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  • Writer's pictureBlack Girls Bookshelf

Afrofuturism in Literature

Heard of Afrofuturism but not quite sure what it is? Read on to find out, and start your Afrofuturist journey today with our recommendations.

Image Credits: "The History of the Future" by New America is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Afrofuturism genre is a unique and specific artistic theme that aims to explore anxieties about the future, centred around technology, within the African diaspora. It’s important to note that Afrofuturism pertains to the African American experience and typically reimagines worlds set within America. Africanfuturism on the other hand relates more directly to African culture and mythology. This term was created by writer Nnedi Okorafor, who did not want her work described as Afrofuturism due to the fact that she does not “privilege or centre the West”. Afrofuturism on the other hand was coined by Mark Dery in his 1993 essay, ‘Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose’. Afrofuturism refers to art, music, film and literature, however, in this article I will focus solely on Afrofuturism within literature.

There are common themes that define Afrofuturist stories. The most recurring themes can be linked to feminism, alienation, and reclamation. For example, if we consider the theme of alienation, it delineates the idea of the Black body as alien or otherworldly. Afrofuturist writers aim to connect the past and present of Black people and consequently reconsider these realities in order to produce a new one. The history of the perceived alien status of Black people is repeatedly reimagined in space, with aliens as the motif. Their alien status is seen through the use of the dystopian setting, in which there is a disconnect between the characters and their environment.

"....gender and identity tend to go hand in hand. This often disregards women as nothing more than being an animal with no concept of thought, stripping a woman of her humanity."

Another strongly featured theme is feminism. A good example of this is in Octavia E. Butler’s ‘Kindred’. The empowerment of women, or lack thereof, is explored through the main character, Daria. Often, she is stripped of her identity as a woman, and thus her own identity. As we know, gender and identity tend to go hand in hand. This often disregards women as nothing more than being an animal with no concept of thought, stripping a woman of her humanity. Another way in which this is further explored is through the use of time travel, which connects the idea of a lack of autonomy over a Black person’s life.

Finally, there is the theme of reclamation. Through Afrofuturism, authors are able to reclaim autonomy over their body, lives, identities and their past, present and future.

All these themes are linked together to create stories that highlight Black people as the dominant figure in society. The characters in these stories are having to negotiate a society that is already mistrustful of them, all whilst dealing with their own personal struggles.

Below are some recommendations to get you started on your Afrofuturist experience...

  • Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

  • Dawn by Octavia E.Butler

  • Cosmogramma by Courttia Newland

  • The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

  • An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

  • Dark Matter edited by Sheree Thomas

  • Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

  • Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha Womack

  • My Soul To Keep by Tananarive Due



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