Up-and-coming black fantasy young adult authors convened on a YouTube video chat hosted by Black Girls Create to go deeper into how they gravitated to the genre and what they hope their works can achieve for readers.
Bayana Davis of Black Girls Create, a hub for black female creators, moderated the first half of the #KuumbaKickback conversation featuring Nandi Taylor, Jordan Ifueko, Namina Forna, and Roseanne A. Brown. Porshèa Patterson-Hurst moderated the second half with authors Kalynn Bayron, Tracy Deonn, and Bethany C. Morrow.
All the authors, who also participated in a #DontRush video challenge, mentioned how they fell in love with the fantasy genre but failed to see characters that looked like them and how the lack of visibility led to their writing careers. The video of the conversations are available on the Black Girls Create’s YouTube channel now.
Nandi Taylor is the author of Given. The story is about why “island princess Yenni is searching for a way to save her father’s life, but a handsome yet infuriating shapeshifting dragon becomes an unexpected distraction,” according to publisher Wattpad. The book is out now and has reached 1.2 million reads.
Nandi opened up about how she felt when trying to insert herself into certain fantasy stories, which created a conversation among the authors about being a black girl who loved fantasy but not seeing black girls in the stories.
“I loved reading fantasy, but the fantasy worlds I was reading about were very Eurocentric and it felt—how do I say this?—it felt wrong to insert myself in those worlds, which is sad to say. I felt kind of guilty like I wasn’t meant to be there. So I started writing my own world, so I can do that self-insertion without feeling guilty or ashamed.”
Jordan Ifueko is the author of Raybearer. Publisher Abrams’ imprint Amulet Books says “with extraordinary world-building and breathtaking prose, Raybearer is the story of loyalty, fate, and the lengths we’re willing to go for the ones we love.” The book is available on April 14.
Jordan spoke about how African influence in fantasy and science fiction stories was historically erased or not accurately documented amid colonialism.
“I wanted to write fantasy because I wanted a story about a magical black girl who didn’t have to endure slavery or systematic subjugation to win something. I feel like there are so very few stories based on real life, which that happens to black girls, not because there weren’t black girls who were awesome and powerful but because those stories were not recorded in history. Precolonial Africa, especially West Africa, had powerful women all over the place, but we don’t hear about those women because you have to dig and dig and dig and dig to even get a reference to some of those heroines because the history was written by the colonizers and they didn’t care.”
Namina Forna is the author of The Gilded Ones. The debut novel is described as “the start of a bold and immersive West African-inspired, feminist fantasy series for fans of Children of Blood and Bone and Black Panther. In this world, girls are outcasts by blood and warriors by choice.” The book is scheduled for release in spring 2021.
Namina described her experience of immigrating to Atlanta from Sierra Leone at a young age and dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome once she was old enough to understand the effects of the civil war in her native country.
“One of the ways I was able to cope with everything that was happening was by disappearing into fantasy. I would read, read, read, read a lot. When you read, you’re able to ignore what is happening around you and even when I came to America and really started understanding what was happening more, for me I loved disappearing into fantasy worlds. They’re my safe space. I think that is the importance of fantasy: it’s a place in which you can disappear, in which you can deal with things you might not have the wherewithal to deal with.”
Roseanne A. Brown is the author of The Song of Wraiths and Ruin. Publisher HarperCollins calls the book “the first in a gripping fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction.” The book will be out June 2.
Roseanne, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana at a young age, said fantasy was the genre of choice for her to weave in today’s racial issues.
“While I really respect contemporary writers in what they can do to bring things in the here and now to engage on our level, I found putting it a step away and putting it in a different world—in a world that mirrors our own, reflects our own—to really come to terms with heavier things like we see in race. We have intergenerational trauma, we have violence against girls, we have self-harming—those are all real things teens in our world are dealing with.”
Tracy Deonn is the author of Legendborn. The novel is “filled with mystery and an intriguingly rich magic system, Tracy Deonn’s YA contemporary fantasy Legendborn offers the dark allure of City of Bones with a modern-day twist on a classic legend and a lot of Southern Black Girl Magic,” publisher Simon & Schuster wrote. It’s scheduled for a Sept. 15 release. Tracy also contributed to Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real About Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America.
Tracy spoke about noticing the very few black characters in science fiction and fantasy media while she was growing up and trying to connect as a black girl to the characters she loved.
“I remember being drawn to certain characters consistently and wanting more from them. We talked about Star Trek already. Obviously, I liked Uhura. I could’ve watched the whole show about her. I wanted to watch a whole show about her. I was drawn to any character in any fantasy TV show, cartoon, or otherwise who looked vaguely black in any sort of way I was like that’s me.”
She mentioned her feelings when Storm Reid, who’s black, was cast in Disney’s 2018 Ava DuVernay version A Wrinkle in Time based on Madeleine L’Engle‘s middle grade fantasy classic, which also starred bookish celebrities Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling. “
The little part of me inside was, ‘This is revolutionary. This idea that we can be Meg.’ That was fulfilling in a long arc in a way of reading that and wanting to be Meg and actually seeing it later as an adult.”
Bethany C. Morrow is the author A Song Below Water. It is “a captivating modern fantasy about black mermaids, friendship, and self-discovery set against the challenges of today’s racism and sexism,” wrote publisher MacMillan. The book is expected to be out on June 2. Bethany also wrote Mem and edited and contributed to the YA anthology Take the Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance.
Bethany promoted science fiction in the post-slavery diaspora since many recent black fantasy stories take place in Africa, saying these stories are necessary to tell to incorporate all types of black characters.
“Even when I do science fiction, I’m always dealing with what it means to be a black American. I think that is extremely important. I think that black American kids need fantasy and science fiction that is black American science fiction, black American fantasy that doesn’t make them feel like it’s second fiddle to something else, like it’s derivative, it’s not as important, to liken it to something to be ashamed of. Again feeling like you’re supposed to take ownership of something and divorce from what has been done to you is something I’m not OK with… I love all the West African folklore that’s coming out. Central African fantasy and that sort of thing. I’m in love with all that stuff. It’s never a neither nor situation but again as a black American child who grew up on the West Coast, I deserve to see myself specifically too. I deserve not to be erased from the American tradition, from the American culture, from American histories and storytelling, so I’m specifically writing diaspora fantasy, diaspora science fiction.”
Kalynn Bayron is the author of Cinderella Is Dead. The story takes place “200 years since Cinderella found her prince, but the fairytale is over” according to publisher Bloomsbury, which adds it’s “an electrifying twist on the classic fairytale that will inspire girls to break out of limiting stereotypes and follow their dreams!” The book will be available on June 8.
Kalynn discussed the hardships of growing up as black girl in Portland, Oregon, where Bethany’s A Song Below Water takes place, and how reading fantasy became a refuge.
“What happens there when you are a brown girl, growing up there as a child, it makes me emotional to think about the environment there and how it affects you and how the racism is very polite…. Writing about characters that fit into the intersection of race, gender, sexuality in the fantasy genre is really important to me. It is something I want to keep doing.”