It may come as no surprise that the representation of black people within the science fiction and fantasy literary genres has sorely lacked over the decades. Not only are black authors often missed when recounting the legendary sci-fi and fantasy authors of our time, but several new authors have arrived on the scene with incredible works, adding exciting new narrative directions and perspectives to these genres. That being said, below is a starter list of black sci-fi and fantasy authors to know and read now.
1. Octavia E. Butler
When seeking recommendations on which black sci-fi authors to read, Octavia E. Butler is sure to top the list. She is easily the most well-known sci-fi writer of African descent, as well as one of the powerhouses of literary sci-fi in general.
Born in Pasadena, California in 1947, Butler’s writing talent became clear by the time she was a teenager. By the late ’70s, she had begun publishing her stories and earned a living as a professional author.
Butler would go on to earn several awards for her work, including two Nebula and Huge Awards each. In particular, her short story “Bloodchild” earned her a Nebula Award, Hugo Award, and Locus Award. Octavia E. Butler died in 2006 at the age of 58. She would go on to receive several more posthumous honors, including being inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010.
Where to start:
2. N. K. Jemisin
N. K. Jemisin was born in Iowa but was raised in New York. Starting her career as a counseling psychologist, she eventually crowdfunded enough money to quit her day job and become a full-time writer. This was in 2016, the same year she published the first book of The Broken Earth trilogy.
Winner of several awards, her most notable feat was receiving a Hugo Award for each book in The Broken Earth series for each consecutive award year, starting in 2016.
Jemisin’s books often feature themes of racial inequality and oppression. Even outside of writing, she is outspoken about current civil rights issues.
Where to start:
3. Tomi Adeyemi
Tomi Adeyemi burst onto the scene in 2018 with the release of her debut novel Children of Blood and Bone. The following year she would go on to publish the second installment of the Legacy of Orisha series, titled Children of Virtue and Vengeance.
Adeyemi graduated from Harvard University with a degree in English Literature. She also studied West African mythology, and after traveling to Brazil she came up with the idea for Children of Blod and Bone. Indeed, her Legacy of Orisha series is imbued with elements of ancient African cultures like the Yoruba and Benin. Afterall, Tomi Adeyemi is of Nigerian descent and Yoruba heritage herself.
Aside from writing novels, Adeyemi teaches writing classes through her masterclass courses. And according to her website, “She was recently named to the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and her website has been named one of the 101 best websites for writers by Writer’s Digest.”
Where to start:
Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha, #1)
4. Samuel R. Delany
Harlem, New York, born and raised, Samuel R. Delany is another early powerhouse of science fiction. Considered by some to be a polymath and genius, his catalog features a wide range of fiction and non-fictional works, including comics, novels, essays, critiques, short stories, and anthologies. Delany was also a professor of literature and creative writing at the University of Massachusetts and Temple University.
Between 1962 and 1968, Delany published some of his best novels. Analysis of his catalog shows many recurring themes, such as mythology, memory, language, sexuality, and perception. By age 27, he had won four Nebula Awards and a Hugo Award. In 2002 he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
Known for his free and nonconventional lifestyle, Delany has traveled throughout Europe, lived in a commune, and has taken part in polyamorous, hetero and homosexual relationships. He is also a self-proclaimed atheist.
Where to start:
5. Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American author whose books possess strong Afrofuturistic themes and elements of witchcraft. Her debut novel Zarah the Windseeker won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature, and her other works have earned her Nebula, Hugo, Locus, and Lodestar Awards.
Graduating from the University of Illinois, she holds a Ph.D. in literature. She also has an MA in journalism.
Aside from her novels, Okorafor has also written a few comics, including one taking place in the Black Panther universe. Furthermore, her novel Who Fears Death is receiving a TV adaptation for HBO. And Okorafor will be involved in a film adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s Wild Seed.