Celebrating Black Speculative Fiction Writers
Fantasy, science fiction, dystopia and more, speculative fiction by Black writers covers the full spectrum of imagination. These works combine history, folklore, contemporary social issues and visions of a distant future. Staff from the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy have highlighted some of our favourite works by Black speculative fiction writers. This list isn't intended to be definitive, instead it is a combination of classics and newer works, of bestsellers and indie gems.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Adeyemi drew inspiration from Yoruba West African legends to create the fantastical Kingdom of Orïsha. When magic is brutally suppressed by the land's king, the novel's teen protagonists embark on a mission to restore Orïsha's magic. Children of Blood and Bone was Adeyemi's first novel, released when she was only 24 years old. She has since published Children of Virtue and Vengeance, a sequel set in Orïsha.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
Published in 1993, Parable of the Sower depicts a dystopian vision of 2020s America. The story focuses on Lauren Olamina, a teenage hyperempath living in Southern California. Lauren must leave her walled-in community and travel north, carrying with her a vision for a better future. Shortly after Parable of the Sower's publication, Butler became the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship or "Genius Grant."
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
Delany’s 1974 science fiction classic is famous for its mind-bending narrative. The novel is set in the mysterious American city of Bellona. It follows a main character who has lost his own name as he navigates the post-cataclysmic city. Since the early 1960s, Delany has pushed the limits of science fiction and expanded into the avant-garde.
The Alchemists of Kush by Minister Faust
The Alchemists of Kush is split between present day Edmonton or "E-Town" and ancient Kush in the Nile Valley. Faust tells the parallel stories of two lost boys separated by several thousand years and kilometres. In addition to speculative fiction writing, Faust works as a journalist, broadcaster and teacher in Edmonton.
Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
Hopkinson's 1998 dystopian novel hits close to home, set in a post-collapse downtown Toronto. When Ontario's rich and powerful stoop to organ harvesting, skeptical Ti-Jeanne turns to the spirit world for help. Living in Guyana and Trinidad before moving to Toronto at age 16, Hopkinson's writing is influenced by Caribbean folklore, culture and diaspora. She now teaches creative writing at University of California, Riverside.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Essun arrives home to discover her husband has murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Using second person narration, Jemisin places the reader in Essun's mind as she travels through a collapsing world in search of her daughter. The Fifth Season is the first book in the Broken Earth trilogy, which earned Jemisin a record breaking three Hugo Awards in a row. Record breaking in more than one way, Jemisin was also the first Black author to win the Hugo for Best Novel.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti is the first person to leave her Himba homeland and attend the intergalactic Oomza University. Her journey to Oomza University becomes dangerous when enemy aliens capture her spacecraft. Okorafor manages to pack big ideas and emotional impact into this brief novella. Writing for children, teens and adults, Okorafor's work has won Nebula, Hugo and Locus awards.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
Everfair is a steampunk alternate history story. It depicts an alternate 19th century where the Congolese people and their allies push out King Leopold II and his Belgian colonizers. In addition to her own writing, Shawl is involved with fostering emerging writers. She is a founding member of the Carl Brandon Society, which seeks to "increase racial and ethnic diversity in...speculative fiction."
The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes
The Deep is a rap song turned novella. It is set in a world where the children of enslaved African women thrown overboard become mermaids and form a utopian society. Protagonist Yetu is a mermaid, or "wajinru", historian tasked with remembering her people’s painful past. Rap group clipping. wrote the original song for a 2017 afrofuturism themed episode of This American Life. Following the song's success, Solomon was commissioned to expand on the song's story in prose.
The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
In this sword-and-sorcery style fantasy novella, a band of mercenaries are tasked with protecting a merchant caravan through the treacherous Wildeeps wilderness. During the journey demigod Demane reckons with his magical powers and his relationship with Captain, the mercenaries' beautiful leader. Can't wait to read more of Wilson's work? Two of his early short stories, "The Devil in America" and "Super Bass," are available for free on Tor.com.
Keeping reading and learning with these Black speculative fiction resources.
- Nisi Shawl's A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction
- Carl Brandon Society's Blog
- Top Ten Books To Read For Black Speculative Fiction Newbies from Black Sci-Fi.com
- Imagining Future Histories: Black Speculative Fiction from The University of Iowa Libraries
What other Black speculative fiction authors and books would you recommend? Share in the comments below!