Tales from the Mothership

Richard Lin/HIGHLANDER
Richard Lin/HIGHLANDER

With Black History Month reaching its end, we’ve delved into many aspects of African American culture. We’ve acknowledged the accomplishments of great individuals and explored the works of great African American men and women. However, the list is still growing as African Americans across the globe are still striving to make an impact on the world around us.

One of the many areas that African Americans are striving to gain recognition in is the world of science fiction and fantasy. On Thursday, Feb. 20, African Student Programs (ASP) held “Tales from the Mothership,” a discussion of Afrofuturism in the genre of science fiction and fantasy, led by creative writing professor Nalo Hopkinson. The award-winning Hopkinson has written six novels and a short story collection which focus on Afrofuturism and science fiction. During the event, Hopkinson had the pleasure of sharing her work and the work of many of her colleagues in the Afrofuturism movement.

Eventgoers were greeted by a satirical comic strip of a young African American child going to a bookstore, where a “Colored Only” section contains books on slavery and “race stuff,” while he is holding a Harry Potter book. ASP’s Student Affairs Officer, Rhiannon Little, took to the podium to introduce Hopkinson, who began by defining science fiction and fantasy. Through several slides containing photos of popular movies like “The Avengers,” “Monsters Inc.” and “Avatar,” and television shows like “Star Trek,” Hopkinson displayed attendees with popular conceptions of science fiction and fantasy.

She expressed that the general theme of science fiction and fantasy is dealing with beings who are different than us. Hopkinson then presented eventgoers with her own definition of science fiction and fantasy: stories dealing with how human beings always change the world around them. “Modern stories how we change the world come from white people. Every culture has stories about changing the world,” Hopkinson stated.

With that, she quickly delved into the definition of Afrofuturism. “It is a literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity and magical realism with non-Western cosmologies,” Hopkinson explained. Hopkinson said the goal of it all is to “critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color but events of the past.”

Hopkinson introduced the audience to the works of several artists in the movement. At one point, “you could count the black science fiction novelists on one hand,” Hopkins stated as she took us through the works of Samuel B. Delany, Octavia Butler and Nnedi Okorafor were all put up for display. Steven Barnes’ “Lion’s Blood” told the story of a world in which the dynamics of slavery were reversed. Tananarive Due’s “My Soul to Keep” was an African take on vampires. And Jeremy Love’s “Bayou” told of an alternate-reality land of gods and monsters south of the Mason-Dixon Line, born from a history of slavery, civil war and hate.

But the Afrofuturism movement goes beyond just novels. Hopkinson introduced artists of different mediums who promoted the movement. From Sun Ra of The Arkestra, a jazz musician of the ‘60s who performed under the guise of an alien, to Jean Michel Basquiat’s artworks like “Notary.” Even Dwayne McDuffie’s comic book “Static Shock” was noted. Musicians like Andre 3000 and Janelle Monae were given an honorable mention.

For students with budding interest in the subject, Hopkinson made sure to promote the Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies (SFTS) program, which explores the intersections linking science fiction, science and technology studies.

“Sometimes people want to write a story with black people in it … And, blacks like reading science fiction but can’t find any written by us,” Hopkinson explained. The event ended with a brief discussion on popular shows like “True Blood” and “The Walking Dead.” Hopkinson discussed that many popular television shows are set in the South, but have African American characters in supporting roles, like that of Lafayette and Tara, two recurring characters on “True Blood.” “It’s vampires against everyone else, but real racism is played as a joke,” Hopkinson said.

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