The Mul­tira­cial Mul­ti­verse by Al Donato

How Writ­ers of Colour Are Re imag­in­ing The Spec­u­la­tive Fic­tion In­dus­try

Broken Pencil - - Table Of Contents - by Al Do na to

Fea­tures

SILVIA MORENO-GAR­CIA WILL DE­STROY US AL L.

Moreno-gar­cia lives in Van­cou­ver, but she's un­leash­ing her ter­ri­fy­ing brood across the world in the up­com­ing Peo­ple of Colo(u)r De­stroy Hor­ror!, a spe­cial is­sue she's edited for Light­speed Mag­a­zine. This edi­tion is just one of sev­eral off­shoots of Light­speed's suc­cess­fully crowd­funded is­sues de­voted to spec­u­la­tive fic­tion writ­ers of colour. Through ini­tia­tives like these, to­day's writ­ers who are Black, Indige­nous, and Peo­ple of Colour (BIPOC) are in­clud­ing them­selves in a nar­ra­tive land­scape that has long been an eth­nic snow­storm.

Spec­u­la­tive fic­tion does as it sug­gests. Gen­res that fall un­der this man­tle, such as fan­tasy, hor­ror, and sci­ence fic­tion, ask “what if?” of pow­er­ful in­sti­tu­tions and uni­ver­sally-held truths. These nar­ra­tives refuse to ac­cept sit­u­a­tions as they are, be it post-apoc­a­lyp­tic waste­lands or op­pres­sive in­ter­ga­lac­tic dic­ta­tor­ships. Sim­i­larly, spec-fic writ­ers of colour re­sist op­pres­sion by virtue of their ex­is­tence. They're told book cov­ers with faces like theirs won't sell; their read­er­ship can learn Tolkien's Elvish, but will balk at pa­tois. The mes­sage is clear: give up, this isn't a craft for peo­ple like you. But now more than ever, emerg­ing BIPOC sto­ry­tellers are strik­ing back and ter­raform­ing the lit­er­ary scene so that it's hab­it­able for all. Un­afraid of reimag­in­ing re­al­i­ties for brown bod­ies and queer love, a new wave of spec-fic writ­ers are build­ing on the work of past gen­er­a­tions; in do­ing so, they're smash­ing through the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try's sta­tus quo.

His­tory

From the get-go, Canada's spec­u­la­tive fic­tion scene has been racially charged. An “elec­tric Chi­na­man” started it all in Tsab Ting, the first doc­u­mented Cana­dian sci-fi story, writ­ten by white fe­male writer Ida Ferguson un­der the male psue­donym Dy­jan Fer­gus in 1896. It was harder to find peo­ple of colour be­hind the by­lines; there's no way of know­ing a de­fin­i­tive early his­tory of BIPOC spec­u­la­tive fic­tion writ­ers, since marginal­ized writ­ers of­ten find safety in aliases (much as Ferguson did with her male alias.)

When Nalo Hop­kin­son first started writ­ing, she scoured the shelves for Black writ­ers work­ing in sci­ence fic­tion and fan­tasy. She found five liv­ing ones in Sa­muel R. De­lany, Steven Barnes, Tana­narive Due, Charles Saun­ders, and Oc­tavia But­ler. Hop­kin­son and But­ler were Clar­ion writ­ing work­shop stu­dents while De­lany was teach­ing, each be­com­ing writerly ti­tans in their own right.

De­lany men­tions the duo in an es­say de­tail­ing racism he en­coun­tered from the in­dus­try. He de­scribes fight­ing the urge to roll his eyes af­ter win­ning a 1967 Ne­bula Award for Aye, and Go­mor­rah, when I, Ro­bot au­thor Isaac Asimov jok­ingly told him: “..we only voted you those awards be­cause you were Ne­gro.”

Al­though un­true for the es­tab­lished De­lany, to­kenism is a real fear for many writ­ers of colour. Hiromi Goto, who bears the man­tle of Canada's first pub­lished Ja­panese spec­u­la­tive writer, re­mem­bers get­ting High­lander vibes early in her ca­reer.

“I'd say that in the ‘90s there was a sense that ‘there could only be one,'” Goto says, re­fer­ring to the idea that there could be

only one suc­cess­ful writer of colour from each cul­ture.

“Pro­fes­sion­ally pub­lished spec­u­la­tive fic­tion in Canada at that time felt pre­dom­i­nantly white. I felt a strong de­sire to bust that open.”

Be­yond themes, her­itage for Goto in­flu­ences her for­mat­ting. The Ja­panese pro­noun sys­tem is a web of in­fer­ence, hon­orifics, gen­der, and re­gion, re­flected in Goto's lib­eral use of sen­tence frag­ments in her work.

“This is lit­er­ally how I think and is deeply a part of my writerly voice,” Goto says. “Some peo­ple may say: write in the way that most peo­ple will un­der­stand most eas­ily. I don't agree with that think­ing. In­stead of re-in­scrib­ing what has been ex­pected — het­eronor­ma­tive white cul­ture — we ac­tu­ally need to write and read from a broader range of voices, aes­thet­ics, knowl­edges. Many read­ers are dy­ing to read sto­ries like this.” Hop­kin­son is a tes­ta­ment to that de­mand. “I be­lieve it was a rev­e­la­tion to the sci­ence fic­tion com­mu­nity when I used some An­glo-caribbean languages and ver­nac­u­lars in my writ­ing,” she writes in an email in­ter­view, where she later notes that some sci-fi read­ers found her us­age of Caribbean Cre­ole too dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand. “This in a field where some fans will hap­pily learn Klin­gon,” she adds.

“Sci­ence fic­tion and fan­tasy are, in many ways, about cul­ture, and about what hap­pens when cul­tures meet and one has more dev­as­tat­ing fire­power.”

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