Diverse Worlds: Authors of Color in Sci-Fi & Fantasy

by Jude Romines
In the first installment of Diverse Worlds, a series highlighting genre fiction that centers marginalized peoples and perspectives, Brittney made several fabulous recommendations for books with protagonists of color. Of the authors mentioned, she wrote “these writers are keeping the genre relevant and vibrant by ensuring that more and more people can see themselves in the pages of the novels that they read.” This sentiment is vital, and it’s one I’d like to address today—albeit from a different angle.
Just as readers benefit from seeing themselves represented in books, I would suggest writers benefit from seeing themselves represented within a diverse publishing industry. So today, I’ll be going over several inspiring authors of color whose contributions to science fiction and fantasy have helped carve a space for marginalized creators in genre fiction! Below each mini-bio will be some recommendations from our shelves for you to check out!
J.Y. Yang
jy yang
J.Y. Yang is a non-binary Chinese-Singaporean writer of science fiction and fantasy. Their pronouns are they/them, and they have a background in molecular biology and journalism. A self-described “postcolonial intersectional feminist,” Yang takes a multidisciplinary, cross-cultural approach to writing fiction. The Black Tides of Heaven, part of their Tensorate series, was nominated for Best Novella in the 2017 Nebula Awards.
Recommended from our shelves:
The Black Tides of Heaven
The Black Tides of Heaven follows two siblings, Mokoya and Akeha, as they grow up in a “silkpunk” society (silkpunk is a sister to steampunk; it’s a genre which incorporates retro-futuristic machines and inventions with East Asian cultures from antiquity). With a mesh of ancestral magic and future-facing biotechnology, The Black Tides of Heaven offers a world of fascinating contrast and possibility.
Bonus representation points for characters with transgender and non-binary identities! (For more LGBT book recommendations, see our last post!)

Nnedi Okorafor

nnedi okorafor

A self-described “Naijamerican” writer of science fiction and fantasy, Nnedi Okorafor is an expert on living “in-between” cultures. An American-born child of Nigerian immigrants, she shuns the hyphenated title of Nigerian-American, remarking that, in contrast, “‘Naijamerican’ is one word, implying a hybridized new individual whose parts cannot be separated.” And her writing, which frequently centralizes bicultural protagonists and themes, no doubt reflects this holistic mentality! For more on Okorafor, take a gander at her fascinating Ted Talk on the power of sci-fi stories that imagine a future Africa.

Recommended from our shelves:
Binti (mentioned in our first installment of Diverse Worlds!)

Akata Witch
I once pitched Akata Witch to one of my friends as a “Nigerian Harry Potter,” and while this might be a convenient comparison, I have to admit Akata Witch is wholly original and wholly saturated with its own inimitable culture. The story is about twelve-year-old Sunny, an American-born Nigerian with albino skin, who feels utterly displaced among her native, darker-skinned classmates. Homesick for America and unable to connect with her peers, Sunny is dejected until she discovers within herself a link to the world around her—magical powers reminiscent of the Leopard People of West African folklore! What follows is an exploration of heritage, belonging, and juju.

Lagoon (Tennessee R.E.A.D.S. exclusive)Picture it: aliens invading Lagos, Nigera. What more can I say? Okorafor masterfully blends traditional African cosmologies with modern technology while shifting the locus of conventionally Eurocentric science fiction to Nigeria. The story is quick, action-packed, and incredibly compelling.

 

Zen Cho

zen cho

Zen Cho is a Malaysian author of fantasy with a background in politics and law. Based in London, she is the recipient of the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer as well as the Crawford Fantasy Award.

Recommended from our shelves:
Sorcerer to the Crown
Sorcerer to the Crown is the first installment of the Sorcerer Royal series, which features freed slave and newly elected Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias Wythe, as he navigates the bewildering politics of the Unnatural Philosophers of Britain, a guild of England’s most distinguished magic users. A devoted reformist, Zacharias is bent on using his newfound position to solve Britain’s most pressing crisis—a shortage in the magic that supports daily living throughout the country. Along the way, he hopes to advance initiatives for equitable access to magic and magical education among Regency London’s most marginalized populations. Full of political intrigue and even a locked-room murder-mystery, Sorcerer to the Crown is an unassumingly clever, endearingly whimsical read.

Jewelle L. Gómez

jewelle gomez

Jewelle Gómez is an author, essayist, poet, playwright, and activist whose work centralizes the experiences of LGBT women of color. Driven by an African-American and indigenous Ioway heritage, her work has appeared in many anthologies featuring postcolonial and black feminist criticism. A founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and a two-time winner of the Lambda Award for Best Novel, Gómez is a truly intersectional, truly trailblazing advocate for diverse representation.

Recommended from our shelves:
The Gilda Stories
A two-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Speculative Fiction, The Gilda Stories takes place in 1850s Louisiana and follows an escaped slave as she is inducted into a society of vampires. Later assuming the name Gilda, Gómez’s black bisexual protagonist attempts to make a family for herself within the coven. In her search for belonging, GIlda embarks on a complex existential voyage, exploring and complicating even the most established conventions of vampire literature.

Bonus representation points for characters with lesbian and bisexual identities!

C.B. Lee

cb lee

C.B. Lee is a Chinese-Vietnamese American writer of science fiction and fantasy. Her novel Not Your Sidekick was a finalist in the 2017 Lambda Literary Awards as well as the 2017 Bisexual Book Awards. Lee herself is bisexual and has been a fervent advocate for LGBT and PoC representation in YA books. She has been featured on panels such as Lambda Litfest’s Celebrating the Asian American LGBTQ+ Experience and DragonCon’s “BiScifi: Queer Heroes in Science Fiction and More.”

Recommended from our shelves:
Not Your Sidekick (Tennessee R.E.A.D.S. exclusive)
Jessica Tran is a high schooler living in a world where superpowers are actually super common. The chance of getting them is even more probable when both your parents are celebrated superheroes—which just makes Jessica’s inexplicable lack of powers even more of a letdown. Resigned to a life of normalcy, she figures she’ll have to succeed the old fashioned way—by beefing up her college resume. So, when Jessica gets a call back for a paid internship, she’s over the moon! Until she realizes she’ll be working as a lab assistant for a super villain. Add to the mix Jessica’s bewildering attraction to a fellow intern, and you’ve got one conflicted protagonist. And one fascinating new angle on the superhero genre!

Bonus representation points for characters with bisexual and transgender identities!

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