Black Speculative Fiction: The Hunger of Imagining

I was just speaking with a colleague about the need to incite curiosity as the basis for research. Questioning, wondering and south-africa-tribes-e28093-south-african-cultureimagining are essential real life skills that are certainly nurtured in speculative fiction.

Earlier this year, authors Zetta Elliott and Ibi Zoboi  published part of a conversation about race and representation in The Hunger Games and YA speculative fiction. Their conversation, which continued on Zetta’s blog brought out significant points on the critical importance of brown girls being seen in worlds of flight and fantasy.


IBI: My first contact with speculative fiction was the stories I would hear my family tell. They

Ibi Zoboi

Ibi Zoboi

happened in Haiti—political stories intermingled with loogaroo stories, which is like a vampire-type figure in Haitian folklore. There was always a sense of magic and darkness and fear in those stories. There was always somebody who didn’t come home and it was usually associated with the tonton macoute (a bogeyman with a sack), or a loogaroo who came to get somebody’s child. I had two mystical, folkloric figures woven into these political stories about family and friends, so that line between what was real and what was not was never clear.

ZETTA: In my childhood, that line between fantasy and reality was very clear because I was reading British novels in Canada—C.S. Lewis and Frances Hodgson Burnett, which isn’t

Zetta Elliott

Zetta Elliott

exactly fantasy. But her work featured these wealthy, white children living on the moors in England and was so far removed from my reality. And because those books didn’t serve as a mirror, fantasy was very much something that happened to other people. I didn’t really imagine magical, wonderful things happening to me because everything that I read said it only happened to kids of a certain color or a certain class. In terms of gender, at least girls were having adventures, too, so that was a good thing.

You and I are both writers and we’re obviously trying to generate our own stories. Is there a way for us to make an intervention in the field of YA fantasy? How do our stories reach our kids?  MORE

A short list of great resources for racial diversity in young adult sci-fi


Eboni Elizabeth

Eboni Elizabeth, writing at the Dark Fantastic positions the following regarding people of color  and Native Americans and how YA lit fails in this regard.

There is an imagination gap when we can’t imagine a little Black girl as the symbolic Mockingjay who inspires a revolution in one of today’s most popular YA megaseries.
There is an imagination gap when one of the most popular Black female characters on teen television is stripped of agency, marginalized within the larger story, and becomes a caricature of her literary counterpart.
There is an imagination gap when a Korean-Canadian woman’s critique of J.K. Rowling’s character Cho Chang in the Harry Potter novels is seen as more problematic than certain aspects of the character herself.
There is an imagination gap when a Nambe Pueblo critic’s perspectives on a pre-Columbian America “without people, but with animals” are seen as more problematic than the worldbuilding itself.

This is taken from “The Imagination Gap in #Kidlit and #YAlit: An Introduction to the Dark Fantastic“, her initial blog post. In addition to pulling readers into spaces of deep conversation, Eboni highlights numerous Dark Fantastic/Black Speculative Fiction resources in her side bar.


Black Speculative Fiction Month

Speculative fiction contains writings of science fiction, fantasy and horror or, those stories the bend what is and ask readers to speculate about what could be. Editors Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade have set aside October to celebrate works that transport us to new worlds; worlds of adventure; of terror; of war and wonder; of iron and steam and are authored by Black writers. If you’re unable to attend any of the events they’ve planned, do visit the blog page that announces the events so that you can build your background

Chronicles of Harriett by Balogun Ojetade

Chronicles of Harriett by Balogun Ojetade

knowledge in the history, seminal works and authors, both classic and contemporary.

Speculative fiction allows both readers and writings to explore issues such as race in ways other genres do not. At times, these writers create creatures and situations that go beyond race, as do other authors. However, the attraction to spec fic has more to do with the worlds created in the writing. One will read them because they read zombies, sci fi or high fantasy. Milton Davis speaks to this complicated issue.

Scowering my blog, I found a few titles you should consider picking up this month.

Promise of Shadows by Justine Ireland; Simon and Schuster, 2014

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrick Henry Bass and Jerry Craft; Scholastic, 2014

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson; Arthur A. Levine, 2014

Mesmerize  by Artist Arthur; Kimani Tru, 2009

The Agency 3: Traitor in the Tunnel by Y. S. Lee; Candelwick, 2009

Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn; St. Martin Press 11 2009

The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards; HarperCollins, 2012

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010

Awake by Wendy McNair Raven; 2010

Shadow Walker by L A Banks; Sea Lion Books, 2010

47 by Walter Mosley; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2006

Bayou by Jeremy Love; Zuda, 2009

Sweet Whisper Brother Rush by Virginia Hamilton; Philomel, 1982

Black Powder by Staton Rabin; Margaret McElderry Books, 2005

Ship of souls by Zetta Elliott; AmazonEncore, 28 Feb

Shieldwolf Dawning by Selena Nemorin; CreateSpace, 2014

Do yourself a real favor and visit Twinja Book Reviews. Guinevere and Libertad dedicate their blog to black e0d5adf2356a76ea82d72158eb3b79cc_400x400speculative fiction and are a much better source on that than I am. And, check them out on Twitter, too! @Dos_Twinjas





In case you were wondering, I don’t make a penny blogging. I have a day job that all too often has nothing to do with diversity or young adult literature. Literacy, yes. Information literacy. When I first learned the IMG_3109term, it described the skills necessary to locate, share, evaluate, access and present information. What it means to be information literate is growing and changing over time as our interactions with electronic media has expanded. Metaliteracy is one example of this change.

This literacy is what school librarians teach and this is why we need them.

My day starts tomorrow with me teaching searching skills to high students and ends after my regular hours with instruction to grad students, again on searching skills. Teaching the same thing at these two very different cognitive levels. I would say I’ve figured out teaching research to high schoolers, but giving it to strangers in a one shot sessions with not enough time to deliver a fully developed lesson is more than a challenge. Grad students? They should be able to digest a rather lectured delivery. I’ll go for that 20 minute max of ultimate brain attention.

I had an interesting revelation regarding this literacy recently regarding cultural relevance. It basically involved a Middle Eastern student who was assigned to research information on a certain car by evaluating information on a U.S. government website, the manufacturer’s site and one other. A student from a country where leadership is never questioned and the of questioning of authority is just not done. How then, do you teach these students to evaluate the information they find in the media?

Our world is diverse indeed.

Celebrated this weekend in at the Madison public library, The South Asian Book Award winners.

Elizabeth Suneby
Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education
(illustrations by Suana Verelst)
Kids Can Press, 2013

Jennifer Bradbury
A Moment Comes
Atheneum Book, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2013

2014 Honor Winner

Farhana Zia
The Garden of my Imaan
Peachtree, 2013

Librarian Amy Cheney has announce openings for In the Margins Book Award and Selection committee (ITM) for next year –  January 2015 – January 2016 for the 2016 list.  Click here to fill out an application of interest: We will be conducting interviews in December. In the Margins serves those young adult readers who are certainly in the margins, those who are incarcerated. Her recent SLJ article reviews recent books that fit her young readers needs.

YALSA has submitted a grant proposal to help disconnected youth, those who are with jobs, skills or knowledge that allows them to develop skills to prepare for the workforce. YALSA needs you to support their application by sharing what your library does to help disconnected your.

Please don’t take the work of school librarians/school media specialists for grant. 40% of the elementary school is Los Angeles have no librarian. No information literacy instruction, no skilled professionals to build capacity for a lifelong love of reading. KC Boyd fearlessly fights on behalf of students in Chicago to have librarians/media specialists in their schools. Here in Vigo County, the schools that still have librarians pull them out to teach science.

What’s going on in the schools near you? Who is teaching and advocating for your children to be truly literate in the 21st century?


In all that I’m going to tell you about KidLitCon, know that the highlight of my weekend was seeing my DIL, SweetPea’s mom, in LA. And I didn’t even think to get a pic.

Stephanie Kuehn (Complicit, St Martin's Griffin, 2014)

Stephanie Kuehn (Complicit, St Martin’s Griffin, 2014)

Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose About Chinese Musical Instruments author, Emily Jiang

Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose About Chinese Musical Instruments author, Emily Jiang

Those KidLitCon ladies were wiped out at the end of things on Saturday. I applaud not only their hard work, but the fact that they stepped out there and planned a conference on the theme ‘diversity’. As necessary as diversity is, as much as the call for more diverse books has become in the world of children’s lit, using that term will still have you preaching only to the choir. The attendance numbers were small, I’m sure much smaller than previous years. No doubt, those who needed to be there were.

This issue of not enough brown faces in children’s literature has been around since Langston Hughes published the Brownies’ Book magazine in the 1920s. Damn near 100 years ago. And, we still think we can get publishing companies to produce more books for, about and with children of color, and queer children; those with exceptionalities those of varying income levels. You think it makes perfect economic sense, but please realize how empowering books are. They plant ideas.

KidLitCon reminded me of the power of networking. I’ve been hanging out here pretty much on my own for quite a long time. I miss the days of Reading in Color, The HappyNappyBookseller and Color Online. Maybe that’s why it has been so hard for me to get back into this. Maybe I need to change things up.

“Diversity” dilutes the need for representation for people of color, for queer teens and those with exceptionalities. We then devolve into diversities based upon size and

Nathalie, Laura Atkins and Zetta Elliott

Nathalie, Laura Atkins and Zetta Elliott

location and handedness and on and on because it’s just too hard to focus on queer, brown, different people. Friends, we have to.

A mediocre cry for diversity will give us a mediocre response: a limited run of a few more books with no real changes inside publishing houses, with authors of certain backgrounds being boxed into writing certain kinds of books (such as Latinos being stuck writing reality fiction) and no books by authors of color

Teen Blogger @missfictional

Teen Blogger @missfictional

that continually will win the National Book Award or the Newbery.

This movement began over 100 years ago. I’ve been doing this blog since 2006, so I have to bow to those who came before me and are still at it and yea, I even have to bow to those who came in after me who are really getting some things done. There’s room for all because there’s no single story that’s going to get this done. There is, however no room for status quo or mediocrity. We’re at a point in history where so many resources exist to change how books are financed, created and distributed. We’re at a place in time where our children can no longer afford to be left behind. No, not today; not in the information age. Not when it is critical to have the literacy, the power, to maneuver one’s world.

I didn’t get a chance to talk to a lot of people to find out what they’d gotten out of the conference. Will we as bloggers find new ways to collaborate for books and literacy causes? Will some look that much harder for books with characters of color? And, will we be more critical of those writing outside their own experience?

I’m rambling. I thought things would come together for me as I wrote, but they’re not. I think I’m thirsty.

I’ll stop here and add some photos. I hate that I didn’t get any of my co-presenters, they are such amazing and adorable ladies. Next time!


Nathalie Mvondo of Multiculturalism Rocks and Mitali Perkins (Tiger Boy, Charlesbridge 2014)

Nathalie Mvondo of Multiculturalism Rocks and Mitali Perkins (Tiger Boy, Charlesbridge 2014)

Jewell Parker Rhodes (Sugar; Little Brown Books, 2013) and Maya Gonzalez who creates more than will fit this space, so click this image to visit her site.

Jewell Parker Rhodes (Sugar; Little Brown Books, 2013) and Maya Gonzalez who creates more than will fit this space, so click this image to visit her site.

Libertad & Guinevere of Twinja Book Reviews with Tanita Davis (Happy Families, Knopf, 2012)

Libertad & Guinevere of Twinja Book Reviews with Tanita Davis (Happy Families, Knopf, 2012)