Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism

What if...?

Featuring Wild Seed by Octvia E. Butler

  • Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler (Featured book of Readers Retreat 2022)
  • Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Of One Blood, or, The Hidden Self by Pauline Hopkins
  • Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
  • Dark Matter edited by  Sheree R. Thomas

What is Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism?

Although the artistic and aesthetic practice pre-dates 1994 by many decades, the term “Afrofuturism” was coined in Mark Dery’s 1994 essay, “Black to the Future.” He used the term as a way to characterize the artistic work African American artists had been creating that placed Black ways of being in an advanced technological future. 

Historically, Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism has and continues to embrace so much more than what Dery laid out in his essay. As an aesthetic, Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism bridges art, literature, and music. It uses a Black cultural lens to take in the past and the present and creates a speculative future or an alternative present for us to grapple with. Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism begins with the premise that there can be a future for Black and African-descended people that either begins with Black liberation or provides a clear pathway towards Black liberation. For all of us, the genre opens doorways to new ways to engage with natural environments, new ways to create community, and new ways to survive and thrive.  

The series

The five books highlighted in our Afrofuturism & Africanfuturism featured reads list provide just over a century-long look at the evolution of Black speculative writing. This impressive breadth of texts begins with Portland born and Boston raised writer Pauline Hopkins’s serialized novel Of One Blood (1902-1903), carries us into 1980 with influential writer Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, and leaves us in the current moment, looking ahead to the genre’s future with innovative and contemporary writers like Justina Ireland and Nnedi Okorafor.  

 The variety and depth contained in this list is also something of note. As a literary genre, Afrofuturist and Africanfuturist texts address a wide range of humanity issues, including war, genocide, oppression, spirituality, history, illness, plague, and philosophy. These themes are tackled in a variety of settings: new worlds created by the author; worlds that are future or past iterations of the time and place we all inhabit now; worlds that are parallel to, but different from our current world. This list of five texts provides a sampling of all of these thematic and contextual combinations. As an example, in Sheree’s Thomas’s edited collection, Dark Matter, readers will find a contemporary story about a Black vampire in Chicago in the year 1927 alongside a story by W.E.B. DuBois (published in 1920) about the aftermath of a comet touching down in New York City and killing everyone, save two people.