Readers Retreat 2022

Book Ballot

Winning book:
Wild Seed by Octavia Butler


Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism: What if…?

With so many strange and horrifying things happening in the world, so many things changing quickly for better and for worse, so many old patterns of power, disparity and oppression entrenched, and the future as uncertain as it always was, only feeling a little more so, 
what if we could turn to Afrofuturist and Africanfuturist literature to show us a way forward?  

Afrofuturist and Africanfuturist speculative fiction lets us ask, what if…?  

Narratives of imaginary times and places, of things that exist far, far away and in times long ago or still to come can be a powerful avenue for contemplation and creative engagement with the problems and possibilities of living.  

‘Afrofuturism,’ ‘Africanfuturism,’ and ‘Speculative fiction’ are broad categories that include but aren’t limited to science fiction, fantasy, alternative history. What if now’s a great time for imagining?  

Our Book Selection Committee

Maine Humanities Council worked with a brilliant committee of Maine readers and thinkers to develop a ballot of books for Readers Retreat 2022.

Evadne Bryan-Perkins (she/her) is a Black/Wateree River Iswä, Actor, Balladeer, Drummer, Keeper of the Charlie Parker Epigraphs (John Connolly), ASL Girl & Beader. She reads books as one would breathe air, to fill up & live.

LaLa Drew (they/them) experiences life as a Black, queer, nonbinary, transracial adoptee. They are a poetic joy seeker/word weaver, organizer, activist, and healer. They live and love on Unceded Abenaki territory, where they exist with pitbull, Eli. They are also a facilitator and speaker with the Maine Humanities Council.

LeeAnn Floyd (she/her) never actually existed and if I did, I died in a bizarre threshing accident in 1932. Or LeeAnn Floyd is a Black autistic author of Speculative fiction and fantasy in Maine. One of those statements is true.

Daniel Minter (he/him) is a renowned and visionary American artist known for his work in the mediums of painting and assemblage. He is a visual storyteller and accomplished illustrator. Minter teaches at Maine College of Art and is the Co-Founder of Indigo Arts Alliance.

They selected these five books for your consideration, representing a wide range within the genre:

The Ballot

1. Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler 

From NY Times: 

Octavia E. Butler, the only science fiction writer to win a MacArthur Foundation ”genius” grant, has been extending the genre’s reach in unexpected directions during a career that spans three decades…[F]irst published in 1980…its reissue is cause for rejoicing because it brings to a wider audience a mesmerizing tale that combines traditions of African and African-American story-telling with a keen understanding of biological and evolutionary imperatives. Anchoring the far-ranging narrative are two of the strongest characters in modern science fiction: Doro, a more-than-man who has survived into his fourth millennium by jumping from one worn-out body to the next; and Anyanwu, a more-than-woman who has avoided death for 300 years by marshaling her shape-changing abilities, becoming young or old, male or female, as circumstances dictate…[.]Together they travel to the New World, where their titanic battle for ascendancy is played out in a slaveholding society that considers people of African descent to be less than human.

Butler keeps in focus a number of major themes — racial antagonism, the war between the sexes, what it means to be human, freedom versus responsibility — without apparent effort…[.] Wild Seed immerses the reader in uncommon settings and situations presented with such conviction that they never come across as merely exotic. Although it forms part of a series of books known as the Patternmaster series, the novel stands alone as an important work of modern science fiction — as well as a memorable introduction to the consistently rewarding oeuvre of Octavia E. Butler.

2. Of One Blood: Or, The Hidden Self  by Pauline Hopkins 

From Publishers Weekly

Mysticism, horror, and racial identity merge fluidly in this thrilling tale of love, obsession, and power, first serialized in Colored American Magazine from 1902 to 1903. Hopkins (1859–1930) takes readers on a journey from turn of the century Boston to an ancient, long-hidden Ethiopian civilization that will put readers in mind of Wakanda or El Dorado. Reuel Briggs, a white-passing, mixed-race Harvard medical student, falls in love with the enchanting, mixed-race singer, Dianthe Lusk, and in order to offer her a good life once they are married, he takes a job as a researcher on an archeological expedition to Ethiopia. With an ocean between them, Dianthe and Reuel’s relationship faces seemingly insurmountable odds as they encounter dangers both at home and abroad. As Reuel’s journey takes him into the heart of a lost kingdom, he learns a secret about his own identity that changes everything he thought he knew—and puts his future with Dianthe in further jeopardy. The suspense is tangible and the final reveal will leave readers reeling. This easily transcends the Victorian lost world genre to be relevant, thought-provoking, and entertaining today. 

3. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland 

From Publishers Weekly

In this alternate-history horror tale, shortly after Jane McKeene was born, the dead rose and attacked the living, effectively ending the Civil War. A reunified army fought the shambling hordes until Congress passed the Negro and Native Reeducation Act, requiring adolescent children of color to train for battle. At age 14, Jane—who is mixed race—enrolled at Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls, hoping to avoid conscription by becoming a socialite’s bodyguard. Three years later, Jane is close to earning her attendant certificate when she, her ex, and her rival stumble across a dastardly plot hatched by Baltimore’s elite. First in a duology, Ireland’s gripping novel is teeming with monsters—most of them human. Abundant action, thoughtful worldbuilding, and a brave, smart, and skillfully drawn cast entertain as Ireland (Promise of Shadows) illustrates the ignorance and immorality of racial discrimination and examines the relationship between equality and freedom. Mounting peril creates a pulse-pounding pace, hurtling readers toward a nail-biting conclusion that inspires and will leave them apprehensive about what’s to come.  

4. Binti Trilogy
by Nnedi Okorafor

From USA Today: 

Binti is a compact gem of adventure, bravery and other worlds. Nnedi Okorafor efficiently and effectively uses the short format to create a visual, suspenseful ride. And the heroine, Binti, invites us along to participate in her secret mission. From the start she is special and destined for greater things, but without knowing the tests that will challenge her resilience. As a result, her heroism and vulnerabilities grab our attention, holding tight until the end.

From Kirkus Reviews: 

Binti is a supreme read about a smart, edgy Afropolitan in space! It’s a wondrous combination of extra-terrestrial adventure and age-old African diplomacy. Unforgettable! –Wanuri Kahiu, award-winning Kenyan film director of Punzi and From a Whisper

Binti is like Ripley, having to deal with death and drama but in a really clever way that drinks from the pool of who she is. It’s a beautiful, heady, a bit scary, and ultimately fulfilling piece of fiction that made me cry in its last paragraph because of its hopeful, uplifting ending. — Kirkus Reviews

5. Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora edited by Sheree Renée Thomas 

From Kirkus Reviews 

A first anthology of speculative fiction by black writers: 25 stories, 3 novel excerpts, and 5 essays, the oldest piece an 1887 tale of a bewitched vineyard, the majority from this year. Included are a couple of acknowledged classics: Samuel R. Delany’s Aye, and Gomorrah, about the effects on sexual behavior caused by astronauts who are themselves asexual; and Octavia E. Butler’s wrenching masterpiece, The Evening and the Morning and the Night, about a genetic disease whose victims helplessly mutilate themselves. In an excerpt from the 1931 novel Black No More, George S. Schuyler wonders what would happen if black people simply and easily became white. Derrick Bell imagines alien visitors whose only desire is to depart with all America’s blacks. In W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1920 tale, a comet kills everyone in New York except a poor black man and a rich white woman. Other topics encompass: Adam and Eve, vampires, music, modern folk tales, astral traveling, VR, multigenerational starships, female warriors, an American woman caught in the gears of an African civil war, the Ark, Santa, alien contact, UFOs, alien abduction, and robots. The essays are equally fascinating. Delany examines racism and science fiction–it’s largely unconscious but present, he reports. Walter Mosley predicts an imminent explosion of new, black SF writers. Charles R. Saunders becomes generally unhinged about Mike Resnick’s African fables. Paul D. Miller explores music and black identity. And Octavia E. Butler wonders how much reality is too much. Read. Enjoy. Ponder.