Archive for February, 2018

Afrofuture Fridays: An Introduction (A Re-cap) and a Preview (March – Replicating Wakanda)

Join us on March 9th at the Kheprw Institute for Afrofuture Friday: Replicating Wakanda (in our communities).

We will:
-go over the history of Black Panther in comics
-discuss the impact and themes of the movie
-discuss the role of technology in our communities

As always, there will be food, music (the Black Panther soundtrack), and celebration of community.

Sign up via Facebook or Eventbrite.

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I was on a Creating the Future panel a few weeks ago and the topic of Afrofuturism came up. A person there admitted that they thought it meant [depictions of] no white people in the future. In a lot of ways, I do see Afrofuturism as a correction of how rarely black people are portrayed in the future, for example, in the new Blade Runner movie.

Afrofuturism uses art (visual, music, film, literature, fashion) to create a framework to examine our present, that’s rooted in history and looks to the future.

-it mixes sci fi and social justice

-it imagines the future through art and the lens of black experience

-it’s rooted in black people having a better future for ourselves on our terms

Culture critic Mark Dery coined the term in 1994 in his essay “Black to the Future” where he was wondering why so few African Americans embraced sf to tell our stories. By his accounting, there was only Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, Charles Saunders, and Steven Barnes writing in genre. (Coincidentally, 1994 marked the year I first started sending out stories).

To overcome the way society remains unequal, there has to be visions of a future where the problems are solved. Samuel Delany puts it this way: “We need images of tomorrow and out people need them more than most.”

Afrofuturism critiques the way the future looks today.

Afrofuturism provides glimpses of what this might look like.

In pop culture, Afrofuturism has been most popularly seen in music:

-Sun Ra began in the 1950s, using Afrofuture design and creating an entire cosmology for his work. He links his future self to his ancient ancestors in Egypt and believed that the future for black people could be intergalactic. His album “Space is the Place” (1973) is considered a seminal Afrofuture album.

-Parliament-Funkadelic, in the 1970s, envisioned a world where The Struggle is over and we’ve won. About their seminal album, “Mothership Connection” (1975), George Clinton said this: “We had put black people in situations nobody ever thought they would be in, like the White House. I figured another place you wouldn’t think black people would be was in outer space. I was a big fan of Star Trek, so we did a thing with a pimp sitting in a spaceship shaped like a Cadillac, and we did all these James Brown-type grooves, but with street talk and ghetto slang.”

-Outkast/Andre 3000 ruled the 1990s. One album, Aquemeni (1998), featured the song “ATLiens” (a portmanteau of ATL (short for Atlanta) and aliens). It illustrates OutKast’s feeling of disconnection with the world around them, the world they knew which had been created by the idea of race, but also their desire to celebrate their past in Atlanta. In one verse he says:

If not I’ll wait, because the future of the world depends on

If or if not the child we raise gon’ have that nigga syndrome

Or will it know to beat the odds regardless of the skin tone?

Or will it feel that if we tune it, it just might get picked on?

Or will it give a fuck about what others say and get gone?

They alienate-us cause we different keep your hands to the sky

-Janelle Monae is everything. Her albums will eventually form a seven-part concept series called Metropolis, partly inspired by the 1927 film. The storyline revolves around Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time travel to suppress freedom and love. Her second album The ArchAndroid (2010) and features the song “Violet Stars Happy Hunting”:

I’m an alien from outer space (outer space)

I’m a cybergirl without a face a heart or a mind

(a product of the man, I’m a product of the man)

I’m a saviour without a race (without a face)

The video “Q.U.E.E.N.” from her album “The Electric Lady” (2013), plays like a mini-movie by itself.

But we see Afrofuture imagery in artists such as Missy Elliott, Beyonce, Missy Elliott, Grace Jones, Missy Elliott, Solange Knowles, Missy Elliott, Rihanna, and Missy Elliott.

As we turn to literature, Mark Dery’s lament was that Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, Charles Saunders, and Steven Barnes writing were basically holding it down for all of us, but in actually, African Americans had been in speculative fiction for a while. Not too long ago, Kheprw Institute had a discussion about the history of African Americans in speculative fiction. Our work has always done this kind of examination. But the four were the modern giants:

*Charles Saunders – Imaro (1981), created a sub-genre that would come to be known as “sword and soul.”

*Steven Barnes – Lion’s Blood (2002) and Zulu Heart (2003) were alternative histories where an Islamic Africa conquers the world while Europe remains largely tribal and backward.

*Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren (1975) reads like the James Joyce of sf.

*Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower (1993) remains a potent classic. While after the 2016 election sales for the book 1984 suddenly spiked, those in the know pointed to Butler’s novel to examine how we find ourselves where we are. Set in the 2020s where society has largely collapsed due to climate change, growing wealth inequality, and corporate greed, a young woman named Lauren Oya Olamina possesses the gift of hyperempathy. She begins to develop a new belief system, which she comes to call Earthseed. Lauren believes that humankind’s destiny is to travel beyond Earth and live on other planets.

We point so much to Butler’s canon of work it inspired the recent anthology “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements,” a model of developing systems from themes of Afrofuturism.

We’re actually in the middle of a black speculative fiction boom:

N.K. Jemisin – The 5th Season (2015)

Nalo Hopkinson – The Brown Girl in the Ring (1998)

Nisi Shawl – Everfair (2016)

Colson Whitehead – The Underground Railroad (2016)

Nnedi Okorafor – Binti trilogy, Who Fears Death

Afrofuturist art is the intersection of a black cultural lens, technology, liberation, and imagination. It bridges the past and future to critique the present. It creates awareness, raising consciousness, and maps potential futures. It begins with a journey of self-discovery, exploring black identity. It involves a radical imagining as we break apart systemic baggage. It constantly asks “What future do you want to see?” as it imagines alternative visions of tomorrow. It allows conversations about race and oppression that people don’t know how to have.

Our goal with Afrofuturism Fridays is to create a space to imagine and dream of possible futures. We will build a better tomorrow together. And that’s why Afrofuturism represents hope.

Black Panther Countdown…

3 days to go: On the surface they see “Mr. Broaddus,” but never forget underneath I’m always…#blackityblackout18 #blackpanthercountdown

2 days to go: Less than 2% of teachers are black males. Don’t tell me representation is not important.#blackityblackout18 #blackpanthercountdown

2 days to go: Less than 2% of teachers are black males. Don’t tell me representation is not important.#blackityblackout18 #blackpanthercountdown

Wakanda Day 1: I keep thinking there’s something I need to see tonight…

Wakanda Day 2: My outfit is close, but I still think I’m missing something…

Wakanda Day 3: You know what I’m here to see.#blackityblackout18 #blackpanthercountdown

Indianapolis Peeps: Afrofuture Fridays and a Booksigning Saturday

First off, new Patreon stuff has been uploaded (with more coming tomorrow). For those wanting critiques as support levels, they’re now available. Check out my Patreon and thanks for the support!

Over at the Kheprw Institute, on the second Friday evenings of the month, I’ll be leading a discussion called Afrofuturism Fridays. Afrofuturism will be our framework to re-examine events of the past, critique the present day dilemmas of the African Diaspora, and create a space to imagine and dream of possible futures. Over a shared meal we’ll discuss such things as art (Jean-Michel Basquiat), film (Pumzi), literature (Octavia Butler, Nnedi Okorafor), and music (Parliament-Funkadelic, Sun Ra). We will build a better tomorrow together.

Then on Saturday February 10th, I will be doing a book-signing at Barnes & Noble at The Shops at River Crossing (8675 River Crossing Blvd, Indianapolis, IN) from 3-5 p.m. They’ll have copies of The Voices of Martyrs and Buffalo Soldier there. It’s an “Ask an Author” event to benefit for the Indiana Writers Center. So if people present the “code” at check out (just say you are there shopping for IWC), 10% of the purchase will be paid to IWC. This actually goes any time through the whole day, not just the book signing and includes anything available in the store (coffee, toys, truffles, etc.). Hope to see you there!

 

El is a Spaceship Melody – Beneath Ceaseless Skies

 

My #Afrofuture novelette, “El is a Spaceship Melody,” is up on Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Inspired by Sun Ra. On a starship powered by jazz music. #blacktothefuture

El is a Spaceship Melody

I. Dare to Knock at the Door of the Cosmos

The living crystals were displeased. The dissonant chords of a harried melody rocked the starship Arkestra. When Captain LeSony’ra Adisa was a young girl dreaming about one day commanding her own vessel, she had never considered it would be filled with so many day-to-day irritations. She sprang from her seat in the main bridge at the sound of the music. She was not one to be tested today.

“Overseer, we aren’t due for a command performance for another three hours.” On the verge of yelling, she opted to save her anger for the person who deserved it.

“Commander Marshall moved the performance ahead.” The timbre of the Overseer’s voice, emanating from the unseen broadcast units, vacillated somewhere between clearly male and clearly female. Its AI was integrated into every fiber along the length of the Arkestra, its calculations vital to monitoring the ship’s systems, including the harnessing energy from the kheprw crystals that powered the ship.

“On whose authority?” The crystals needed to be recharged every few solar days, depending on the mission use, but the next performance wasn’t scheduled until 1400 hours. From the way LeSony’ra felt her last nerve being worked, she knew the answer before Overseer responded.

“His.”

“Of course he did.” She flung her headdress past the twists of the front part of her hair, the flat-ironed portion flaring out behind it.

Their mission was a joint venture between the Thmei Academy, where LeSony’ra headed the largest laboratories, and Outer Spaceways Inc., the private interstellar shuttle conglomeration, so the command structure of the Arkestra was fraught. Captain LeSony’ra Adisa held authority over all things related to the mission above Titan, while Commander Clifford Marshall retained jurisdiction over everything concerning the ship. Issues related to the crew fell into a gray zone. Because of the way Marshall commanded, even holding a lesser rank, he held more sway over the crew.

“Steppers, Chappel, you’re with me.” Cradling a small crystal ball in her hand, LeSony’ra nodded, and the two security officers flanked her. Breastplates covered chrome colored body suits. Each wore a gilded animal mask; Steppers an eagle, the Chappel a dog. They brandished shields, though their charged batons remained at their waist. The trio of women exited the bridge.

Their strident march from the turbo-shuttle to the engineering chamber drew everyone’s attention. Steppers and Chappel positioned themselves inside the doorway of the engine room. LeSony’ra stormed in, annoyed both by the musical cacophony in the room and the fact that the engineering crew had begun the performance without her.

Marshall led the six-person engineering crew. He had the delicate bone structure of a dancer, with his high cheekbones and fine hair. His razor-thin mustache was manicured within inches of its life. Fans billowed the heavy fabric of his shimmering command cloak like a sail in a stiff wind. His saxophone barely skipped a note at LeSony’ra’s entrance.

‘Captain Adisa’ had to be diplomatic; ‘LeSony’ra’ could be petty as hell. And she was all LeSony’ra right now.

She cast a baleful glare in his direction, withdrew opaque citrus-colored glasses, and set the crystal ball on the keyboards at her station, unlocking the vintage Clavioline. Its amplifier fed directly into the kheprw crystals’ containment unit. Her voluminous black caftan whipped about her as she took her seat behind the Clavioline, its iridescent silver overlay interfaced with the keyboards. Her gold chainmail headdress lightly jingled as she began to work the instrument. Her striped platform oxfords—“moon boots” the crew called them, since they were designed for zero gravity situations—found the foot pedals. Marshall used any opportunity to undermine her authority. Always eager to ingratiate himself to the crew, to prove who ought to be in command. He was in need of a reminder of who was in charge. It was time for a true command performance.

Her Clavioline chords strained to find a place in the jumble of sounds. All captains were trained in improvisation, a skillset based on observing, listening, and reacting. No plan, no program, no control; only the interplay of past preparedness and honed intuition. Since she had handpicked the engineering ensemble during her travels, she trusted both their muscle memory and instincts. On her mark, the music reset and the Arkestra‘s crew followed her lead. The bass rumbled in tow. The drums pounded. Marshall’s saxophone pealed in faint protest. A torrent of sound, but once LeSony’ra shifted register, the chaos harmonized. She never told them what to play next. Not the song, not the chord changes, not the key. They just had to keep up, composing and performing at the same time.

The kheprw crystals glowed with approval.

[READ THE REST OF THE NOVELETTE HERE]