Since we’re rolling into the middle of the month I’m going to suggest multiple readings for you in one post. Honestly, with the number of things I’ve highlighted already, you have enough reading to last you half a year. But you can never read enough words written by Black people!
Today it’s all about fiction anthologies and single author collections. They are mostly speculative fiction. I have never been shy about my biases.
Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora and Dark Matter: Reading the Bones edited by Sheree R. Thomas
Here, just watch this.
Sycorax’s Daughters, edited by Linda D. Addison, Kinitra Brooks PhD, and Susana Morris PhD
A Horror Anthology of fiction & poetry by African-American women. From Book Riot:
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Caliban, son of the Algerian sorceress Sycorax, is enslaved, but his male voice remains, to curse, to argue, to beg forgiveness. Sycorax, dead by Prospero’s hands long before the story begins, cannot speak.
Sycorax’s Daughters summons the silenced voice.
“This nation holds that Blackness, and therefore Black people, are the ultimate horror,” writes Walidah Imarisha in her foreword. The evening news is rife with cultural bias conflating blackness with monstrosity, even as the Black experience of “gentrification, white supremacists, brutal cops, and…slavery” makes the most brutal supernatural horror tropes appear “almost banal.” Many stories in the collection cast the Black female protagonist in a role that, from the outside, seem to mark her as the monster, even as her experience of the world has dictated her response.
Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture edited by Ytasha L. Womack
From Sofia Samatar’s review:
…[this book] provides a lively introduction to an important black aesthetic. Womack’s subject is the creative output of a diverse group of artists: they are “[v]isual artists, graphic artists, musicians, poets, DJs, dancers, writers, and filmmakers,” and all employ “black characters or aesthetics to deconstruct images of the past to revisualize the future” (p. 22). The “Afro” in Afrofuturism is Africa and the African diaspora; the “futurism” is an expressive mode concerned with imagining a viable black future. Womack’s use of the word “revisualize” indicates Afrofuturism’s oppositional stance: in a world crammed with negative images of black people, cultures, and history, Afrofuturistic artists strive to see the world over again, to read it differently. They reread the signs, repurpose them, remix them, refuse them, and recreate them.
…Afrofuturism, as described by Womack and others, is not only about the future, but it uses the future as a source of energy. Consider Womack’s remarks on space:
Space is a frequent theme in Afrofuturist art. Whether it’s outer space, the cosmos, virtual space, creative space, or physical space, there’s this often-understated agreement that to think freely and creatively, particularly as a black person, one has to not just create a work of art, but literally or figuratively create the space to think it up in the first place. The world, it seems, is jam-packed with bought-and-sold rotated images, some as stereotypes and others as counterimages that become stereotypes mounting into watershed debates about “positive” and “negative” images in the media. (p. 142)
This is really a comment on the present, on the world we know, but it’s written in a way that demands a future: art is in the future; art is what comes after the space that must be created in order to make it possible. The urgency—one “has to” create both space and art, in order “to think freely and creatively”—flows from both the present and the past. It flows from opposition to the “rotated images” that fill the world, images that make the black past and present seem irreparably damaged, and the future impossible. While pessimism is not the prerogative of any one group, it has a particular hold on Africa and the African diaspora. As the sociologist Alondra Nelson tells Womack: “There’s something about racism that has produced a fatalism that has impacted futuristic thinking” (p. 41). Nelson explains that this fatalism is countered by black prophetic traditions, and it’s interesting to see Afrofuturism in that context: as a mode of futuristic thinking that draws on spiritual understanding and practices, and adds an emphasis on the power of technology.
Lonely Stardust: Two Plays, a Speech, and Eight Essays by Andrea Hairston
From a review by Rubén Mendoza:
Employing a hybrid mixture of voices, registers and sources, Hairston’s essays cover a wide-ranging archive that draws illuminating transdisciplinary connections across the fields of literature, film, performance, theatre, popular criticism and scholarly critique. While her plays at times reflect a bit too much of an underlying academic orientation (an aesthetic expression overly intertwined with and explicitly reflective of critical discourse and theory), taken together with her speech and in conversation with these essays they work to help flesh out a larger, more complex mixture of aesthetic and critical discourses that provides valuable insight into the films and literature Hairston analyses, as well as her own creative process and aims.
On the surface, Hairston’s book might be mistaken for a collection of disparate works that do not quite cohere into a whole, particularly given the inclusion of her plays and speech after her essays and the broad, unruly scope of varied works that they cover. … In many ways, though, it is the brief essay ‘Heretical Connectedness’ that is key to this complex, wide-ranging collection. … ‘Heretical Connectedness’ mounts a science-oriented defence of Lynn Margulis’s science treatise, Symbiotic Planet (A New Look at Evolution), and the Gaia theory of symbiosis and mutualism that it forwards. At the core of Hairston’s politico-aesthetic project is precisely the kind of symbiotic mutualism for which Margulis argues. And as the title of this short but packed piece implies, embracing such a symbiotic approach, both in science and aesthetics, is heretical. This is not just because such an embracing runs against the grain of compartmentalisation and specialisation but because of the disavowed connectedness it reveals in systems of interlocking oppressions. …as Hairston argues through analyses of films, plays, novels, critical receptions of aesthetic works, and even moments of interaction with others in her own life, in the context of an empire of ‘American Capitalist Wasteland’ and white male heteronormativity that is ‘invisified’ through universalist mechanisms of normalisation which seek to disavow and erase difference and connection – connectedness is heretical.
Filter House by Nisi Shawl
From the Tiptree Award website:
Publishers Weekly, which selected Filter House as one of the best books of 2008, described it as an “exquisitely rendered debut collection” that “ranges into the past and future to explore identity and belief in a dazzling variety of settings.” Tiptree jurors spotlight Shawl’s willingness to challenge the reader with her exploration of gender roles.
Juror K. Tempest Bradford writes, “The stories in Filter House refuse to allow the reader the comfort of assuming that the men and women will act according to the assumptions mainstream readers/society/culture puts on them.”
Juror Catherynne M. Valente notes that most of Shawl’s protagonists in this collection are young women coming to terms with womanhood and what that means “in terms of their culture, magic (almost always tribal, nuts and bolts, African-based magical systems, which is fascinating in itself), [and] technology.” In her comments, Valente points out some elements of stories that made this collection particularly appropriate for the Tiptree Award: “‘At the Huts of Ajala’ struck me deeply as a critique of beauty and coming of age rituals. The final story, ‘The Beads of Ku,’ deals with marriage and motherhood and death. ‘Shiomah’s Land’ deals with the sexuality of a godlike race, and a young woman’s liberation from it. ‘Wallamellon’ is a heartbreaking story about the Blue Lady, the folkloric figure invented by Florida orphans, and a young girl pursuing the Blue Lady straight into a kind of urban priestess-hood.”
Ghost Summer: Stories by Tananarive Due
From a review by Eric J. Guignard:
Ghost Summer is a first-rate foray into horror that doesn’t have to be shocking or violent or gruesome to be effective, but rather finds its success in quiet, introspective, and atmospheric tales that wind readers down a lovely meandering path of curiosity and subtle dread before they find they are lost inescapably in some dark forest with a menacing breath coming from over their shoulder.
…each [story is] a character-driven piece that continues to affirm the author as an exemplary storyteller. The tales run the gambit between suspense, horror, post-apocalyptic, and magical realism. …There’s no reliance on gimmicks, but rather a confident literary voice that fills Due’s writing with allure, thrills, and equanimity.
So these are just a few of my favorites. there are more. Share them in the comments.