The gatekeepers of publishing keep marginalized people from getting their work out there. Jemisin is proof that this practice needs to end.
N.K. Jemisin just won her third Hugo award in a row accomplishing something that no other author in history has done. This wasn’t a fluke, this wasn’t a one off, Jemisin is proving that the stories Black women have to tell aren’t just for other Black women. They’re creative, powerful, and worth your time and money.
Science fiction and fantasy have been genres dominated by white boys since time immemorial. Why? Not sure, since people from all across the spectrum have been creating spectacular work in the genre. Jemisin has come out to stop this erasure of diverse voices by taking home the Hugo Award not once, not twice, but three times in a row — a feat that has never been done before, not even by the most famous and prolific white boys.
Jemisin has won the last three years since 2016, each year for a book in her Broken Earth trilogy, the first of which is being developed into a series for TNT. This accomplishment is amazing but also shows that Black women have been creating powerful and memorable works that deserve a space in larger, more mainstream arenas, something Jemisin highlighted in her acceptance speech on Sunday:
“This is the year in which I get to smile at all of those naysayers: every single mediocre, insecure wannabe who fixes their mouth to suggest that I do not belong on this stage, that people like me cannot possibly have earned such an honor, and that when they win it’s meritocracy, but when we win it’s identity politics,” she said. “I get to smile at those people and lift a massive shining rocket-shaped finger in their direction.”
Maybe this doesn’t seem important if you think that science fiction and fantasy is just entertainment, but it’s not. It is, at its heart a political and revolutionary genre. Sure there are aliens and ray guns but the work has always been about the human experience, our fears, our hopes. The problem is that the majority of the work that is considered classic, that gets notice and notoriety has been focused on the fears and hopes of white men, leaving out the entire spectrum of culture and reality that anyone else has to offer.
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By highlighting other voices from other cultures, you’re not just getting heroes who are something other than white—although that is important—you’re getting other ways of telling a story, other experiences. Not just in background cultures either — stories from Black women and other marginalized groups give voice and focus to other politics, other movements. The surface may be the apocalypse, space travel, or doomsday computers, but under that, we’re talking about the issues that are affecting us all now and addressing the solutions that we want to see in the world, through the work.
In short, diverse writers give the world something new. New stories, new points of view, new ways of solving problems. And these things matter. We need more stories that are not just told through the white gaze, but through the gaze that has been silenced and ignored.
These stories have been relegated as niche, as stories that only people from those specific groups would want to read about. Racism in the publishing industry is real, and the gatekeepers keep marginalized people from getting their work out there. Jemisin is proof that this practice needs to end. The stories we tell are for everyone and even if they don’t align with someone’s personal experience, it might just be an experience they need to read about so they can understand the greater world better.
Jemisin is one author who did something amazing in and of itself and although she’s good, very good, she’s not the only author out there who is offering or who has ever offered this work. Afrofuturism has been a genre for a long time and if you are unfamiliar with it, not to worry, here’s a primer.
It’s not just Jemisin. With the success of Wrinkle in Time, Black Panther, Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer, it’s clear that the speculative future and fantasy lands and ideas that are created by, seen through the lens of, or even just feature Black people, has and can make money. But more than that, these stories are important.
So congratulations N.K. Jemisin! You were the first but you won’t be the last!
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