Ytash Womack as her sci-fi character, Rayla Illmatic.Ytash Womack as her sci-fi character, Rayla Illmatic.

Two renowned writers and a host of interested attendees talked up black science fiction in literature at a panel discussion and book signing in Oak Park July 10.  

Authors Bill Campbell and Ytasha Womack, along with 30 attendees, discussed the power and mindset behind “Afrofuturism” during Thursday’s event at Oak Park’s main public library at Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue. 

The book signing was the first time the two met face to face though they’re well aware of each other’s work. The authors educated the crowd on the definition of Afrofuturistic science fiction. 

The term “Afro Future” was created in 1993 by Mark Dery, who created one of the first black science fiction films called Black to the Future. The film shows how blacks in America were kin to Aliens in the future. Afro Future as a term, the author’s noted, actually identifies what’s been going on for years, as African American characters weren’t present enough in science fiction. 

 “I mean, fun reading involves us all,” Campbell said. “Until the term, people felt isolated with their ideas. I look at it as an equivalent to hip hop, mainstream but not to where it is taking over. I mean, it’s hard to write cross-culturally; wouldn’t say that [white sci-fi authors] completely failed, but some of them have.

Womack, a Chicago native and award-winning filmmaker, got her start in writing as a journalist working for the Chicago Defender. A graduate from Clark Atlantic, Womack is currently pursuing another degree in music at Columbia University.

What inspired the two was author Octavia Butler, a science fiction writer whose books including Wild Seed and Parable of the Sower. The two works showed an alternative reality on race from the black perspective. Womack says she loves Afro Future books and writes novels she can see herself in.

“I write what I want to read. I struggled to see myself in these stories, not because I am a woman, but because the stories I thought of didn’t fit what was being shown,” she said. “We hope to keep pushing this idea until it is no longer relevant.”

Afrofuturistic science fiction is not just about evolving the concepts of African Americans in comic books and other mediums, but also bringing back that child imagination, said fellow writer Floyd Webb, who attended Thursday’s book signing. 

“We have to engage our children, but it’s like we’re banned by American history. [Afrofuturism] installs history, imagination and action that are equal to reality. We have to give these images back to the kids,” Webb said.


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