Black Contemporary Science Fiction

Black Contemporary Science Fiction

In the wake of Octavia Butler’s groundbreaking work in the 1970s, including the Patternfinder series and Kindred, Black science fiction has taken on social justice, culture and history to create one of the freshest and most exciting art forms in contemporary literature.  In this blog, we’ll explore some of the biggest names in the field, covering everything from magical realism to postapocalyptic fiction.

Nnedi Okorafor, 2017. Photo by Cheetah Witch. Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Nnedi Okorafor

Dr. Okorafor was born in Cincinnati to parents of Nigerian descent,and grew up in Illinois.  Her writing career began with tragedy when an operation for scoliosis left her paralyzed from the waist down.  While recovering, a friend loaned her a copy of the Isaac Asimov classic I, Robot, which Okorafor marked up with notations in the margins.  Shortly after, she was influenced by the work of Butler in 2002, when she read Wild Seed, one of her books with a Nigerian lead character.  Dr. Okorafor earned a Ph.D in creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago and has been a leading voice in Afrofuturism, publishing the Akata series of books and the post-apocalyptic novel Who Fears Death, which was turned into a series for HBO.  Her young adult Binti series, which traces the story of the title character as she attends school on a warring planet, won the Hugo Award for Best Children’s Fiction.  She has also won other major industry awards including the Nebula Award (for Binti), the World Fantasy Award (for Who Fears Death) and the Wole Solinya Prize for African Literature (for Zahrah and the Windseeker).  Her work is best known for featuring young women protagonists and taking place at least partly in West Africa.

A sample of P. Djeli Clark publications. Photo by KT Lowe

P. Djeli Clarlk

Hugo and Nebula Award nominated author Phenderson Djeli Clark combines history with science fiction to create haunting, inventive narratives that directly confront the Black experience in America.  Born Dexter Gabriel in 1971, he spent large parts of his childhood in Trinidad and Tobago, his parents’ homeland.  In addition to his writing, he works as a historian at the University of Connecticut.  Throughout his work, he uses techniques of speculative fiction and historical events to reconceive American and world history.  For instance, his acclaimed novella Ring Shout recontextualizes the Ku Klux Klan as demons which were let loose by a sorcerer, D.W. Griffith.  Griffith, in real life, is the director of the 1915 film Birth of a Nation, reviled today for its depiction of Black people as dangerous and predatory yet highly influential for its technical prowess.  Clark’s latest novel, A Master of Djinn, has been shortlisted for a number of year-end best-of lists for 2021 and takes place in an alternative version of Cairo, Egypt.  Besides his novels and short stories, Clark is a co-founder of the Afrofuturist literary journal FIYAH, which has rapidly developed a reputation for publishing the best in Black science fiction.

N. K. Jemisin. Photo by Laura Hanifin. Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 3.0

N. K. Jemisin

Nora Keita Jemisin is one of the most celebrated Black authors of the past 30 years, winning multiple Locus, Hugo and World Fantasy awards.  In fact, she is the first author to win the Best Novel Hugo Award three years in a row, and the first Black author to win a Best Novel Hugo Award, period. In addition, she won a  MacArthur Fellowship in 2020.  Her work leans toward hard fantasy and environmental themes.  She might be best known for her acclaimed Broken Earth trilogy, which begins with The Fifth Season, but her works span three decades with work in short stories and graphic novels as well as full-length novels.  She lives in Brooklyn, and her latest work focuses on a future version of the city which must be saved from a horrific enemy.

Although Black fiction as a whole spans generations, it is only in the last fifty years that Black authors have taken on science fiction and fantasy as their own.  These works have been celebrated by their peers and profiled in major news outlets, topping bestseller lists and winning over new audiences and new readers every day.  Want to read more Black science fiction?  Interested in finding out more about fiction writing in general?  Curious about what your next read will be?  Ask Us! or click here

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