Thursday, April 5, 2018


While waiting for a friendly corporation to come up with another big Afrofuturist product, why not read some sff-ish stuff by black authors? Go and grab some of the works of Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Bill Campbell,Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, Nora Jemisin, and others who I’m probably forgetting, but can be found in bookstores.

And there are others, coming out of older traditions, whose books you’ll have to hunt for, but are well worth it.

Originally serialized in Colored American Magazine (that Pauline Hopkins also edited) from December 1902 to January 1903, Of One Blood has a steampunkish setting, mesmerism, mediumistic powers, a cataleptic trance, astral projection, and the scientifically advanced lost civilization in the city of Meroe, Ethiopia. Yes, a precursor to Wakanda. It also presents some ideas of race and family--the one blood/Raza Cosmica thing-- that allow the novel’s central theme to be both incestuous and interracial.

A long, long time ago, before George Lucas' dream of a galaxy far, far away infected Western Civilization, I read a story in an anthology African fiction that blew my mind. It was called “The Television-Handed Ghostess” by Amos Tutuola, a Nigerian. Turns out it's part of a novel (okay, it’s not a novel as we’re used to in what’s left of Western Civilization) called My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I tracked it down and was astounded by the strange world of bizarre spirit beings that live in modern times, with television-hands, machine-guns, and such, told in style and structure that owes more to oral storytelling than the commercial New York book biz.

Between 1936 and 1938, the black-owned Pittsburgh Courier ran two serials, The Black Internationale: Story of Black Genius Against the World and Black Empire: An Imaginative Story of a Great New Civilization in Modern Africa--later published together as Black Empire--that allowed George S. Schuyler, known as the Black Mencken, to let his imagination run wild, creating the first example of pulp science fiction written for a black audience. Dr. Henry Belsidus gives Fu Manchu a run for his money, and there’s a cynical, satirical edge to the pulp mayhem. It deserves to be republished with proper, sensationalistic packaging.

Chester Himes is father of blaxploitation (two of his novels were adapted into the first of that movie genre) and urban crime fiction. His Harlem crime novels feature detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, and blazed a trail that led to Afrofuturism. His work got imaginative, since he was writing them for a Parisian publisher, and the French were willing to believe anything about America. His masterpiece, Blind Man with a Pistol, shows a Harlem like a Hieronymus Bosch composition full of sociological nightmares beyond the wildest dystopias. And his demonstration of how racism spawns seemingly random violence is chilling.

Frank Yerby, the first African American bestselling author, wrote The Dahomean, with idea of blasting open the minds of young black militants. Based on Melville J. Herskovits’ 1967 anthropological study, Dahomey: An Ancient West African Kingdom, it presents a world that makes most commercial fantasy look like cheap knock-offs of warmed-over fairy tales. There are Dahomey Amazons, different versions of marriage and family, and a number of things that will probably disturb even twenty-first century readers. After reading it, you’ll never think of Africa in the same way.

I have to say it: Afrofuturism is just a reboot/rebrand of Neo-HooDooism, and Ishmael Reed has been doing for over half a century. Mumbo Jumbo is the great Neo-HooDoo novel. I think I’m overdue re-reading it, which I do often.

No comments:

Post a Comment