Gaining the courage to write fantasy fiction has made me realize how important the genre means to me as a Black queer writer.
Designated in October 2013 by Black SFF writers Balogun Ojetade and Milton J. Davis, Black Speculative Fiction Month is dedicated to celebrating Black speculative fiction creators in literature, film, and more. While reading Black speculative fiction has always been a thrilling experience, I’ve recently learned that creating it can help me imagine my most magical self.
In late September, I finished “Moon Bloom” my very first fantasy short story with Black queer characters. The story was inspired by many things, but the most important factor was the desire to give myself the representation I’ve wanted to see for years.
Since grade school, I’ve adored fantasy fiction and how the stories paint the imagination with magic, adventure, and wonder. I grew up with the Harry Potter series, which served as an entry point for other fantasy books like Tamora Pierce”s Tortall series and Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy. However, I didn’t read any books by or featuring Black people until 2010.
One day, I discovered N.K. Jemisin’s book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms while browsing my local library. Yet, the lack of Black speculative fiction in my local library prevented me from discovering more books until I decided to search for them myself in 2014. One source that was an immense help was Balogun Ojetade’s Black speculative fiction blog Chronicles of Harriet.
From there, I read about African gods, Black girls in post-apocalyptic worlds, and centuries old Black lesbian vampires. Last year, I became a staff writer for the site Black Sci-fi in order to encourage others to read and discuss Black SFF. Around this time, I noticed a shift in speculative fiction that started with controversy at the 2015 Hugo awards and seemed to culminate in last year’s Fireside Fiction’s Black speculative fiction report.
For those who don’t know, The Hugo awards are basically the Oscars for SFF books. In 2015, a group of right-wing white male SFF authors formed the Sad Puppies and rigged the Hugo nominations to favor them. Despite similar attempts to do so at last year’s Hugo awards, women of color in SFF were honored for their work.
Meanwhile, Fireside Fiction’s 2016 report stated that less than 2% of stories published by speculative fiction magazines were by Black writers. When I read this, I became painfully aware of how much the odds seemed to be against me as a Black queer SFF reader. Despite reading many SFF books with Black characters I enjoyed, I still didn’t quite see myself in the stories.
Soon, a fierce desire to write speculative fiction rose within me. Yet even as I rallied people in the editorial “Why Discrimination Can’t Stop The Black Imagination”, I also discussed my feelings of inadequacy as an aspiring fantasy writer. Fortunately, a surprise email from Afro-Carribean SFF writer Nalo Hopkinson roused my spirits.
In a brief paragraph, Nalo Hopkinson offered me a seat at the table in SFF and encouraged me to write. Deeply touched by her gesture, I decided to try and figure out who I wanted to be as a fantasy writer. My musings eventually led me to write my first fantasy poem, “Who Could I Be In Fantasy?” which would go on to be published in Black Sci-fi’s anthology Scribes of Nyota.
Despite my elation at being published, I found myself dealing with Imposter’s Syndrome for a year. I became obsessed with perfecting ideas that never turned into finished stories. After reading Anathema, a magazine dedicated to QTPOC in SFF, I managed to give myself a fresh start in late August that resulted in me writing “Moon Bloom”.
Gaining the courage to write fantasy fiction has made me realize how important the genre means to me as a Black queer writer. By writing “Moon Bloom”, I was able to channel painful experiences from my past and present and imagine a more magical version of myself. As I wrote a fantasy story that didn’t exist before, my words showed me that I have always been magical.
It is important that we empower future generations with speculative fiction so that they can imagine a better version of themselves and the world they live in. Although the presence of the African diaspora in speculative fiction might seem recent, there have been countless creators in SFF since the 19th century. For a mind, body, and spirit that has endured centuries of oppression, the imagination can be one of the most powerful weapons ever.