Friday, January 24, 2014

6 Speculative Fiction Authors You Need to Read
(Who Happen to be Awesome Women of Color)

By Maija Hatton- FemSpec Intern

            Speculative fiction, as a whole, tends to be overwhelmingly white and male. Our future is not going to be anything like that— minority populations are outgrowing white populations and more and more women are taking their places next to men in positions of power. This is fantastic news for speculative fiction. The future is going to take after the present, and be populated by incredible varieties of people. Speculative fiction ought to reflect that though a greater variety of perspectives on what’s possible for humanity a few years or centuries from now. This is an introductory list of authors whose perspectives as non-white women are guaranteed to open up your preconceived notions of the future, as dictated by the white men who have dominated the speculative genre. As the television writer Jane Espenson (Known for her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Torchwood and Once Upon a Time) put it, “If we can’t write diversity into scifi, then what’s the point? You don’t create new worlds to give them all the same limits of the old ones.”

1       1. Octavia Butler

If you have read any speculative fiction by a woman of color, it was probably by Octavia Butler. As a winner of two Hugo awards, a Nebula award, recipient of a Macarthur Genius Grant and 2010 inductee into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, her writing has been very much recognized in the Science Fiction community, and rightfully so. She is best known for her 1979 novel Kindred, a time travel story about a black woman who is transported back into the antebellum north and must confront the legacy of slavery in a very visceral way. Kindred is a stand-alone novel, but Butler also wrote the Patternist series (1976-1984), about African deities and aliens who hold the fate of the world in their hands. It features telepathy, romance, body swapping and epic psychic battles—everything you need for a fun time. Butlers short stories, particularly the Hugo award winners “Bloodchild” (1984) and “Speech Sounds” (1983), have the same imaginative and thoughtful prose found in her novels. A large number of her stories are collected in Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995), and could serve as a gateway into Butler’s excellent body of work for the uninitiated or skeptical. FemSpec is lucky enough to have had a personal link to Octavia Butler. She served on our board for several years, and was an absolutely amazing member. We still receive and public criticism of her work, which is a lovely reminder that she still lives on in the imaginations and curiosity of academics as well as her readers.

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2        2.  Tananarive Due

      A natural successor to Octavia Butler, Due has also collected her share of recognition for her excellent, unique speculative fiction. She has won a NAACP Image Award, and an American Book award for her work, and has recently served as the Cosby Chair for the Humanities at Spelman College in Atlanta. Due is best known for her African Immortals series (My Soul to Keep (1997), Blood Colony (2002), The Living Blood (2008), and My Soul to Take (2011)), about a regular woman who gets roped into the affairs of a group of powerful Ethiopian immortals once she finds out that her husband is one of them. Their magical blood, true love, and the consequences of immortality are examined in this roller coaster of a series. Due has followed African Immortals with the Devil’s Wake series, co-written with Steven Barnes, about an unexpected romance that develops among the apocalypse, pestilence and flesh-eating ghouls. In 2003, she co-wrote Freedom in the Family, a Civil Rights memoir, with her mother. Her writing has the power to be educational and touching as well as wonderfully terrifying. Due has also been published in FemSpec. Her short story “Protection,” in the form of a letter to the editor, “offers a disturbing tale of a mother, a boy, and a witness that signs the letter “Unsigned.” It was published in Volume 3, Issue 2 in 2002. The thing about FemSpec is that you never know what talent you’ll find in each issue. We support women writers, particularly women of color, in order to further diversity in speculative fiction.

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        3. Nnedi Okorafor

      Okorafor was born to Nigerian parents and was raised in the United States, with frequent visits to Nigeria that inspired her imagination. Currently a professor at Chicago State University, she has published six novels, mostly in the young adult genre. Most take place in Nigeria, with a mix of magic and futuristic technology. Her first novel, Zahrah the Windseeker(2005), is a coming of age story set in a fictional world that blends fantasy and science fiction with African folklore. Her second novel, The Shadowspeaker (2008), is also a coming of age tale, but with more magic and danger as it follows a young girl trying to find her father’s murderer in 2070 Niger. Okorafor has also published multiple short stories and critical essays, and has had a screenplay, “Wrapped in Magic” produced in Nigeria.

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4   4. Nalo Hopkinson
      After growing up in Jamaica and moving to Canada as a teenager, Hopkinson has settled in the United States as a creative writing professor at the University of California Riverside. Hopkinson values her intersectional identity as a queer, Caribbean, Canadian, female writer of color, and it shows in the stories she writes. Hopkinson has published several novels, Brown Girl in the Ring (1998), which draws from Caribbean culture and folklore; Midnight Robber (2000), a far-future coming of age novel with Trinidadian roots; The Salt Roads (2003), which is about Ezili, an African love goddess and her manifestation at three different points in time; and The New Moon’s Arms (2007), a menopausal poltergeist tale. Her equally original short stories have been released in the collection Skin Folk (2007), which is also available as an audiobook from Caribbean Tales. Some of the first critical works on Nalo Hopkinson were published in FemSpec, in our “Speculative Black Women” issue from 2005. Two pieces, “Nalo Hopkinson’s Approach to Speculative Fiction” by Jerrilyn McGregory, and “Nalo Hopkinson’s Ti-Jeanne as Superhero in “Breastfeeding Mother Rescues City” by Gretchen Michlitsch, were in this issue, and were a nice way of introducing Hopkinson’s work into the academic sphere. A speech given by Hopkinson at the College of New Jersey was also published, “Afrofuturism: Womanist Paradigms for a New Millennium,” and allows the reader some insight into her process and the influence of the African Diaspora on her work.

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5    5.     Vandana Singh

Born and raised in New Delhi, Singh currently teaches physics at Framingham State College in Massachusetts. The majority of her writing is short fiction, although she dabbles in childrens literature with her Younguncle stories. Singh has been featured in The Year’s Best Science Fiction, installments 14, 22 and 23, as well as The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, installments 17 and 18. She offers a unique perspective, being one of the few Indian speculative fiction writers who writes in English and is a woman. She has also published poetry in the 2006 Mythic anthology and the online magazine, Strange Horizons

                     Credit to interview with Vandana Singh

6    6.     Daina Chaviano
      Chaniano, a Cuban √©migr√© residing in Miami since 1991, has published in both English and Spanish.  Her novel The Island of Eternal Love, an epic, intricate family story much like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, is the most widely translated Cuban novel of all time. She deals in magical realism and fairy tales with touches of the Gothic and science fiction genres. Chiavano’s work spans several decades, and shows her evolution from a writer of international UFO tales (The Worlds I Love (1979)), to short stories about dragons (Land of Dragons (1989)), erotic poetry (Erotic Confessions and Other Enchantments (1994)), and now, epic romance and magical realism (The Island of Eternal Love (2006)). Her work is available in both English and Spanish.

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FemSpec will always support women of color in their endeavors to write or critique speculative fiction. We’re very interested in groups that are not especially visible in the speculative fiction community, such as South Asians. We take great pride in being a space in which wonderful writers like Tananarive Due can be published, Octavia Butler can serve as a board member, and critical works on Nalo Hopkinson can be shown to the rest of the speculative fiction community.

            Do you know any other women of color speculative fiction writers? Recommend them in the comments!

We are always taking submissions of speculative art, short fiction, and criticism with feminist themes. For more information, go to FemSpec Submissions