By Stafford L. Battle
Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier
(BlackNews.com)—October has been dubbed African American Speculative Fiction Month by a group of online enthusiasts. This was done to acknowledge the writers, artists, entertainers and independent publishers around the country and elsewhere who are producing science fiction narratives, performances and art featuring Afrocentric themes. African Americans also use October to celebrate the merger of science and the arts via AFROFuturism.
Speculative fiction encourages people to look beyond their day-to-day existence and consider new possibilities that could benefit and enrich their lives. AFROFuturism incorporates novels, short stories, comic books, graphic arts, music, dance, video and other artistic forms that embrace science fiction and fantasy—for entertainment, encouragement and education.
The unofficial hub of African American speculative fiction is Atlanta.
During October for the last three years, the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History has offered readings, panel discussions, music and art demonstrating the Afrocentric involvement in science fiction and fantasy.
Digital communities such as “The Afrofuturist Affair,” “The Black Science Fiction Society” and “The Black Author Showcase” have sponsored online and offline activities to promote Black sci-fi and fantasy not only during October but throughout the year.
Black writers, artists, and filmmakers are gaining popularity as well as earning a few extra dollars. Book sales are low compared to urban romance and celebrity authors. But, profitability is improving as more readers are exposed to black sci-fi and fantasy. New titles are being published traditionally and independently.
Conventions and special events are drawing larger, multicultural audiences who are anxious to meet new writers and artists as well as pay homage to established black science fiction icons such as Samuel Delany, Steven Barnes, Walter Mosley and LaVar Burton. There are several well attended black oriented comic book conventions such as the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention in Philadelphia and ONYXCON in Atlanta.
According to public opinion and casual surveys at conferences and online, African Americans have moved beyond the desire to simply drink from a forbidden water fountain or live in a prestigious neighborhood outside of crowded urban centers; that was the past. People of African descent now can envision living on gravity-free space stations, traveling to distant planets or stars, building fantastic devices and molding new societies. Science and its literary kin, Speculative Fiction, is the catalyst for a dynamic and prosperous future.
Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to become a U.S. astronaut is currently working on humanity’s first starship. Her goal: “to help change the world by leading the effort to send and sustain humans in interstellar space travel within the next 100 years.” It has taken NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, the fastest man-made object to date, more than three decades just to penetrate the outer edge of the solar system to enter interstellar space. A conventional spaceship traveling to the nearest star, more than four light years away (25 trillion miles) would need 70,000 years to arrive at the destination. But, the 100 Year Starship project is exploring techniques to reduce that travel time to a few decades or even hours.
In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Charles Frank Bolden Jr., an African American, Marine Corps major general and an astronaut, to be senior administrator of NASA that has a long-term ambition to land humans on the planet Mars. In a video published April 2010, titled “NASA’s New Era of Innovation and Discovery,” Bolden said, “We’re gonna turn science fiction into science fact.” Bolden told interviewers that one of the top goals he was tasked with by President Obama was to “help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math.”
What better way to influence students to pursue interplanetary and hi-tech careers, than by offering visions of individuals who mastered the challenges of space and technology at the end of each television episode or the closing credits of a movie. An ambitious black student has a much better chance of becoming a highly paid, prestigious scientist than being recruited by the National Football League or any professional sports league.
Entertainers such as Will Smith (“I, Robot”), Laurence Fishburne (“The Matrix”), Avery Brooks (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) brought to the public eye, heroic figures deep in the sci-fi genre. In reality, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson takes us to the edge of the universe and beyond. He appears frequently on television and among enthusiastic live audiences at conferences and special events. These and many other like-minded individuals are to be considered as AFROFuturists who are changing America’s expectations.
Black people are not strangers to speculative fiction.
In the early 1900s, writers such Pauline Hopkins, Sutton Griggs, Martin Delany and George Schuyler were publishing stories about people of color who were discovering lost civilizations, building ray guns and flying machines, conquering Europe and charting a revolutionary black destiny. Their tales gave hope to communities that were suffering devastating racial inequalities purposely enforced to stunt progress and create a second class citizenship.
In 2013, African Americans face new roadblocks such as lack of satisfying employment and health disparities. AFROFuturists use art and science to encourage others to make dreams become reality.
Anyone can participate. Science fiction is not just a geeky, white male American concept. Women and men are writing, drawing and filmmaking. Africa has a new crop of science fiction writers. There are Islamic authors producing stories of the fantastic. Asian, Native American and Latino graphic and literary artists are contributing. In fact, speculative fiction has probably been expressed in all human cultures.
Black Speculative Fiction Month for October 2013 has humble beginnings similar to the gestation of February’s Black History Month that began in the 1920s by Carter G. Woodson. But, the Sci-fi movement is taking off—like a rocket. The payload includes “Sword and Soul,” “Steam Funk,” “Afro Sci-Fi,” “Weird Black Westerns” and other subgenres. Welcome aboard.
For more about the African American involvement in Speculative Fiction, go to www.africanamericansciencefiction.com
Stafford Battle is a writer and blogger living in a quiet suburb just outside of Washington, DC. He is also an instructional designer creating online educational modules for medical students. He is currently working on his latest book, “The Architects of AFROFuturism.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-607-3771 or via his web site at www.staffordbattle.com.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 16 print edition.