“Memory informs, but it’s not where you live,” said Sarah Rosenkrantz, Berkeley High School librarian.
This concept is key to Afrofuturism, a genre of literature where the perspectives, experiences, and culture of Black artists and writers are celebrated within the realms of science fiction.
“Afrofuturism is moving away from the singular narrative of Black History Month being located in the past in the history of enslavement and in the history of colonialism,” Rosenkrantz said. “Folks are writing themselves into the future, creating diverse narratives that build on Black thought, Black mythologies, and make future predictions in science fiction.”
Dive into five book recommendations from Rosenkrantz that explore alternate visions of the future rooted in African Diaspora.
In “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin, the world is ending for the final time. A beautiful blend of science fiction and fantasy, “The Fifth Season” follows the experiences of Essun, a mother and survivor, as she braves an apocalyptic world of magic and murder to find her daughter. “This book takes place far in the future on a planet ravaged by environmental abuse and extreme climate chaos,” Rosenkrantz said. “The presence of generational and collective trauma is explored, as well as ways that people band together in extreme circumstances and find ways to navigate oppressive social structures.”
“Parable of the Sower” by Octavia Butler is a foundational text in Afrofuturism. Writing before the term even existed, Butler was a “barrier breaker who dominated the realm of science fiction,” Rosenkrantz said. “Parable of the Sower” was published in 1993 but takes place in California from 2024 to 2027. The book follows the protagonist, Lauren Olamina, as Los Angeles falls to ruin amidst climate catastrophe and economic collapse. Though it can pose a challenging read, themes of hope and community shine through Butler’s work, making “Parable of the Sower” an important and timely read as we move through the 2020s and beyond.
“The Deep” by Rivers Solomon tells the story of Yetu, the sole holder of her people’s traumatic memories. Yetu is part of an underwater society descended from enslaved African women who were thrown from ships during the transatlantic slave trade. The book was inspired by BHS alumni Daveed Diggs, who wrote a song with the same title. “Memory is a main motif in Afrofuturistic writings,” Rosenkrantz said. “While memory and history roots (writers) in a particular historical experience, they’re using that historical experience to shape a future.” Solomon delves into memory, and how one must reclaim history to shape the future.
“Afrofuturism is not limited to the written word, but can be expressed in a diversity of art forms,” Rosenkrantz said. Similarly to Solomon’s “The Deep”, Janelle Monáe’s short story collection “In the Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer”, is based on the world of her 2018 music album “Dirty Computer”. An Afrofuturistic and cyberpunk collection, Monáe’s short stories explore themes of memory, censorship, race, and sexuality. Science fiction allows readers to teleport to new realities but has historically ignored the diverse cultures and people who make up the world, and Afrofuturism works to combat that.
“Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda” is an anthology made up of 18 short stories from authors across the African Diaspora. Each narrative dives into the different lives of the people and places of Wakanda, the home of T’challa (king of the region and superhero known as Black Panther). “Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda” is an incredible and relevant example of “taking about things that are rooted in African cultures and pushing them out technologically speaking into the future…as opposed to using a white cultural narrative to predict into the future,” Rosenkrantz said.