If you have not heard the name Nnedi Okarafor, you will soon enough! The Nigerian-American author has made a name for herself through her African based science fiction, fantasy and magical realism novels that both children and adults can enjoy. Instead of following the mould of traditional science fiction writers, Nnedi writes what she calls ‘Afrofuturism’ by weaving African culture into evocative narratives, masterfully combining elements of complex politics and lyrical fantasy.
In a TEDx talk Nnedi explains the difference between traditional science fiction and that of Afrofuturism by using an analogy of the octopus. According to Nnedi, the octopus is one of the most intelligent creatures on earth. However, the intelligence of the octopus and that of human beings is different, as they evolved from different evolutionary lines. This means that the foundation of intelligence is different.
She further explains that the same can be said about the foundations of various forms of science fiction. Western science fiction has always been criticised as having a pervasive white, male culture and a gender equality problem– a view shared by Nnedi. As such, it is difficult for women and people of colour to identify with the traditional sci-fi characters and narratives.
Think of Mary Shelley’s Frakenstein. This traditional classic was written by a woman, yet the main characters are all male, and represent different aspects of heteronormative male identity.
Nnedi’s stories offer her readers something more. Take the Binti novella trilogy, one of Nnedi’s most well-known works, which narrates the story of a traditional African girl from a traditional African home, who leaves the planet in order to seek education from an extraterrestrial world that is very different from her own. She leaves the planet, carrying with her identity and her culture, leaving behind her family and everything she knows in her quest of knowledge.
According to Nnedi, she did not write this story to reflect traditional space operas; rather she wanted to write a story where an African girl was able to leave her planet (home) on her own terms. This is a narrative many young African girls will be able to identify with. While no African girl will be leaving for Jupiter in the near future, many girls sacrifice a lot find opportunities to study overseas, out of Africa, in an alien territory surrounded by an alien culture.
Nnedi’s work as a writer is important because while Black women’s literature spans every genre imaginable, there are very few Black women in speculative fiction. These stories are important as they allow us temporary moments of escape while allowing us to interpret our own place in the world.
Nnedi’s Afrofuturistic stories are gaining popularity in mainstream culture. So much so that HBO has offered to adapt her novel Who Fears Death into a TV show. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic Africa so it would be exciting to see how Nnedi’s vision and story come to life. Additionally, it has also been confirmed that Nnedi will be writing stories for Marvel’s Black Panther hero.
Nnedi, is definitely someone to keep your eye on and hopefully her contributions will succeed in presenting a different story of African heroines and heroes.