Welcome to Women’s History Month! We just left Black History/Future Month and a thought came to me to do a link between the two with a new segment called “Space:Queens.” In this new blog segment, I will be doing writeups and interviews focused on afrofuturism within my own home borough of Queens!
Growing up in Queens, it always felt as if the borough was treated as outer space. It’s reputation as a kind of wasteland was popularized by F. Scott Fitzgerald calling it “The Valley of the Ashes” in The Great Gatsby, which Robert Moses later turned into Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Flushing Meadows Corona Park was home to the 1964 World’s Fair, whose focus was to showcase the latest and possible innovations of the day. Yet, most of the attention of the city has been focused on Manhattan and Brooklyn. I know many people who have said they didn’t like to venture out to the borough. I even wanted to move to Brooklyn once because I thought it was a central mecca for Black and Caribbean cultures.
But recently I have been exploring more and more of my borough and all the wonderful
surprises hidden in it. There is so much unexplored within Queens, which is why I decided to set my fantasy book (“The E”) in the borough.
Because of Queens’ treatment as an outer space region of the city, the history of the World’s Fair and technological innovation, the technological transformation of the Valley of the Ashes into Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and The Unisphere and NYS Pavilion having this retro-futuristic appearance, I am not shocked that the later two have been used in science fiction and fantasy film, including Men In Black, The Wiz (“Munchkinland”) and Tony Stark’s Stark Expo.
Starting this month, I will post features about Queens-related visionaries who are helping to change the borough, the city and the world and visionary stories about Queens! First up are Yvonne Shortt and Shante Paradigm Smalls!
The first in its trilogy, Nova Spark‘s apocalyptic, alien novel Dome is filled with characters figuring themselves out as their home disappears and a new questionable home arises that forces them to find the truth and what is real home.
Alternating between the point of views of a father and daughter, Sam and Emma, the story begins with Sam, who is having an affair and taking his life and family for granted. His daughter, Emma, who does well in school, is just as unenthusiastic about life, manufacturing drugs in a lab to sell to other students. But it is when Sam starts having dreams about the end of the world and is compelled to act on them to try to save Earth, his entire family, his wife, Kat, and Emma, along with thousands of others are transported to another world – one manufactured by a alien race, The Syrion, to simulate home. Yet what they soon begin to discover is that this new home is not home sweet home and more like a lab where they are the animal experiments.
Spark’s story is a narrative about how a crisis takes one out of their comfort zone or rut but can revitalize strained or dying relationships between people. The destruction of Earth and the suspicions about the Syrion brings Sam, Emma and Kat together again. It is also like an intergalactic versioning of history — the alien Syrions claim to “save” humans from their own destruction but it turns out that the former group may have actually caused the destruction of the other’s home or abducted them and quarantine them for their own desires, for experimentation, for control, for power. Sound familiar?
The quotation above is from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Here is a portion of the chant of the religion Earthseed in the novel:
Why is the universe? To shape God. Why is God? To shape the universe.
God is Change. God is Infinite, Irresistible, Inexorable, Indifferent. God is Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay— God is Change. Beware: God exists to shape And to be shaped.
God is an ancient and universal concept for humans, but depicting God as change, Butler gave a futuristic, innovative face to God. God is old, but has the ability to mutate and adapt depending on the given circumstance, time and space. Recently, I sat down to think about the meaning of my blog name for myself. I had taken the name based on a blurb for a poet whose work I appreciate, Aja Monet. But as I thought about it I came up with this while working on a new collaboration, and it connects well with Butler’s words and her works in general:
“Time is a kind of network system where the past, present and future are in constant dialogue and interaction: our past gives foundation from which we build our present and future, our present gives foundation for our future, the present reconstructs the past, and the future reconstructs the present and the past. I am somebody’s past as well as somebody’s future and there is a responsibility in the recognition of that. I think traditional African cultures (or ancient Eastern cultures in general) honored that concept, but it was somewhat lost or repressed in mainstream European-based Western culture to forego accountability and to favor a linear and individualistic thought pattern.
When it comes to depictions of black people in history from the Medieval era to the 20th century, the tendency is to show us only as slaves or to downplay stories outside of that narrative. But black people have existed in various forms throughout these periods of time within and outside the narrow scope of slave narratives. Many contemporary creatives have explored and are exploring these times to reconstruct and highlight those histories. Through speculative and historical revision stories in steamfunk, dieselfunk, rococoa/black medieval, and black westerns, they are showing us in a broader light, opening the door for everyone to revisit those times to include more of our faces and stories. Below are a few examples and resources to learn about and enjoy:
Attending the Black Comic Book Festival for the first time this year introduced me to a wide scope of the comic book world from the lens of the black community and so I wanted to share some of the creators and their works that I came across while there. It was difficult walking around the presentation tables and stopping myself from buying all the comics there, but I did get a couple:
*The first table I went to was the artist John Jennings and I purchased the African American Graphic Classics. As someone who does write poetry, this was a great find for me. It’s a similar idea to a book I had when I was younger, illustrator and author Ashley Bryan’s book of illustrated African-American poetry. Various comic and graphic artists, such as Jennings, Lance Tooks, and Afua Richardson, illustrate several short stories and poems from various authors, including Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Dunbar Nelson, W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes.
*Walking around I saw many male creators in the comic and science fiction industry, like the Craft family, N Steven Harris, Mshindo Kuumba, I enjoyed particularly seeing black women who were part of it as well, like Evolve‘s Kia Barbee. I met illustrator and animator Tiana Mone’e Scott, who has done work with Cartoon Network and PBS. At the right below was one of my favorite pieces that she had on her table. See more of her work here.
Imagine seeing the journey of the Black Atlantic through the memories of a centuries-old vampiric human. A DC IT specialist working at an HIV organization Justin Kena is privileged with this information when he falls for one named Dante. As he falls in love, he learns of the ancient indigenous Yoruba group, the Razadi, who are vampiric and witnesses to pre-, during, and post-slavery times in Rashid Darden‘s Birth of a Dark Nation.
Birth of a Dark Nation flips the script on traditional vampire tales from its shifting narration to its inclusion of slave narration and cultural rituals to non-Western views of the vampire to it as a same-gender loving story that confronts those who say it is a recent Western phenomenon. Darden’s previous work, Lazarus, Covenant, and Epiphany has centered on black LGBT experiences, and now he has taken that and extended it to black speculative fiction.
The story begins with a Razadi receiving orders from an elder to watch over Justin because he is considered the “key,” similar to Neo in the Matrix or any messiah-like character. Later, we are introduced to Dante, a street hustler, who Justin randomly notices and to whom he has an instant attraction. When Dante finally reveals who he is to Justin, Justin begins his transformation from the computer guy at a dead-end job to part of the Razadi family and leader in his community.
“[Matthew D. Lieberman] argues that this osmosis of sociality and individuality is an essential aid in our evolutionary development rather than an aberrant defect in it:
Our sociality is woven into a series of bets that evolution has laid down again and again throughout mammalian history. These bets come in the form of adaptations that are selected because they promote survival and reproduction. These adaptations intensify the bonds we feel with those around us and increase our capacity to predict what is going on in the minds of others so that we can better coordinate and cooperate with them. The pain of social loss and the ways that an audience’s laughter can influence us are no accidents. To the extent that we can characterize evolution as designing our modern brains, this is what our brains were wired for: reaching out to and interacting with others. These are design features, not flaws. These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth.
The implications of this span across everything from the intimacy of our personal relationships to the intricacy of organizational management and teamwork. But rather than entrusting a single cognitive “social network” with these vital functions, our brains turn out to host many…”