what is accepted in the mainstream and traditional. ANd because we are not seen as visibly in these arenas, people begin to believe that we dont write within these genres. And this has a trickle down effect. If our people dont see themselves reflected in these works, they are disinterested. But little do they know how many Black authors are out there writing under these genres. Whole communities. Its a beautiful thing.
Very, very well said :)!! While I think it’s beautiful that white authors are writing about peoples of color, more and more (as long as these characters are not stereotypes) why can’t we write about ourselves? Obviously we have an audience pinning for our words, our voice, our SF perspective.