The death of Chadwick Boseman last week revealed the ability of art to imagine new, daring possibilities for the future. In his roles as T’Challa, Jackie Robinson, and James Brown, Boseman expertly portrayed Black icons and heroes, providing visions of hope by embodying individuals who challenged power narratives. That is, in many ways, the core of Afrofuturism, a tradition represented in a long line of books written by Black writers such as Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany. These writers dared to build worlds infused with elements of magical realism, fantasy, and technological innovation to realize dreams of resistance and freedom.
Afrofuturism draws from the history of the African diaspora to imagine liberatory possibilities for the future. In his essay about writing the Black Panther comic, Ta-Nehisi Coates described how comics go beyond escapism, offering potent critiques of society. Nalo Hopkinson’s prophetic 1998 novel Brown Girl in the Ring and Lesley Nneka Arimah’s 2017 short-story collection What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky depict nightmarish futures, though the tenacity of their characters provides solutions for transcendence. In Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi taps into West African folklore to tell a story that resonates with the history of racial violence that informs today’s protests.
Afrofuturism’s power extends further than long-overdue representation in science fiction for women and people of color. The genre examines the intricacies of race, class, gender, and sexuality to create worlds. As N. K. Jemisin told The Atlantic’s staff writer Vann R. Newkirk II in 2016: “It does take people who understand systems of power, who understand the complexities of how people interact with each other to depict that.”
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.
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