Happy Black History Month! For each of the 28 days of February, we at The Mary Sue will have a post about a black woman you should know about—some you may have heard of, some a little bit more obscure, and some fictional who still deserve a lot of love.
Day Twenty-Five: Pauline Hopkins, Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson
Since Mary Shelly penned Frankenstein women have been at the forefront of the science fiction and fantasy genre. Black authors have also played a role in the genre, even though their contributions have not always been recognized or appreciated. When it comes to female black authors, while some of them are more well know, most people can only name a few.
In an interview with N.K. Jemisin she speaks about this lack of awareness of black sci-fi authorship:
There’s a gigantic market of self-published and small press published black fiction that kind of eschews the whole traditional published market simply because back in the nineties when all of this really kind of kicked off, you know, with E. Lynn Harris, and Zane, and all that, back in the nineties when all this kicked off the traditional publishing industry basically treated black writers as if they were anomalies. They would let in the occasional one whose work appealed to white writers. In the science fiction field there was the magic four, Hopkinson, Butler, Delany, and Barnes, and they didn’t even acknowledge Tananarive Due at that point, which is really kind of hilarious. They were just the traditional four, and that was pretty much it.
In 1902 Of One Blood was published by Pauline Hopkins, which talks about a man who goes on an expedition to Ethiopia and discovers a hidden technologically and magically advanced civilization in the country. This was before Wakanda. What is really interesting about this novel is that the main character Reuel is very modern in that he is a black man who really doesn’t think much about his own blackness of black history. He only goes there is to find treasure, which he does, but it is in the form of his own identity.
Octavia Butler is probably best known for Kindred. Kindred is the story of a woman from the 1970s who is mysterious flung back in time into the slaveholding South where she becomes involved in the conflict with her white slaveholding and the black free woman ancestor. The book is really fascinating because it does not shy away from any of the conflicting emotional trauma of slavery that lingers especially with black women. It acknowledges that many black people have mixed-race ancestry and that for many that is a legacy of rape and sexual manipulation.
N.K. Jemisin is getting her due now, and Nnedi Okorafor has been slaying the industry with her Binti trilogy and her novel Who Fears Death has been picked up by HBO. Who Fears Death deals with female genital mutilation, while the Broken Earth series on top of being just an epic piece of writing is also dealing with racism and questions if the only way to change institutional discrimination is to destroy it all and start over.
Nalo Hopkinson, a Jamaican-Canadian author whose speculative science fiction has been deeply rooted in Caribbean folklore, Afro-Caribbean culture, and feminism. In addition, Hopkinson frequently writes about subjects including race, class, and sexuality. One of her best works Midnight Robber, Hopkinson addresses social issues such as child and sexual abuse.
Female authors in the genre have used their medium in order to deal with sociopolitical issues dealing with black identity. Now, more than ever, their voices are an important reminder that science fiction and fantasy are important because of there ability to explore the trauma of the black experience in ways that other genres can not.
Also, there are writers like the late L.A. Banks, who are just writing fun urban fantasy with sexy vampires and hot female protagonists. It’s not always about the struggle after all.
Most importantly, it is a reminder that black women in sci-fi are nothing new and they are slaying it.
Who are some of your favorite black female sci-fi/fantasy authors?
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Mightnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
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