Writing The Stories We Haven’t Heard: Black Narratives in Science Fiction and Why Writing Them Now Matters
I am often asked what my journey has been like, and as someone passionate about personal growth, I find it hard to boil it down into just a few words. So instead of giving you a short answer, I’m sharing why I started writing my first novel, “Time Traveler’s Digest.”
As a child, I was always told that I could do anything I wanted to. This simple statement had a profound effect on my life and has helped me to become the man I am today.
I grew up in a “big city with a small town feel, ” and from a young age, I knew that my destiny was to become an author someday. Raised in a Christian household by a single mother, she always supported my dreams, never pushed me toward them, nor discouraged me from pursuing other interests (within reason). She told me that whatever happened was up to me — that the only thing holding me back was myself. She also taught me that success comes with hard work and dedication — and not just any kind of dedication will do; you have to make sacrifices.
Singing was my first love and was the easiest thing to do. I even spent time during the awkward stages of puberty, where I learned how to play an instrument, read music (which I’ve since forgotten), and studied music theory. While in high school, I took several creative writing classes and thought I had never won any awards. However, after graduating from high school, I went into banking because it seemed like a more stable option than being a singer or a writer.
Now, at 46, I am a self-made published writer and author. It took me 25 years to get here, but this is my journey. I’ve been working on my craft for a long time, and it’s been an incredible journey.
I started writing seriously about five years ago while living in Jacksonville, Florida. I worked for a nonprofit organization as an operations manager for a public park. I had just begun dabbling in fiction writing. It wasn’t until recently while researching my book for me, that I saw a place in an unsaturated space of Black fiction writers. It occurred to me that very few people of my ethnic persuasion were depicted as protagonists in all the books I’ve read throughout my life. It made me feel very sad, and then it made me angry.
Did you know that out of 2,000 published stories each year, only an average of 2% of people wrote of color?
That’s right — in a country where African Americans make up 13% of the population, we are woefully underrepresented in the media. That’s not even considering the number of stories written by non-Black people about Black people.
As a reader and frequent visitor to the library, I noticed that rare books on African-American subjects were often kept in a separate area of the collection known as “African-American Literature” or marked with a “Black Interest” sticker to ensure they could be easily identified.
Then I began to think back to historical moments when books were destroyed, either by vandalism or fire. My book is set in ancient Egypt, Africa during the burning of The Great Library of Alexandria. It makes me wonder if African scribes and their contemporaries wrote many of the scrolls housed there.
Now, as a Black American writer of speculative and time travel fiction, I’ve been asked the question, “Why write about time travel?” many times over the course of my career. I had this gnawing feeling and desire to tell stories that featured characters of color which took on otherworldly adventures, soaring through space and traveling back in time. Of course, stories about time travel had been written over the last hundred years — but they were not Black narratives. I’m sure there are young writers of color who might have had similar thoughts about their work.
Why is this important?
Inequality isn’t just about race. It’s about all aspects of our lives — and the media we consume significantly impacts how we think about ourselves, one another, and the world around us.
The reason for this is apparent: black people are not seen as “relatable” enough to be protagonists in our culture. We see this reflected in the media all the time. When movies and TV shows are made with predominantly white casts, they’re usually set in a world where everyone else is white.
Why Stories With Black Protagonists Are Key to a Child’s Anti-Racist Education; and 10 books to buy, borrow, or gift today. https://cupcakesandcashmere.com/motherhood/why-stories-with-black-protagonists-are-key-to-a-childs-anti-racist-education
The pharaoh may have long gone, but his nose remains. We are still here, largely underrepresented and massively under-appreciated, and we are constantly suppressed by algorithms when sharing our truths. All we desire is equality and fairness in media.
It’s time to change that. It’s about time we started telling our own stories! In an age where colonialism is the dominant force in many parts of the world, science fiction stories often focus on white people. This erasure of non-white people from science fiction media has negative consequences.
Some argue that writing black stories will somehow make science fiction less universal. They argue that it is necessary to write white stories to be dubbed “sophisticated” in terms of writing. However, this theory is flawed because the very nature of science fiction is based on the concept of “what if.” What if a civilization suddenly fell? What if we learned new languages? What if the earth was destroyed? The whole concept of Science Fiction is built around questioning the norm and asking what would happen.
What the medium requires is a diversity of voices to be heard. It’s essential to be exposed to stories about the lives of those who are often excluded because first-hand knowledge can make all the difference. This is why Black science fiction writers are so necessary. Why more diversity in science fiction is important. And most of all, why writing Black voices now matters.
We believe in our stories and that they add value to what appears on mainstream shelves. Not only does it provide Black people with the opportunity to see themselves in a heroic light, but there is also room for us all to reflect on and discuss issues affecting our real lives and communities today.
In the end, imagining new worlds and characters is a powerful process that can be used to highlight pain and history, but also make room to share love and joy.
I’d like to end with a quote by Octavia E. Butler, an extraordinarily talented science fiction writer:
“Each detail of a person’s background and culture defines who they are.”