SF in (South) Africa (31: Afrofuturism V Africanfuturism? May 2020)

Over the recent past few years there has been a debate about the ‘correct’ terminology of SF texts, as written variously by African Americans V the African diaspora V African ‘continental’ writers. Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American SFF writer at the heart of the debate. For an overview, see Vaatanen’s Afro- versus African futurism in Nnedi Okorafor’s “The Magical Negro” and “Mother of Invention” in Vector 289 (2019). Nnedi herself gives a definition on her website, dated October 19th, 2019, here.

For an academic coverage, I have kind permission from Prof. Jane Bryce at the University of the West Indies to highlight and make available her (2019) paper ‘African Futurism: Speculative Fictions and ‘Rewriting the Great Book.’ This article appeared in Research in African Literatures , 50(1), Spring, and the original source is acknowledged and located in the title link to the paper, directly above.

Abstract: This paper examines a number of African-authored narratives (novels and film) in the light of recent thinking about futurism and the role of speculative fiction as a means of envisioning the future. Uppinder Mehan, co-editor of the first ever anthology of “postcolonial science fiction and fantasy,” So Long Been Dreaming, notes that postcolonial writing has rarely “pondered that strange land of the future” and warns, “If we do not imagine our futures, postcolonial peoples risk being condemned to be spoken about and for again” (Mehan, 270).

Kodwo Eshun, in a seminal essay, expands on this to argue that, while the “practice of counter memory as . . . an ethical commitment to history, the dead and the forgotten” has traditionally relegated futurism to the sidelines of black creativity, this has been progressively challenged by “contemporary African artists . . . [for whom] understanding and
intervening in the production and distribution of this dimension constitutes
a chrono-political act” (292). The paper proposes that this chrono-political act (what in literature we now call speculative fiction) has its roots in African modes of storytelling that draw on myth, orality, and indigenous belief systems that lend themselves to the invention of personal mythologies, the rewriting of history in the light of future realities, and the use of extra-realist or magical phenomena as part of the everyday. Since these elements characterize many novels not thought of as speculative, this suggests that futurism has been a strain in African writing from its inception. The turn from mythic revisioning to speculative fiction as a distinct and recognizable genre in the 21st century has notably been embraced by women writers such as Nnedi Okorafor and Lauren Beukes, in whose work gender/femininity is a determinant in the projection of imagined futures.

The paper examines how speculative narrative strategies in a range of texts are brought to bear on specific historical situations on the African continent (those characterized, for example, by genocide, civil war, cross-continental migration, urban dereliction, xenophobia, violence, and the occult) and the potential futures to which they point. The paper argues, therefore, that such narratives, rather than being relegated to the category of fantasy, deserve attention as key indicators of futuristic thinking.

Africa owning its own future then, by experimenting with fictional extrapolations in Africanfuturisms.

And, for further exploration of Afrofuturism V Africanfuturism, coming out later this year (August, 2020) in America is Literary Afrofuturism in the Twenty-First Century, by Isiah Lavender III and Lisa Yaszek.

The debates roll on, into the future…

Nick Wood /April, 2020