Growing up as a blerd, loving speculative literature was always a conflicting experience. On one hand I absolutely loved the world building of science fiction and fantasy novels, but on the other, I rarely saw myself or themes that represented my personal experience. Published by BLF Press, “Black From the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing encompasses the broad spectrum of Black speculative writing, including science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and Afrofuturism, all by Black women writers.” Each of the twenty two writers have a uniquely resonating voice and the editors (Stephanie Andrea Allen and Lauren Cherelle) impeccably organized this collection to feel like a stream of consciousness. Universal themes of self love, forgiveness, and the importance and complexity of interpersonal relationships made me forget I was reading independent narratives.
As noted on their website, “BLF Press is an independent Black feminist press dedicated to amplifying the work of women of color…” Their catalog reflects this mission with their publishing of Black to the Future. The collection is for those who enjoy fiction that can enchant anyone while seeing a group often left out of these genre conversations. The characters in each narrative are incredibly well rounded; I saw myself, my mother, my aunts, my grandmothers and even friends. I felt surrounded by love and attention throughout the pages of this collection. Being seen and acknowledged can’t be faked, it comes from experience and comradery.
There was a perfect balance of story length: some stories were twenty pages, others were ten. Stories like “Night Crawler”, “Tidal Wave”, “Cyborg Chix Din Da Da”, “Cyborg Chix Drop It Low” were formatted like poems, perfectly breaking up the paragraphed stories. Three stories stood out to me and my personal experiences:
“Therapies for World’s End” – This character driven story explores interdependence and importance of community for a group who are often caring for others before themselves, a reminder that there’s strength in allowing oneself to be healed by her sisters. “However you may define such a woman, be graced in her presence, and if you should happen on two or three at once, this is accession. I wandered into the forest blind of director. And suddenly a coalescing of brown bodies, clear eyes. Community.”
“Miss Beulah’s Braiding and Life Change Salon” – This story captured me with the first lines, “This poor thing takes a lot of time to try and keep this head of hair, but it resists her most valiant efforts. Every strand, every coil, is a blessing and a curse. Each lock must be cared for tenderly, not touched by brush, but eased apart with the wide teeth of an oil-soaked wooden comb and the caress of pomade-laced fingers, searching out each tangle and coaxing it free.” I felt the love within the black community, especially among women. There’s nothing like a hair stylist who understands and cares for your scalp that seeps into your entire being. Miss Beulah being a female djinn is apropos of how many feel about great hair stylists. The payoff is satisfying and makes sense as hair stylists also tend to serve as therapists.
“Some Far-Off Frivolous Galaxy” – This story is about mother/daughter relationships and how they are complex, especially when unresolved generational trauma is involved. Black matriarchs are often responsible for the cool calculation of earning money and the emotional development of those under their roofs. “During Zanele second year at school, her mother’s twin died from a stroke. Then, for the first time ever, her mother was calling. They spoke through gritted teeth; unity in selfish desires for one another.” After having her own child, Zanele begins addressing how her mother’s parenting affected her connection with her own child. “She’d thought of dousing Grace’s bathing wipes with bleach, throwing her toys in an incinerator, or even taking a switch and lashing her until their scars matched.” The beauty in this gritty story is the growth and change Zanele experiences once separating herself from her mother. There’s hope breathed into the final pages of the story, an encouragement to those considering motherhood even if they didn’t have a healthy relationship with their own.
This collection is the embodiment of creating your own table. Not only are the characters within these stories black women, but each plot and theme speaks to the experience of black women, showcasing cultural similarities without being a monolith. Some authors used fantastical elements, others touch on science fiction, and there are a handful of vampires and werewolves. Each story easily stands on it’s own but they are so much stronger together, the epitome of the essence of community. It was a therapeutic experience; I couldn’t put this book down. It felt like sitting at brunch chatting with girlfriends about everything from fears and careers to love.
Black from the Future comes out tomorrow, August 20th.