One of the main goals of Black Sci-Fi.com is to bring to the world stories of sci-fi and other speculative fiction from Black creators. We want to show the world that not only are Black people and other people of color interested in genres like science fiction, but we’ve been very much a part of it since its inception. Most importantly, we want to ensure that Black creators have a platform to share their narratives in their own words. This is why we we were inspired to bring to you “The Scribes of Nyota”, the first in a series of anthologies featuring stories, prose and artwork from Black creators of speculative fiction.
Recently, the Executive Editors, Maurice Waters and Shawn Alleyne, shared their thoughts on why this project and the genre of black science fiction is so important.
Excerpt from “The Scribes of Nyota” a compendium scheduled for release on February 24, 2017.
Q: When did you fall in love with Sci-Fi?
Maurice Waters: I don’t know the exact moment…and you know, there are different types of Sci-Fi. Was it the written word? Was it video? Was it art? I couldn’t tell you specifically. As a kid, I know I liked wonderment. When I would see something like Dr. Who…and just thinking about things that were outside of the norm…the imagery, the storylines…it was something that always appealed to me. It was something I wanted to learn more about and learn about. I know the first time I saw a comic book, I just looked at it over and over and over again. It was an issue of the X-Men and I loved the artwork and these people with strange powers and the fact that they were being outcasts. There’s a lot of things that I identified with right away.
Shawn Alleyne: I remember looking back and realizing I’d always loved it. I really loved X-Men because it was based on science, the biological and chemical components. Looking back, I realize I always loved Sci-Fi. But I can’t tell you exactly what moment it was…I’m Sci-Fi for life!
Q: What did you dislike about the genre at the time? What ideas did you have about changing the genre for the better?
SA: For me, it’s now, not then. Looking back, I didn’t want to add anything, I loved everything growing up. Everything seemed new and fresh, new ideas. Now is a regurgitation, there’s always a remake of something. You know what I mean?
MW: Can I go back to the love thing? I remember taking Latin in school and the teacher would teach us mythology. Who is Hades? Who is Jupiter? I was consumed by that. I was fascinated. I submerged myself in Greek culture. So much so that I was speaking Latin and getting awards for it. I thought it was the best thing since sugar. But then, as I got deeper into it, I realized there weren’t any people of color in this mythology. And I was like, “Okay, if everything is so great, if the Greeks and the Romans have these stories, well, what do other cultures have?” So I started to look around, looked at African mythology and Asian mythology and I was like, “Wow! There are all these other stories out here that I know nothing about that may reflect who I am.” And then there’s the fact that some of them were the basis for what the Romans did. So that’s where I started saying there’s a lack here. And also in comic books. I remember going to comic book conventions and I’d be the only black kid there. There are things that when I watch Star Trek, there were things that people didn’t catch that I wanted to talk about. To them, it didn’t make sense but to me, it made perfect sense. So there’s a need. There’s an expression out there that’s not being heard and not being put out there. That’s why we came up with “Our Voices, Our Imagination”, because you fast forward to now at a time when there’s political turmoil, there’s racism at an all-time high, there’s sexism at an all-time high…this generation is looking for an outlet to express how they feel and what they need to say and we feel like it’s our responsibility to give that constructive avenue to be heard. In the olden days, we had James Baldwin, we had Langston Hughes, but who do we have now that is speaking for us that’s going to last through our generation? Sci-Fi at its best is a commentary of what’s going on or what should be going on. It’s a mirror to look at yourself.
Q: What is black science fiction? And what isn’t it?
SA: I think anything that highlights a person of color, a Nubian, and puts them as the star. Usually, we’re the back drop, you know, we’re the tagalong, we’re the person that gets killed first. It’s rare to see the person of color be the star. The next step, why we’re compelled to do these anthologies, is to explore these themes. Not just the person and oh, he happens to be black. What about the culture? You know, what about a story that involves the ancestry of the person? There’s a longer heritage there. There’s a deeper heritage there. That’s the themes I want to explore in black science fiction.
MW: To break it down in the simplest terms, it’s black folks involved in science fiction that’s literary, a genre in literature. It primarily focuses on technology and sciences in the storyline or in the background. It could be future. It could be past tense. It could be present. However, within our community we also use it as a blanket term to cover people who are creating stories that involve horror, fantasy, comics, the gamut– also referred to as speculative fiction. I look at black science fiction as a genre, not as….um…how can I put this?
SA: Not as science fiction with a black coloring. It’s its own genre with its own themes. And not just science fiction with a black varnish.
MW: Right, right. We’re not colored-in white folks. There’s a story there that comes from an African experience…whether that’s growing up in Philadelphia or being raised in Kenya. We’re pulling on our ancestry and moving a story forward. That’s what it is.
SA: And the art, right?
MW: Yes, it can be the art.
SA: Because nothing angers me more than seeing Storm in a comic book and if she was a shade lighter, she’d be white. She has Nubian features, you know what I mean?
MW: Although, we run the gamut…
SA: We do, but a lot of times, in books, you can’t tell if a person is of color other than to make them a little darker.
MW: Yeah, we’re more than colored-in people.
SA: We’re more than colored by numbers.
Q: What do you predict for the future of science fiction and the presence of black people, Nubians, in the field?
MW: Well, in our community, the voices are only getting louder and stronger. As technology increases you will get more exposure to more people. This generation, I think, is bolder and more unapologetic about who they are and what they want and how they want it. So, I’m hoping to see newness from it, not just the same old stories, but more original stories, more commentary…with what’s going on in the news affecting us directly and people writing about it, doing art about this stuff. That’s why “Our Voices, Our Imagination” is important, that it’s not just anybody making up a story. This is really us having something to say. We have something that we need to say and we need to extend it. Here it is. Everybody has the opportunity to dream and speculate who they are, what they want their society to be. Why can’t we? In an unapologetic and unfiltered way?
SA: I predict more stories that tie into real life events as the plight of Nubian people becomes more recorded in this digital age. I see a lot more science fiction dealing with real life events. But, unfortunately, I think there will be more coonery. There are a lot of people saying they’re doing black sci-fi but it’s not rooted in the black people. I don’t want to see that. I don’t want to see just one side.
MW: Without substance, without warrant.
MW: There’ll be more works produced but some of it is going to be about the money and not about the real issues or the art of it.
SA: I hope I don’t see more shallow versions of black science fiction with stenciled versions of characters, other genres painted over with a black face. That’s what I don’t want to see.
SA: Yeah. I’m seeing a whole bunch of Naruto-type themes and someone will go, “Oh, but they’ve got black characters!” But it’s straight up an Asian theme…black people that happen to live in China.
MW: Black sci-fi, at its best, is always going to be about the human condition, the African experience, and hold that mirror up to challenge you in some way. And if it’s not doing that then what do we have? What is it then? Of course, we read this for pleasure, but at the same time, there’s a message, there’s the imagery that should carry through. Let’s say the best do. Here’s the bottom line: we have to define who we are, not everyone else. We look at ourselves through someone else’s lens. We’re not looking at ourselves through our own lens. Because we’re letting other people be the gatekeeper of our culture, we have this problem…our young folks are not connected to our history, and they’re trying to pull on experience but they don’t always know where to pull from either, so they’re going to recreate whatever they see instead of challenging themselves to say, “What is around me?” “What is my life experience that I want to put in this and move forward?” So those are the issues there. That’s where “Our Voices, Our Imagination” is trying to push people– in that direction.
Maurice Waters is the Founder & President of Black Sci-Fi.com as well as an Executive Editor of “The Scribes of Nyota”.
Shawn Alleyne is a Creator and the Founder of Pyroglyphics Studio. He is also an Executive Editor of “The Scribes of Nyota” as well as an author and artist featured in the anthology.