February, 2019


The PEN/Faulkner

The PEN/Faulkner



What Was, What Is, and What Will Be: A Cross-Genre Look at Afrofuturism

February 12, 2019

4:00pm | Library of Congress

7:30pm | Folger Shakespeare Library – SOLD OUT

Moderator’s Notes

Sheree Renée Thomas

Dangerous Muses

Where there is a woman, there is magic,” Ntozake Shange proclaimed, and these representative black women writers are no exception. If Samuel R. Delany ushered in a new pioneering path for black voices and black genius in the field of science fiction, and Octavia E. Butler helped to widen and expand that grand path, then these magical black women writers are carving a path so strong, so bold, so beautiful, that it is their voices and their visions that are shaping Afrofuturism today. The subgenre’s controversial and complicated journey into the stars would be stunted and earthbound without their unique contributions.

Black women speculative fiction writers are dangerous muses, women whose work is inspiring a new renaissance, a reemergence of Afrofuturism in all its many forms. They use and retool genre conventions to revise and reverse long held meanings that define community and communal storytelling. They defy old meanings imposed on black women’s bodies and amplify their voices, creating characters that become the heroines of their own adventures, the creators of their own unforgettable tales. Their choice of characterization, language, themes, and setting do not reinforce traditional notions of whose stories are worth telling, nor even how stories should be told. They are dangerous to the status quo, destroying the old temples of golden ages past, and are stealthily building the world anew in their own remarkable image.

The works of novelists Jennifer Marie Brissett, Tananarive Due, Jewelle Gomez, Andrea Hairston, Nalo Hopkinson, N. K. Jemisin, Karen Lord, Nnedi Okorafor, Sofia Samatar, Rivers Solomon, and other multigenre writers such as Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Nisi Shawl, and Ibi Zoboi help frame black women’s agency and aesthetics in a world that often denies the existence of both. As a speculative fiction writer and editor myself, I have witnessed the extraordinary shifts in the field with excitement and hope. As sisters, we black women writers map the future, we are innovators in the field of world-breaking and world-making. By exploring the relationship between indigenous and folk traditional culture, with its healing and rootwork and sophisticated, modified adaptations and application of technology, and the evolution of social and political issues that have haunted the African diaspora over time, black women writers are taking the lead in the Afrofuturism movement, creating works that evoke the past, critique the present, and challenge us to imagine a greater, more possible future for us all.

Featured Writers

Tananarive Due

Tananarive Due is an author, screenwriter, and educator who is a leading voice in black speculative fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in best-of-the-year anthologies of science fiction and fantasy. She is the former Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at Spelman College (2012-2014) and teaches Afrofuturism and Black Horror in the Department of African-American Studies at UCLA. She also teaches in the creative writing MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles and the screenwriting program at Antioch University Santa Barbara. Due is an executive producer of the Shudder black horror documentary Horror Noire.

The American Book Award winner and NAACP Image Award recipient is the author or co-author of twelve novels. In 2010, Due was inducted into the Medill School of Journalism’s Hall of Achievement at Northwestern University. She also received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Her short story collection, Ghost Summer, won a 2016 British Fantasy Award. She has been named to the Grio 100 and the Ebony Power 100.

Due also co-authored a civil rights memoir with her late mother, Patricia Stephens Due, Freedom in the Family: a Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. (Patricia Stephens Due took part in the nation’s first “Jail-In” in 1960, spending 49 days in jail in Tallahassee, Florida, after a sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter.) Freedom in the Family was named 2003’s Best Civil Rights Memoir by Black Issues Book Review. Her parents, including her father, attorney John Due, were recently inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

In 2013, Due co-produced a short film, Danger Word, with Barnes and director Luchina Fisher. Due and her husband, science fiction pioneer Steven Barnes, also co-wrote the short, which was based on their novel Devil’s Wake. Starring Frankie Faison (“The Wire,” The Silence of the Lambs) and Saoirse Scott, Danger Word was nominated for Best Narrative Short at the BronzeLens and Pan African film festivals. Due also collaborated on the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series with Barnes, in partnership with actor Blair Underwood. Due also wrote The Black Rose, a historical novel about the life of Madam C.J. Walker, based on the research of Alex Haley.

Due has a B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University and an M.A. in English literature from the University of Leeds, England.

N.K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin is the first author in the genre’s history to win three consecutive Best Novel Hugo Awards, all for her Broken Earth trilogy. Her work has also won the Nebula, Locus, and Goodreads Choice Awards. Her speculative works range from fantasy to science fiction to the undefinable; her themes include resistance to oppression, the inseverability of the liminal, and the coolness of Stuff Blowing Up. She is currently a reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, and she has been an instructor for the Clarion and Clarion West writing workshops. In her spare time she is a gamer and gardener, and she is also single-handedly responsible for saving the world from KING OZZYMANDIAS, her dangerously intelligent ginger cat, and his phenomenally destructive sidekick Magpie. Her essays and fiction excerpts are available at nkjemisin.com.

Airea D. Matthews

Airea D. Matthews is the author of the poetry collection Simulacra, winner of the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. New Yorker critic Dan Chiasson describes Matthews’s experimental forms in Simulacra as “Fugues, text messages to the dead, imagined outtakes from Wittgenstein, tart mini-operas, fairy tales: Matthews is virtuosic, frantic, and darkly, very darkly, funny.”

Matthews’s work has appeared in Callaloo, Best American Poets 2015, Harvard Review, American Poet, and elsewhere. She was awarded a 2016 Rona Jaffe Writers’ Foundation Award, the 2016 Louis Untermeyer Scholarship from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a 2015 Kresge Literary Arts award as well as fellowships from Cave Canem, Callaloo, and the James Merrill House. Her current projects include a second book, under/class, which seeks to lyrically deconstruct the accepted narratives around poverty and class. She is an assistant professor at Bryn Mawr College where she directs the creative writing program.


Sheree Renée Thomas

Sheree Renée Thomas is an award-winning fiction writer, poet, and editor. Her work is inspired by myth and folklore, natural science and conjure, her roots in Memphis, and in the genius culture created in the Mississippi Delta. Sheree’s stories and poetry explore ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. She is the author of Sleeping Under the Tree of Life (Aqueduct Press), honored with a Publishers Weekly Starred Review and longlisted for the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and of Shotgun Lullabies (2011), described as “a revelatory work like Jean Toomer’s Cane.” Thomas edited the two Dark Matter black speculative fiction volumes that first introduced W. E. B. Du Bois’s work as science fiction, winning two World Fantasy Awards. Her work appears in numerous anthologies and literary journals, including , Revise the Psalm: Work Celebrating the Writing of Gwendolyn Brooks edited by Quraysh Lansana Ali and Sandra Jackson-Opoku, Ghost Fishing: Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology edited by Melissa Tuckey, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South edited by Nikky Finney, Apex Magazine, Callaloo, Fireside Quarterly, African Voices, FIYAH, Jalada, Strange Horizons, So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy, Memphis Noir, Mojo Rising: Contemporary Writers, Mojo: Conjure Stories, Renaissance Noire, Stories for Chip: Tribute to Samuel R. Delany, and Harvard’s Transition. She is the Associate Editor of Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora (Illinois State University, Normal), the Founding Editor of MOJO: Journal of the Black Speculative Arts Movement, and the co-editor of Trouble the Waters: Tales of the Deep Blue (forthcoming 2019 from Rosarium).

Honored with fellowships from Breadloaf Environmental, the Millay Colony of Arts, Smith College, the New York Foundation of the Arts, VCCA, Cave Canem Foundation, and the Tennessee Arts Commission among others, Thomas’s multigenre writing explores the hidden wonders in the invisible. Her stories have received Notable Mention in the Year’s Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy and in several volumes of the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. Her editorial work uncovered a legacy of over a century of black science fiction writing and helped launch the careers of some of the most exciting new voices in the field. Look for her first all-fiction collection, Nine Bar Blues, forthcoming from Third Man Books in 2020. Visit her on Twitter @blackpotmojo and on Instagram @shereereneethomas.