Afrofuturism and the future of storytelling

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By Ashley Lisenby

Digital Editor

The aesthetic explored in Afrofuturism, says author and filmmaker Ytasha Womack, has existed throughout the Black Diaspora. Writers such as Octavia E. Butler and W.E.B. Du Bois were writing about black identity years ago, she says. 

People, however, she adds, are just rediscovering these works.

"Afrofuturism is a great opportunity to explore storytelling and boundless creativity," according to Womack.

In this age of rediscovery, there is also an emerging group creating their own work that is confronting, exploring and reshaping ideas surrounding blackness, notes the author. 

Womack, with works such as Afrofuturism: The World of Black SciFi and Fantasy Culture, Post Black: How a New Generation is Redefining African American Identity, and Beats, Rhymes and Life: What We Love & Hate About Hip-Hop, can be counted as one of the genre's leading voices.

Her interest in science fiction began at an early age with an introduction to superheroes and comic books. Over time, she became more interested in the relationship between science and history, which became the foundation of her writing.

As a black woman who grew up on the South Side, there was a certain kind of story Womack perceived people expected her to tell, one that perhaps involved an urban or Southern context.

"I didn't want to be limited by those lanes," said Womack, who attended Clark Atlanta University.

Rayla, the main character in Womack's newest novel RAYLA 2212, which launched in April at the Chicago Comic Con, is one of her favorite characters because she "transcends norms." The character is a war strategist on Planet Hope, a former colony of Earth that has claimed its independence and is on a mission to save a group of New Age Astronauts called "The Missing."

While the protagonist in Womack's tale is complex, even vulnerable — and the work as a whole is distinguishable because of its Afrofuturism aesthetic — it also addresses a universal theme: love.

"Afrofuturism," Womack says, "connects black culture to other topics. It is a great platform for starting discussions and community building."

For author Bill Campbell, he has plenty of experiences under his belt. The Pittsburgh native and Northwestern University alum is not only a writer who explores science fiction and African Diaspora themes, but a publisher. Campbell is also a former AmeriCorps volunteer, as well as a music critic and English language teacher in the Czech Republic.

Though Campbell maintains he's "not into definitions" when explaining his work, he does see Afrofuturism as an artistic movement spanning different disciplines.

"It is global and quite disparate and, to me, incredibly hard to pin down in just a few words. I think that's why I like it so much," he says. "There are so many possibilities within Afrofuturism — and within all of us.

"Some of my own work could be classified as Afrofuturism," Campbell adds, noting his works, including  the anthology, Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond.

His first novel, Sunshine Patriots, he describes as a bit of "Rastafarian science fiction." 

As for who or what inspired and influenced his work, Campbell says there are way too many to count, but two of his biggest are Reed and Samuel R. Delany, and his main influence is Zora Neale Hurston.

"You could say that Delany really got me into science fiction. Reed inspired me to write satire, and Hurston drove me into really studying the culture. Of course, Michel Foucault had a large hand in all of it, too, teaching me to look beyond face value and look at power relationships."

As to whether Afrofuturism is a necessary literary art form, Campbell says definitely. "One of the reasons I love science fiction so much is that it gives the writer and their audience the space to delve into issues that they might not delve into otherwise. There are so many issues confronting us today (not just as black people but as a global community) that need to be discussed. Afrofuturism is a useful way to discuss those things." 

Ashley Lisenby is digital editor for Austin Weekly News

Contact:
Email: ashley@austinweeklynews.com Twitter: @AustinWeeklyChi

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