Ten Black Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors to Read Now

by Melanie Marttila
published in Reading

Shortly after I submitted my last Speculations, COVID-19 made its presence felt. The world shut down and we all self-isolated and waited for health authorities to tell us that the danger had passed. It hasn’t.

Then May 25, 2020 arrived, and 8 minutes and 46 seconds changed everything. Though George Floyd was not the first, nor, sadly, the last Black person to die as a result of police violence, his death was the last straw and people all over the world are protesting in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

I had planned another topic for this Speculations, but I want instead to amplify Black voices in science fiction and fantasy. There is a lot of great literature produced by Black writers, not only across all genres, but also in non-fiction. If you do nothing else in response to the events of May 25th, you should be reading, researching, and learning. We need to do better, but we can’t unless we seek first to understand systemic racism, the injustice it fosters, and interrogate our own innate biases.

As Cree Myles said in her recent The Mary Sue article, if you want to unlearn racism, read Black science fiction and fantasy. I want to suggest some fabulous authors to start with.

The Elder Statespersons

Octavia Butler (June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006) published her first short fiction in 1971. She went on to win two Hugo and two Nebula awards, among other prestigious awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction author to win the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, in 2000, she won the PEN Lifetime Achievement award, and in 2010, she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

Butler’s Parable series, though written in the 90’s, was chillingly prescient in the 2010’s. If you’re going to start anywhere, I’d start with the Parable of the Sower. Then, keep on reading.

Samuel R. Delany was born in 1942 and published his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, in 1962. After winning four Nebula Awards and two Hugo Awards, he was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2002. From 1975 until 2015, he was professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Creative Writing at SUNY Buffalo, SUNY Albany, and Temple University. The Science Fiction Writers of America named Delany their 30th SFWA Grand Master in 2013.

His web site (linked above) includes a helpful “Delany for Beginners” page which features fiction and non-fiction selections.  

The Critically and Publicly Acclaimed

Caribbean-born Canadian, Nalo Hopkinson, now lives in California, where she teaches at UC Riverside. She has won the Campbell (now the Astounding), Locus, Sunburst (twice), Aurora, Philip K. Dick, and World Fantasy awards. At the last WorldCon I attended in Helsinki, I tried to get to as many of Hopkinson’s panels and presentations as I could. She’s that insightful. Brown Girl in the Ring, Skin Folk, The Salt Roads, Sister Mine, Midnight Robber, it doesn’t matter where you start. Open a Nalo Hopkinson novel or collection and you’ll be steeped in Caribbean folklore, Afro-Caribbean culture, and feminist themes.

N.K. Jemisin worked as a counselling psychologist and has the distinction of being the only author to win back-to-back-to-back Hugo awards for books of the same series. That series would be The Broken Earth. You could start earlier with The Inheritance trilogy or the Dreamblood duology, or head straight for her latest novel, The City We Became, start of The Great Cities series (sentient cities vs. eldritch horrors—yum!).

Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American author of science fiction and fantasy for adults and younger readers. Recently, she’s also written for Marvel’s Black Panther and Shuri comics and for Dark Horse’s LaGuardia comic. Like other authors on this list, she’s won the Locus, Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards. Her novel Who Fears Death is being adapted into a TV series for HBO and Okofafor is working on an adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Wildseed for Amazon Prime. Her best-known series is Binti, which you can now get in a collected volume.

Marlon James is a Jamaican writer who wrote three critically acclaimed (A Brief History of Seven Killings won the 2015 Man Booker Prize) literary novels before diving into fantasy with his Black Leopard Red Wolf, the first of a planned trilogy. James is a master of deep point of view. The reader becomes Tracker. Brilliant.

Authors with New and Upcoming Novels

Full disclosure, I attended TorCon (Tor.com’s virtual convention) in June and a session on worldbuilding with Onyebuchi, Morrow, Davis, and Clark. It was awesome, and that’s why they’re on this list.

Tochi Onyebuchi is a civil rights lawyer of Nigerian descent and a science fiction author. After releasing three books for young adults, his first adult novel, Riot Baby, was published Jan 21, 2020.

Though A Song Below Water is not Bethany C. Morrow’s debut, it is her most recent YA release (June 2, 2020). A Black siren in Portland? I am so there.

Charlotte Nicole Davis’s debut, The Good Luck Girls, released in October, 2019. A magical Black sisterhood trying to save themselves and the world? It sounds amazing.

Historian Dexter Gabriel writes science fiction as P. Djèli Clark to avoid confusion in his distinct reader audiences. Also, djèli refers to a West African storyteller (how cool is that?). I loved The Black God’s Drums and am looking forward to the Oct 13, 2020 release of Ring Shout. Clark has already won the Nebula and Locus awards for his novellas.

The Tip of the Iceberg

This list of suggestions is not exhaustive. There is so much wonderful work out there to discover (if you haven’t already). To that end, here are some places to deepen your search:

I encourage you to read and support Black authors across the board. It’s the least we can do.

Until next time, keep speculating and see where it leads you!

Melanie Marttila creates worlds from whole cloth. She’s a dreamsinger, an ink alchemist, and an unabashed learning mutt. Her speculative short fiction has appeared in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine, On Spec Magazine, and Sudbury Ink. She lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, where she spends her days working as a corporate trainer. She blogs at http://www.melaniemarttila.ca and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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