Back before the height of genre popularity, most books were classified as just ‘sci-fi & fantasy’ even though the two areas of the genre tended to be very different from one another. You had your space operas and your epic fantasy worlds all living together under one umbrella. Now that there is more distinction in the subgenres, it is both easier and harder to categorize speculative fiction. In our previous lists we talked about authors who are prominent in either science fiction or fantasy. For this one we are going to take a look at the black authors who write sci-fi and fantasy, or sometimes mix them together to cross genre lines.
Reading genre fiction should expand your horizons, open your mind to new ideas. In order to be better allies, white people everywhere must work to understand the black experience. And one of the ways to do that is to read their work, and amplify black voices. To that end, we have compiled a list of black authors who write genre fiction. Do the work, read their words, and stand up against injustice, just like so many genre heroes would do.
We have covered some of these authors before in our lists for black history month. But reading black voices should not be limited to one month. Put these authors in your rotation and read them all year round.
We will be publishing several articles over the next few days with lists of black genre authors. For easy reference, we will be breaking down the categories into subgenres of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, and Authors Who Do Both. If you don’t see your favorite on this list, never fear. They are probably included in another category.
The Cross-Genre Authors Who Defy Easy Categorization
P. Djèlí Clark
Image via Tor
P. Djèlí Clark is one of the black sci-fi and fantasy authors who mixes genres when writing. His novels are classified as science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and steampunk. Often all in one novel, as is the case for his 2018 title The Black God’s Drums. This book involves airships and goddesses of Yoruba, an unexpected combination. Clark’s background as a historian certainly influences his writing, as he brings oft-ignored time periods and places to life in fascinating ways.
Photo by Laura Hanifin via the Author’s Website
We have written about the work of N.K. Jemisin before, as she is one of the prominent black authors leading the genre into the future. She is the winner of so many awards, and her Broken Earth trilogy consistently ranks at the top of our lists. Jemisin’s triple Hugo Award winning Broken Earth trilogy beautifully blends the genres to create a ‘science fantasy.’ However, her excellent Inheritance series – about gods living amongst mortals – is definitely fantasy.
Jemisin is also one of the many black sci-fi and fantasy authors who works in comic books. She is currently writing the Green Lantern series Far Sector. Her most recent novel The City We Became is ‘urban fantasy,’ with plenty of science fiction elements. Jemisin is a writer who breaks down barriers naturally. She navigates the space between science fiction and fantasy that allows her to ask powerful questions, and find the answers in the liminal.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
“I am deeply interested in post-humanism and how our pasts connect with our futures and present. I’m interested in African and Arab cultures and how they both battle and blend and I’m coming at this not as a researcher, but as a participant. I’m interested in technology and spirituality and how they blend and what happens when they blend.”
Photo by Christina Orlando via the Author’s Website
“Writers are in the business of mythmaking and imaginings, and imaginings are what, among other things, power resistance movements. Things can be better is an act of imagining, and writing concretizes that in very discrete fashion. Another element of mythmaking, particularly among marginalized communities, is an unveiling. Black writers revealing to a wider audience the interiority—the SOULS—of black folk.”
Image via Simon & Schuster
Rivers Solomon “writes about life in the margins” where they reside as a queer black author (and self proclaimed anarchist). Solmon’s debut novel An Unkindness of Ghosts blends science fiction and fantasy, and LGBTQ elements. This futuristic novel takes place aboard a worldship where the last of humanity resides, searching for a ‘mythical promised land.’ The book delves deeply into racial segregation and the generational trauma that haunts people of color. Last year Solomon published a novella – The Deep – about an underwater society of black mermaids born from the African slave women who were thrown overboard in generations past. The Deep was inspired by a song of the same name by rap group Clipping.
Deeply imaginative with a distinct voice that draws from many areas, Solomon addressed how they break down boundaries between genres in an interview
“It probably won’t surprise anyone to hear me say that boundaries between genres are not borders to be respected so much as walls to tear down. I can’t imagine being a writer of only one genre, and I find that most of the time, even works that I’m writing to fit a particular genre are influenced by my experience of other genres… When someone wants to read a literary book, are they expecting that the story will take place in a space ship? Probably not! But I resent any implication that richly-told, deeply-human stories can’t take place on space ships.”
You can read Solomon’s short story Blood Is Another Word For Hunger for free online at Tor. Their next book Sorrowland will is due out in 2021.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.