What is Afrofuturism?

Afrofuturism is more than just a literary genre — it’s also culture, a philosophy, and a social movement. As a genre, Afrofuturism combines elements of fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, and African historical fiction. Afrofuturism is more than just black science fiction, however, this genre guide will encompass speculative fiction by black women writers and works which have grown out of the Afrofuturistic revolution.

Critic Mark Dery coined the term “Afrofuturism” in his 1994 essay “Black to the Future,” though the aesthetic can be traced back as far as the 1930s to jazz composer and philosopher Sun Ra through his cosmic and psychedelic musical performances. But the first appearance of Afrofuturistic elements came in 1859, in what is considered the first African-American Science Fiction story: Blake or the Huts of America by Martin Delaney. In this story, a free black man named Blake is kidnapped and sold into slavery, but when his wife is also sold away, Blake takes action. Blake teaches his family astronomy and navigation techniques, and while he is on his way to Cuba to liberate his wife, he plants the seeds of revolution among other slaves. Delaney’s hero Blake combines the ingenuity and expertise of Africans “with the technocultural ability of Afrodiasporic people” (Yaszek, 2015 p. 259) and performs “what we might call the first chronopolitical intervention in American letters; dramatizing both how Afrodiasporic people are alienated from modernity and how they might use their technoscientific genius to change the world.” (Yaszek, 2015, p. 259).

Ytasha Womack, author of Afrofuturism: …, explains the need for Afrofuturistic works this way:

Ytasha Womack

“It’s one thing when black people aren’t discussed in world history. Fortunately, teams of dedicated historians and culture advocates have chipped away at the propaganda often functioning as history for the world’s students to eradicate that glaring error. But when, even in the imaginary future — a space where the mind can stretch beyond the Milky Way to envision routine space travel, cuddly space animals, talking apes, and time machines — people can’t fathom a person of non-Euro descent a hundred years into the future, a cosmic foot has to be put down.” (Womack, 2013, p. 16)

When Black people cannot find themselves in history, it is quite painful. To be ignored in fiction is also painful, especially when (white) writers cannot seem to integrate Black people into their works about futuristic societies. Afrofuturism provides a way to approach possible futures through the lens and narrative of Black culture. Afrofuturism comes with social commentary and sometimes blends historical fiction or contemporary narrative by integrating the ways of life specific to Black people.

Afrofuturism, as it encapsulates so much, is not easily definable, therefore this guide is not meant to be exhaustive. Instead, this guide is meant to highlight the works of just a few women who have created works of speculative fiction, whose works might otherwise not have been possible without the Afrofuturism movement.

Learn more:

Works consulted:

Frank, P. (2016, April 25). Your Brief And Far-Out Guide To Afrofuturism. Retrieved from The Huffington Post:

Womack, Y. (2013). Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture. Chicago Review.

Yaszek, L., & Canavan, G. (2015). “Afrofuturism in American Science Fiction.” In E. C. Link (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction (pp. 59-69). Cambridge University Press.