What Is Afrofuturism? Part 4

"Octavia, Dear", 2008, Krista Franklin and D. Denenge Akpem

This is an article on Afrofuturism by Lisa Yaszek from The Journal of the Research Group on Socialism and Democracy. The focus of the article is Ralph Ellison’s speculative fiction novel Invisible Man.

In his introduction to the 1989 re-issue of Invisible Man Ralph Ellison provocatively notes, “a piece of science fiction is the last thing I expected to write” (xv). Both this claim and the way Ellison phrases it are striking. Literary scholars usually talk about Invisible Man as a prime example of the Great American Novel, but throughout his career Ellison carefully distanced himself from that phrase. Indeed, when he accepted the National Book Award for this work in 1953 he rather cheerfully described it as a failed example of the Great American Novel. But Ellison does not just flip the script and call Invisible Mana work of science fiction, either — at most he implies that there is something fantastic about it. Thus it seems that Ellison could not make sense of his own novel because he did not have a name for a literature predicated upon both realist and speculative modes of storytelling.

Recently, however, artists and scholars have indeed coined a name for this kind of storytelling: Afrofuturism. Over the past three decades both science fiction and Afrodiasporic scholars have become increasingly interested in what Sheree R. Thomas calls “speculative fiction from the African diaspora.” Leading science fiction journals such as Extrapolation and Science Fiction Studies regularly include essays about black authors in their pages, and as early as the summer of 1984, Black American Literature Forum devoted an entire special issue to the subject of race in science fiction. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, however, there was little discussion of this fiction as a literary mode with its own distinct themes, techniques, and relations to other kinds of black cultural production…

Read the rest here

Another article is about Afrofuturist culture in Chicago, and artist D. Denenge Akpem discusses Chicago’s history in the liberation struggle as well as figures like Octavia Butler, John Coltrane, Amiri Baraka, Curtis Mayfield, Sun Ra and George Clinton.

…Afro-Futurism is an exploration and methodology of liberation, simultaneously both a location and a journey.  The creative ability to manifest action and transformation has been essential to the survival of Blacks in the Diaspora.  “Black Secret Technology (The Whitey on the Moon Dub)” Julian Jonker writes, “Black Americans have literally lived in an alien(-n)ation for hundreds of years. The viscerality of their abduction is equaled only by the ephemerality of the bonds which the disciplinary state has since imposed on them.”  Similarly, Boykin notes that in this context, “freedom is futurist.”

Chicago’s history is rooted in liberation struggles; the concrete jungle gives rise to a fiesty, rag-tag, Mad-Maxian, blue-collar style that respects hard work and survival of the fittest. We are alchemists in this city of steel, akin to the Yoruba god Ogun, fusing metal to metal.  We claim a real space traveler astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space and graduate of Chicago’s Morgan Park High School.  In the tradition of grand-forefather Sun Ra who graced our lake shores with his mystical genius, Chicago “shows out” with the sanctification of conduit avery r. young’s sweet nectar sweat as he navigates between states of being in his signature Sunday Mornin’ Juke Joint performance style. Chicago Afro-Futurism is revolutionary discopoet Khari B. levitating at the HotHouse long before will.i.am teleported from Grant Park to CNN headquarters on November 4, 2008. It is Krista Franklin’s multi-layered visual planes with giant children spinning LPs on oceans; spliced figures from antique photos become extra-terrestrial as she coaxes new stories from their faded mysteries…

Read the rest here

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