By Naomi Day
I recently realized we are coming to the end of October without having acknowledged the time of year that celebrates my favorite group of writers! So, here we are: happy Black Speculative Fiction Month!
What is Black Speculative Fiction Month?
Black Speculative Fiction Month, celebrated every October, is a month to commemorate speculative fiction written by and about Black folks. Individuals, libraries, authors, and organizations will often host events centered on Black speculative fiction authors and their work, post book lists highlighting authors writing in this genre, and write extensive articles calling attention to the genre and the wealth of diversity within it for folks who wouldn’t necessarily come across this work otherwise.
The origin story I know of comes from author, Afroretroism expert, and gamewriter Balogun Ojetade. According to this post, he and author Milton Davis came up with the idea together one June; they chose October because the annual Alien Encounters celebration (formerly a conference for Black speculative and imaginative fiction, film and music and presently a celebration of speculative and imaginative arts) took place in October already, and it just made sense to overlap the two.
I like it because it means there are two distinct times of year to celebrate Black history in different ways: February brings us Black History Month and seven months later, October gives us Black Speculative Fiction Month.
Ok, so what actually is Black Speculative Fiction?
The most useful resource for this question, in my opinion, is an article from Marcus Haynes that goes through an extensive set of definitions of Black Speculative Fiction terms. To excerpt from the part that talks specifically about the umbrella term, Black Speculative Fiction refers to texts that force readers to imagine possibilities that do not fit with their present understanding of the world, with a focus on the people and cultures of the African diaspora.
Why is it important?
Speculative fiction is important as a genre on its own; it is one that asks us to question why our world is the way it is, and gives us the tools to think differently about changing the parts we don’t like. It helps us understand and refigure our history while we consider the multitude of courses the future could take.
Black speculative fiction does this through the lens of those who are part of the African diaspora (which is why the term “Black” is used—it makes it clear this envisioning includes Africans, African-Americans, Afro-Latin people, and so on). This is critically important because this is a group of people who are often pushed out of the present reality, not to mention excluded from visions of the future. The mere existence of Black people, particularly in America but all across the world, is too often seen as a physical and cultural threat and depicted as being against the norm. Writing Black folks into the future is an act of resistance as well as a call of hope.
And, critically, it isn’t saying that only Black people exist in the future—rather, it speaks to the wondrous and powerful events that can take place when there is a radical diversity of people stretching from now to eternity.
I’m in! Who can I check out?
Wonderful questions! You’ll find a short list of authors and their books at the end of this article. It’s a mixture of presently-trending folks with those who may be slightly less well known, with links (via Alibris, a marketplace for independent vendors that is a wonderful alternative to Amazon) to where you can find their books.
Additionally, to get you started on your own speculative fiction project, here’s a prompt I’ve partially adapted from an article about Margaret Atwood’s tips on writing speculative fiction:
Write down something that is interesting about the world presently around you: the dog lying on the sofa; the wooden table whose wood came from central America; the fact that you type with ten fingers (or two, or none). Consider how it came to be—what are the forces that have shaped its life such that it exists as it does? Write an alternate history that would give the same end result, but in a very different manner. For example, the wood of the wooden table was not harvested from trees: rather, the table comes from the second-most-populous species on land, an organism that shapes itself according to what is lacking in a space and will hold that shape for as long as the need is present. Have fun!
- Black No More by George S Schuyler
- Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler
- My Soul To Keep by Tananarive Due (this is the first in a series of four, the African Immortals Series)
- Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson (a tremendous book of short stories)
- Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
- The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (the first of a trilogy titled The Inheritance Trilogy)
- Nalo Hopkinson
- The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delaney
- There are additional books on the following sites:
- Fiction Unbound’s blog post for Black Speculative Fiction Month 2019
- Oakland Library’s reading list for Black Speculative Fiction Month 2018
- greydogtales’s post for Black Speculative Fiction Month 2017
NAOMI DAY is a queer Black woman who enjoys interrogating the strange ways her mixed-race experience has shaped the way she moves through the world. Nowadays she primarily writes short stories focused on a future that actively and intentionally has Black people in it (a genre otherwise known as Afrofuturism). When she turns her life upside down and shakes hard, interesting things fall out for her to write about. She considers herself a lifetime student and much prefers the nomadic life, finding home in cities from Atlanta to London.