International (i.e. African) sf

I’ve just enjoyed a fascinating talk by Lisa Yaszek, presented as part of the Writing Another Future symposium going on right now at the University of Illinois.

The topic as presented on their website was “International Science Fiction,” but her slides were headlined “Writing Black Futures,” which was a more accurate title.

The talk mainly presented a structure for organizing African science fiction, dividing it into three categories US Afrofuturism (1850–1960), Atlantic Afrofuturism (1960–present), and African Afrofuturism (1980–present). Her organizing principle seems to be just as stated in the title—the periods were categorized by how the authors viewed the futures of people of African descent—and how those views were influence by (and illuminated) how they viewed their pasts. She also talked about shifting themes of how blacks are viewed by white society—from invisibility to misrepresentation to afro-pessimism.

She talked about several African sf writers that I wasn’t familiar with: Kwasi A. Kwakwa and Jonathan Dotse both sound like people I’d like to read more of.

There was some time for questions at the end. One person asked about how so much African sf is written in English. Yaszek seemed to think it came down to two things. One was the size of the market. No African country, not even South Africa, is big enough to sustain a publisher of just African sf, and writing in English gives you access to a global market. The other was that writing about technology and its impact on the future requires the words to talk about technology, and the vocabulary of technology is all in English.

I asked about Nnedi Okorafor and Tobias Buckell. She was familiar with both (although she made the classic error of inserting an “n” into Toby’s last name). She admitted to having read little of Toby’s fiction, but extravagantly praised his writing about sf. Having coming to Toby’s writing through his fiction, I found that an interesting perspective.

Now I’m heading right back out to hear Kim Stanley Robinson’s keynote for the symposium!