December 13, 2015

Slice of PIE: Writing From An Ethnic Point Of View NOT My Own…

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, August 2015, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #3105 (page 72). The link is provided below…?

AfroFuturism in Comics & Science Fiction

“Afro-futurism is a new field in academia and science fiction themed media…the philosophical and artistic expression of alternative realities relating to people of African descent. We will explore what it means to be identified as “alien” or “other” as seen through the black cultural lens of various comic art/sequential art speculative milieus…As we analyze the thematic development and expression of Afrofuturist

phenomena in comics, the discussion will descend into the realm of African mythology…We will discuss the notion of having the world’s most technologically advanced society—the Kingdom of Wakanda—on the continent of Africa. The presentation will remix historical perceptions and re-imagine racial identity. Ajani Brown…”

I am NOT a comic book geek, though my daughter and future son-in-law are, so I won’t be discussing this from a comic book POV. The session description sparked in me a recollection of books I’ve read in this vein, and that’s what I’d like to talk about here – and my “question to the Universe”: Can I write stories that have black characters in them?

First to look at Afrofuturist books and stories with which I am familiar.

Octavia Butler’s novel (pictured above in the edition in which I read it), SURVIVOR, was my first of hers and though it wasn’t explicitly an African-based future AND was repudiated by her (“Butler repudiated the novel and refused to allow it to be reprinted: ‘When I was young, a lot of people wrote about going to another world and finding either little green men or little brown men, and they were always less in some way. They were a little sly, or a little like “the natives” in a very bad, old movie…People ask me why I don’t like Survivor…it feels a little bit like that. Some humans go up to another world, and immediately begin mating with the aliens and having children with them. I think of it as my Star Trek novel.’”), it was an introduction to her work. This led eventually to Samuel R. Delany’s DHALGREN and others in my “new wave” phase. Eventually I came back to Butler’s XENOGENESIS trilogy passing through Nancy Farmer’s THE EAR, THE EYE, AND THE ARM and on to Steven Barne's sadly incomplete INSH’ALLAH series, the rest of Butler’s work, and finally into Nalo Hopkinson (BROWN GIRL IN THE RING; I wrote her after I read that, asking what she thought about me using black characters…she never answered) and finally Nnedi Okorafor (I voted her first book, THE SHADOW SPEAKER, on to the Norton Award ballot…it didn’t win…) and Alayna Dawn Johnson (THE SUMMER PRINCE, which I voted on to the ballot and ALSO didn’t win…).

My own work reflects my belief that SF needs more people of color: “Mystery on Space Station COURAGE” and “The Penguin Whisperer” feature the same young lady, Candace Mooney, as well as Dejario Reynas. A conversation with a Latina student of mine about fiction revealed that she has NEVER seen herself reflected in YA mysteries she’s read. HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth’s main character is a Latina named Emerald Marcillon. The main character of a novel I have in submission now is Noah Bemisemagak, whose ancestry is Ojibwe. The next novel I have coming out (contemporary YA) has a biracial boy’s POV…

Am I right or wrong to be writing from other ethnic backgrounds? I do the research; I talk regularly to people from whichever background I write; oftentimes I ask them to read and comment on my work in progress…Or should I cut it out and stick to what I know – the life of a big, fat, old, white guy?

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