Recently, in the popular State of Black Science Fiction Facebook group, which has well over 12,000 members, a new member commented “Along with a bunch of other readers, I’m starving for paranormal and sf books with more diverse characters. Skin color, background, ages, classes.”

I told her “Then, you’re in the right place, sister. Plenty of that here. Welcome home!”

Since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign started with a simple Twitter exchange between authors Ellen Oh and Malinda Lo about the lack of diversity in children’s literature on April 17, 2014, we have seen tremendous support for more diversity in fiction on social media.

However, there is still a LOT more work to be done to make #WeNeedBLACKBooks, specifically, a reality.

Why?

There are several reasons, however, let’s begin by pointing out a couple of things when it comes to publishing’s relationship to diversity:

  1. The publishing industry is whiter than Trump, eating a mayo sandwich, at a Klan rally in Omaha.

From fictional characters, to their creators, to their editors, the publishing industry is staggeringly white, male and middle-class.

Employment-wise, the publishing industry, as a whole, is not much better than the fiction it produces, with indications things are actually getting WORSE as publishers poach executive talent from the notoriously white and male tech sector.

And…

  1. People are the stories they tell

Fiction informs – and forms – the way we see ourselves and the world around us. If you only read about yourself as the savage, the thug, the whore, the single parent, or, if you are a hero at all, you are the sidekick, or the “Hattie McDaniel-type,” who is only there to make the REAL hero feel better about himself (yes, HIMself, because women are rarely heroes either).

Non-inclusion, or poor inclusion is what most books offer us. So, then, what do we become? What do we aspire to? Perception ALWAYS precedes action. You want to improve how a person acts, improve how they see themselves – THIS is why works of Black Speculative fiction and Black images on the cover of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror books are important and essential.

Oh, and by the way, if you truly desire to see a change in our representation in speculative – and all other – fiction, then buying Black Speculative Fiction is not enough; you have to READ the books; TALK ABOUT the books with honest enthusiasm; REVIEW them. Yep… review them.

Tweeting out that automatic Amazon link that tells the world you bought a book might get someone to go and look at it, but unless you talk about it, why should anyone be persuaded to give it a try? Buying books is about putting money in authors’ pockets, which is important – that way we can keep writing – but that is not reader enthusiasm, it is reader subsidy. Actually discussing a book, whether you bought it or got it from the library or borrowed it from a friend, is more likely to lead to new readers than just buying it.

So, readers and authors, let’s work TOGETHER to make the much needed change in our representation.

Authors, let’s write great works of speculative fiction in which BLACK  people (people of African descent) see ourselves as the heroes and sheroes; in which there are Black couples and Black families and Black people doing ordinary AND extraordinary things. It is okay. Trust me. If your story is well written, well-plotted and interesting, other people will read it, too.

Readers, once again, please discuss what you read – whether you liked the book or hated it; discuss it. Tell people what you liked; what you hated; and why. Write a review. Reviews really help authors get more readers and, in turn, write more books. A review does not have to be elaborate. You don’t have to be the Siskel and Ebert of Black Speculative Fiction. A short paragraph or two and a rating – FIVE stars for MY books, of course (just kidding; sort of) – is all that’s required.

If you don’t know where to start, I provided a list of great Black authors of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I WILL be expanding this list in the coming weeks, so check back often.

Also, join the State of Black Science Fiction group if you are a creator, fan, or supporter of Black Speculative Fiction.

#BlackHeroesMatter. #WeNeedBlackBooks.

Be the change.

 

About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at https://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Afrikan.Martial.Arts; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at www.tumblr.com/blog/blackspeculativefiction.

3 responses »

  1. Fujimoto says:

    Great article, Balogun, and it’s great seeing another article from you! Because of you, I make more of an effort to review books now. Very true about the publishing industry; so many gatekeepers that make it hard for marginalized writers.

    Have you heard of the novel Before She Ignites? It’s a fantasy featuring a Black girl as the protagonist, even having a Black model who posed for the cover, but the author is White. There’s been backlash about how the first major publisher-distributed fantasy novel with a Black model on the cover is being written by a White woman because that honor really should have gone to a Black author.

    • Balogun says:

      Thanks, Fujimoto! Gonna check out Before SHe Ignites. Thanks!

      • Fujimoto says:

        You’re welcome! While you’re at it, check out L. L. McKinney, one of the authors complaining about Before She Ignites. She has a great-looking book of her own in the works called A Blade So Black that also has a Black heroine (and McKinney herself is Black).

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