Literary and Critical Theory Afrofuturism
by
Daylanne K. English
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0004

Introduction

Afrofuturism refers to a flourishing contemporary movement of African American, African, and Black diasporic writers, artists, musicians, and theorists. Afrofuturism comprises cultural production and scholarly thought—literature, visual art, photography, film, multimedia art, performance art, music, and theory—that imagine greater justice and a freer expression of black subjectivity in the future or in alternative places, times, or realities. It also offers speculation about a world wherein black people are normative. Afrofuturism can also imagine dystopic worlds to come, with contemporary injustices projected into, and often intensified in, the future. However, Afrofuturist works do not always look to the future but, rather, often unsettle notions of linear time. More broadly defined, Afrofuturism reimagines not only new forms of temporality but also new black experiences and identities via science and speculative fiction or other artistic and intellectual means. It often does so by exploring both the potential and the pitfalls of technoculture and posthumanism. Although the movement has certainly exploded in recent years, especially since 2000, its intellectual and aesthetic underpinnings can be traced back to mid- and late-19th-century African American novels that imagined alternative realities and communities for black people.

General Overviews

Because the movement is relatively young, there have been, to date, few comprehensive overviews of Afrofuturism. However, a number of key works do provide effective introductions to the movement’s tenets, aesthetics, significance, and history. Dery 1994 coined the term Afrofuturism and offered an early introduction to and definition of the movement. The Afrofuturism special issue of the journal Social Text (Nelson 2002) represents a watershed moment in the development and theorization of Afrofuturism. Together, the essays in the issue represent essential reading on Afrofuturism, covering topics from the late-19th- to early-20th- century antecedents of the movement to the revolutionary possibilities created by an Internet community of color. Akomfrah 1996 likewise offers an indispensable overview of Afrofuturist thought and cultural production, especially music, from the African diaspora. Eshun 2003 offers an important theorization of the complex temporalities of Afrofuturism, with a focus on African and African diasporic artists, musicians, and writers. Womack 2013 provides a more popular and accessible introduction to Afrofuturism. Jackson and Moody-Freeman 2011 is among the most useful collections for providing an overview of the movement; it includes eleven scholarly essays that consider speculative and science fiction and futuristic poetry, film, comics, and television in relation to blackness and race. Dubey 2003, although not specifically focused on Afrofuturism, nonetheless offers strong analysis of the theoretical significance and political power of science fiction by African American writers. Similarly, Iton 2008 does not focus on Afrofuturism but establishes strong connections among politics, political activism, and black popular culture.

  • Akomfrah, John, dir. The Last Angel of History. New York: Icarus Films, 1996.

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    Uses an impressionistic film style to present Afrofuturist ideas about time travel, computer technology, and alienation. Centers on a character called “the Data Thief.” Includes interviews with a wide range of African diasporic writers, musicians, and theorists, such as Octavia Butler, DJ Spooky, Samuel Delany, George Clinton, Derrick May, and Greg Tate.

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  • Dery, Mark. “Black to the Future: Interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose.” In Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture. Edited by Mark Dery, 179–222. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994.

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    Coins the term “Afrofuturism.” Documents the movement’s multimedia and interdisciplinary nature and identifies the movement’s central figures and texts as of the mid-1990s. Includes interviews with science fiction writer Samuel Delany, cultural critic and Afrofuturist theorist Greg Tate, and scholar of contemporary black US culture and popular music Tricia Rose.

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  • Dubey, Madhu. Signs and Cities: Black Literary Postmodernism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226167282.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides strong theorization of postmodern African American literature, focusing on urban settings and representations of print culture. Includes chapters on Afrofuturist writers Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany, framing their work in terms of digital and print texts and the postmodern city.

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  • Eshun, Kodwo. “Further Considerations of Afrofuturism.” CR: The New Centennial Review 3.2 (2003): 287–302.

    DOI: 10.1353/ncr.2003.0021Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides a rich overview of the political, economic, and social contexts for Afrofuturism in a broad black diasporic context. Argues for Afrofuturism’s representation of the past as a means to develop counter-futures. Includes consideration of writers, visual artists, filmmakers, and theorists.

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  • Iton, Richard. In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics and Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195178463.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although not explicitly about Afrofuturism, this book offers a framework for understanding the political possibilities inherent in the movement. Argues for the fusion of politics and black culture, particularly popular and vernacular culture, in the post–civil rights era. Notes, for example, that significant political debates of the 1970s were articulated in and through R&B music. Challenges Weheliye 2002 (see Music and Technology) and others by questioning the efficacy of technological mediation in black music and other cultural expressions.

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  • Jackson, Sandra, and Julie E. Moody-Freeman, eds. The Black Imagination: Science Fiction, Futurism and the Speculative. New York: Peter Lang, 2011.

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    This essay collection begins with a useful editors’ introduction that gives an overview of black characters in science fiction and other futurist works. Also offers good working definitions of science fiction and futurism. The essays cover a wide range of media and artists and writers, along with works from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, to Walter Mosley’s and Nalo Hopkinson’s science fiction novels, to the films of Will Smith.

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  • Nelson, Alondra, ed. Social Text 20.2 (Summer 2002): 1–146. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

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    Includes important essays that trace Afrofuturism’s roots in late-19th and early-20th century- African American novels to its manifestations in early-21st-century digital communities and electronically mediated music. Also includes photographs, fiction, and poetry, along with an interview of Afrofuturist author Nalo Hopkinson.

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  • Womack, Ytasha. Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-fi and Fantasy Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

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    First book-length treatment of Afrofuturism. Womack begins with a personal narrative of her own encounters and engagement with the imaginative and political possibilities of Afrofuturism. She then offers a broad and accessible overview of Afrofuturism’s history and how it flourishes in a 21st-century multimedia context.

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Primary Materials

Although it is impossible to provide an exhaustive list of primary Afrofuturist materials, there are some key texts, recordings, films, and exhibitions that, taken together, give a sense of the aesthetic and intellectual breadth, the multimedia nature, and the radical interdisciplinarity of the movement.

Fiction

Short stories and novels have been the dominant literary forms in Afrofuturism. We can trace the roots of Afrofuturism to mid- and late-19th-century novels by African American writers Martin Delany, Pauline Hopkins, and Sutton Griggs. These novels imagined alternative, more hospitable places and times for black people. A handful of texts foundational for contemporary Afrofuturism also appeared in the first half of the 20th century, including fiction by W. E. B. Du Bois, George Schuyler, and Ralph Ellison. The majority of Afrofuturist fiction has been published in the latter half of the 20th century and on into the early 21st century, as represented by the many such works that have been published since 1980. Those African, African American, and black diasporic writers who have received substantial critical and scholarly attention as being Afrofuturists include Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Nalo Hopkinson, Andrea Hairston, Anthony Joseph, Nnedi Okorafor, and Colson Whitehead, among others.

19th Century

Several 19th-century African American novels are remarkable for their representation of radically alternative realities for black people; they thereby set the stage for the development of explicitly Afrofuturist theory and art. Delany 2000 is the earliest example and is noteworthy for its radical and militant model of black uprising initiated by charismatic leadership. Griggs 2003 is likewise remarkable for its early representation of a separate black nation and for its engagement with elements of science fiction. Hopkins 1988 is the most fantastic among pre-1900 African American novels and offers extensive representation of alternative temporalities and spiritual belief systems.

  • Delany, Martin R. Blake or The Huts of America. Introduction by Floyd J. Miller. Boston: Beacon, 2000.

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    This novel, serialized in The Weekly Anglo-African in 1861–1862, imagines a transnational slave uprising that will produce a black nation-state in Cuba.

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  • Griggs, Sutton. Imperium in Imperio. New York: Modern Library, 2003.

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    This 1899 novel focuses on the rivalry and friendship between two main African American characters: Belton, a successful light-skinned biracial man and Bernard, a poor dark-skinned man. Bernard eventually inducts Belton into a black secret society that Bernard heads. That society, along with other similar black societies, establishes a secret militant state in Texas and develops plans to overthrow the US government.

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  • Hopkins, Pauline. “Of One Blood.” In The Magazine Novels of Pauline Hopkins. By Pauline Hopkins, 439–621. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    Novel serialized in the Colored American Magazine. Transcontinental romance that includes mesmerism and reincarnation. Imagines a hidden ancient African land that becomes a homeland for the main character, a mixed race American man.

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Early to Mid-20th Century

Although not part of a broad Afrofuturist movement like we see in contemporary fiction, several modern African American fictional texts have been identified by contemporary scholars as Afrofuturist. Du Bois 1999 offers an apocalyptic and deeply political view of race and gender relations in the United States. Schuyler 1989 combines science fiction and satire to skewer both Harlem Renaissance ideals and US racial beliefs and practices. Ellison 1995 is the modern African American novel that has most often been read as Afrofuturist because of its form and content, both of which include experimentation with and on a black narrator or a black body.

Late 20th Century and 21st Century

Contemporary fiction stands as the dominant literary mode of Afrofuturism. Butler 1979, Butler 1998, and Delany 1984 are foundational novels for the movement and its theorization, as they are works by the earliest African American science fiction writers considered part of contemporary Afrofuturism. Their works engage classic tropes of science fiction and Afrofuturism, including a post-apocalyptic earth, intergalactic and interplanetary travel, time travel, and explorations of power in contexts of race, gender, and sexuality. More recent Afrofuturist novels likewise represent such tropes and motifs, although not always in a US context, which is clear evidence of the movement’s increasingly transnational nature. França 1985 focuses on Brazil and Africa and non-earthlings; Hopkinson 2000 focuses on interplanetary travel and colonization of other planets by Caribbean peoples, and Okorafor 2011 represents a post-apocalyptic Saharan Africa. Hairston 2006 perhaps most resembles earlier works by Butler, via its representation of a violent post-apocalyptic United States. Joseph 2006 is remarkable for its experimental form and its Trinidad setting; most of these works, with the exception of Delany 1984, follow fairly conventional novelistic and realist literary forms, despite their generally fantastic content. Whitehead 2011 also can be considered a postmodern novel, with a deeply ironic and satiric quality characterizing its narrative voice and its representation of a post-apocalyptic New York.

Comics and Graphic Narratives

Comics and graphic narratives have played a vital role in contemporary Afrofuturism. Their imagination and representation of cyborgs, superheroes, and characters from science and speculative fiction, as well as their digital techniques, place them at the center of the movement, as in Jennings and Robinson 2013. They also often reenvision the past and revise earlier comic traditions and their racial representations, as in McDuffie, et al. 2015 and McDuffie and Bright 2010. McGruder, et al. 2004, while not explicitly Afrofuturistic, is in keeping with earlier literary representations of alternative black political spaces and communities.

  • Jennings, John, and Stacey Robinson. Black Kirby Presents: In Search of the Motherboxx Connection, An Art Exhibition. Buffalo, NY: Black Kirby Collective, Eye Trauma Studio/J2D2/Urban Keep Enterprises, and Trimekka Studios, 2013.

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    Catalogue for an exhibition created by Black Kirby, both an allusion to comics artist Jack Kirby and the name for the collaboration of two artists, John Jennings and Stacey Robinson. Includes representations of cyborgs and superheroes.

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  • McDuffie, Dwayne, and M. D Bright. Icon. The Mothership Connection. Vol. 2. New York: DC Comics, 2010.

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    Comic about one of Milestone Media’s foremost characters, Icon, a lawyer named Augustus Freeman who has superpowers. Title is an allusion to a Parliament-Funkadelic album (see Music).

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  • McDuffie, Dwayne, Gregory Wright, Denys Cowan, John Hebert, Mike Manly, and Jaskson Guice. Deathlok: The Souls of Cyber-Folk. New York: Marvel Comics, 2015.

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    Redraws a long-standing Marvel white male cyborg character, Deathlok, as a black male cyborg. McDuffie and Cowan were among the coalition of African American writers and artists who founded Milestone Media, a comics publishing company, in 1993. Subject of Rivera 2007 (see Posthumanism, the Body, and the Cyborg).

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  • McGruder, Aaron, Reginald Hudlin, and Kyle Baker. Birth of a Nation: A Comic Novel. New York: Crown, 2004.

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    Although not explicitly Afrofuturist, this graphic novel follows in the tradition of Martin Delany’s Blake and Sutton Griggs’s Imperium in Imperio (Griggs 2003, cited under 19th Century) in that it imagines a separate black nation in East St. Louis after the community secedes from the United States as a result of their disenfranchisement in the 2000 presidential election.

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Poetry

Poetry has been the least represented mode of writing in the movement, yet there are several key collections that showcase the formal innovation, interdisciplinarity, and motifs that are characteristic of Afrofuturism. Although a few scholars have identified some of Melvin Tolson’s poetry as antecedent to the movement, Sun Ra (Ra 2005) is the earliest obvious Afrofuturist poet. Jordan 2009, Mullen 2002, and Smith 2011, while not as clearly Afrofuturist, show in both form and content their connection to Afrofuturism.

  • Jordan, A. Van. Quantum Lyrics. New York: W. W. Norton, 2009.

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    Melds physics, comics, superheroes, and jazz in poems that consider temporality, infinity, memory, and loss. Contemplates figures from Sly and the Family Stone to Albert Einstein. Characterized formally by repetition, mixture of oral and written sources, paradox, and ekphrasis, among other qualities.

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  • Mullen, Harryette. Sleeping with the Dictionary. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

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    Although not as clearly Afrofuturistic as Ra 2005, Jordan 2009, and Smith 2011, this collection’s radical formal innovation and some of its motifs connect it to the movement. Language play characterizes the collection; forms include acrostic, anagram, homophone, parody, and pun. Also considers physics and other scientific principles in relation to black and black diasporic (especially women’s) identities and experiences. See the poem “The Anthropic Principle” in particular.

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  • Ra, Sun. The Immeasurable Equation: The Collected Poetry and Prose. Compiled and edited by James L. Wolf and Hartmut Geerken. Wartaweil, Germany: Waitawhile, 2005.

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    The only single volume collection of Sun Ra’s poetry and prose. Many poems are explicitly Afrofuturist, with content that includes interplanetary travel, cosmology, and futurism.

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  • Smith, Tracy K. Life on Mars. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2011.

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    Links personal loss and human birth and mortality to the universe and its exploration by means of imagined interplanetary travel and the Hubble telescope. Contemplates existence and nature of God and dark matter, along with figures such as David Bowie. Explicitly engages with science fiction. Combines free verse with more rigid poetic forms such as the villanelle.

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Music

Although it is impossible to provide anything like an exhaustive catalogue of Afrofuturist music, there are some recordings that, studied collectively, can give a sense of the ways that music has been central to Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism has been most clearly expressed through the music, alter-egos and narrative arcs created by Sun Ra (Ra 2014), Lee “Scratch” Perry (Perry 2002), George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic (Parliament 1975), Drexciya (Drexciya 2012), and Janelle Monáe (Monáe 2010), from Sun Ra’s mid-20th-century claim to be from Saturn up to Monáe’s ongoing construction of an android persona, Cindi Mayweather. A number of contemporary hip-hop and spoken word artists have likewise been key to Afrofuturism, and they have been especially alert to the political power inherent in the movement, as in OutKast (OutKast 1996), Public Enemy (Public Enemy 1990), and Saul Williams (Williams 2008). Afrofuturist musical performances and performers are indispensable for understanding the movement.

Film

Film is becoming increasingly prominent in the Afrofuturism movement. Along with Akomfrah’s The Last Angel of History (Akomfrah 1996, cited under General Overviews), Sun Ra’s Space is the Place is certainly the most well known among Afrofuturist films. Moreover, contemporary filmmakers and multimedia artists such as Frances Bodomo, Cauleen Smith, Wanuri Kahiu, Ngozi Onwurah, and Wangechi Mutu have contributed key works to the movement in the past several years, via experimental methods and clearly futuristic or fantastic content. Sayles 2003 has been a frequent subject for Afrofuturist film scholars, while Gerima 1993 exemplifies Afrofuturism’s preoccupation with the relationship between past and present and non-linear chronologies as represented by time travel.

  • Bodomo, Frances, dir. Afronauts. New York: PowderRoom Films, 2014.

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    Fourteen-minute film based on true events involving the 1960s Zambia Space Society. Represents a group of Zambian villagers who build a rocket in an effort to allow the first African woman to travel to space and walk on the moon. Premiered at the Sundance Festival.

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  • Coney, John, dir. Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Arkestra: Space is the Place. DVD. New York: Plexifilm, 2003.

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    The quintessential Afrofuturist film, written by Sun Ra and Joshua Smith. Follows Sun Ra’s otherworldly, shamanlike character as he travels from outer space (and back and forth in time) to earth to bring enlightenment to African American people in Oakland and to defeat the evil Overseer. Also represents a utopian planet for black people and black music. Soundtrack from Sun Ra and his Arkestra.

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  • Gerima, Haile, dir. Sankofa. DVD. Washington, DC: Mypheduh Films, 1993.

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    Focuses on an African American model on a photoshoot in Ghana on the site of what had been a warehouse for slaves during the Atlantic slave trade. She is mysteriously transported back in time, inhabiting the role of a plantation slave in the US South. Has a clear correlation with Butler’s Kindred (Butler 1979, cited under Late 20th Century and 21st Century).

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  • Kahiu, Wanuri, dir. Pumzi. Johannesburg, South Africa: Inspired Minority Pictures, 2009.

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    Short film by Kenyan writer and director Kahiu. Set in a post-apocalyptic world of extreme resource scarcity and a desiccated earth, where humans must live underground. Focuses on a black woman scientist who may hold the key to the survival of humanity and the natural world.

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  • Mutu, Wangechi, dir. The End of Eating Everything. New York: Afropunk Pictures, 2013.

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    Animated short film by multimedia artist Mutu. Although not strictly Afrofuturist, it does use the fantastic as a mode along with experimental visuals to explore the implications of overconsumption and materialism in contemporary culture. Stars an animated version of recording artist Santigold, who appears as serpent-haired, bloated creature eating birds, planets, and more. Part of the Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey exhibition (see Exhibitions).

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  • Onwurah, Ngozi, dir. Welcome II The Terrordome. DVD. Los Angeles: Delta Entertainment, 2001.

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    First feature film directed by a black British woman. Represents a dystopic future in which most black people have been segregated in a grim ghetto, the Terrordome (an allusion to the Public Enemy song; see under Music). Blends temporalities, moving from 17th century to the time of the filming.

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  • Sayles, John, dir. The Brother from Another Planet. DVD. Santa Monica, CA: MGM, 2003.

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    A black runaway slave from another planet is hiding in Harlem from bounty hunters. Mute but with telepathic and healing powers, he forges strong connections with other black people who are likewise navigating oppression. A frequent subject of Afrofuturist film analysis.

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  • Smith, Cauleen, dir. Afro-Futurism Tapes. DVD. 3 vols. New York: Creative Time, 2014.

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    Series of short films made between 1998 and 2013 by experimental filmmaker Cauleen Smith in collaboration with other founders of the artists’ group The Carbonist School: Beatrice L. Thomas, Cinqué Hicks, and Lanneau White. Experimental visual and narrative filmic structures explore key Afrofuturist themes, including reimagined black pasts and African Americans as space travelers, cyborgs, and aliens.

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Exhibitions

A number of art exhibitions have served as defining moments in the development and documentation of Afrofuturism. The exhibition at the Studio Museum of Harlem, Keith, et al. 2014, is perhaps foremost among them, but a number of earlier group exhibitions outside the United States likewise helped articulate and solidify the movement, including Barson 2010 and Gill, et al. 2006. The significant number of recent individual exhibitions of Afrofuturist artists testifies not only to the movement’s currency but also to its breadth in terms of form and media, and of course to the number of artists involved in it. These include de Middel 2011, Jennings and Robinson 2013, Biggers 2012, RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ 2013, and Mutu 2013.

  • Barson, Tanya. Afro-Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic. Liverpool, UK: Tate Liverpool, 2010.

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    Exhibition from 29 January to 25 April 2010 developed from ideas in Paul Gilroy’s 1993 book, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Includes modern, postmodern and futuristic work from a wide range of artists of the black diaspora, demonstrates African art’s influences on European modern artists as well as contemporary black artists. Features film and visual art by Wangechi Mutu, Renée Cox, Isaac Julien, Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Ellen Gallagher, and others.

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  • Biggers, Sanford. The Cartographer’s Conundrum. North Adams: Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012.

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    Major, multimedia, multidisciplinary installation that was explicitly Afrofuturist. Forges connections between the artist and Afrofuturist artist John Biggers, his cousin, who died in 2001. Exhibition ran from June to October 2012.

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  • de Middel, Cristina. The Afronauts. Cádiz, Spain: Museum of the University of Cádiz, 2011.

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    Series of photographs by Spanish photographer and artist de Middel. Inspired by Zambia’s 1960s space program, as was Frances Bodomo’s film of the same title (see Film).

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  • Gill, John, Jens Hoffmann, Gilane Tawadros, et al. Alien Nation. London: Institute of Contemporary Arts London, 2006.

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    Major exhibition from 17 November 2006–14 January 2007 focusing on the relationship among race, science fiction, and contemporary art. Included work by many Afrofuturist artists, including Laylah Ali, and Ellen Gallager and Edgar Cleijne.

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  • Jennings, John, and Stacey Robinson. Black Kirby Presents: In Search of the Motherbox Connection. Buffalo, NY: Eye Trauma Studio/J2D2/Urban Kreep Enterprises and Trimekka Studios, 2013.

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    An exhibition of Afrofuturistic comics and other graphic art. Exhibition appeared in multiple cities in 2012.

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  • Keith, Naima J., Zoé Whitley, and Tegan Bristow. The Shadows Took Shape. New York: Studio Museum of Harlem, 14 November 2013–9 March 2014.

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    Landmark Afrofuturism exhibit. Featured the work of twenty-nine artists working in photography, video, painting, drawing, sculpture, and multimedia installation. Among the artists represented were: John Akomfrah, Laylah Ali, Sanford Biggers, Edgar Cleijne + Ellen Gallagher, Cristina De Middel, Cyrus Kabiru, Wangechi Mutu, Otolith Group, Sun Ra, RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ, and Cauleen Smith.

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  • Mutu, Wangechi. Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey. Durham, NC: Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, 2013.

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    Solo exhibition from October 2013 to March of 2014 that surveyed Mutu’s oeuvre, from 1990s on. Included large collages that Mutu is best known for: they often represent black women’s bodies that are part machine or animal or plant, or are distorted in some way. Exhibition also included videos, sketchbook drawings, a site-specific piece, and the short film The End of Eating Everything (see under Film). Exhibition appeared in multiple cities with site-specific installations in each.

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  • RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ. The RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ Galaxseum. New York: Children’s Museum of the Arts, 2013.

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    Exhibited from 4 October to 3 February 2013, this is the largest collection, exhibited to date, of the radically innovative theorist, graffiti writer, musician, and artist RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ. Included is a wide range of his work: video and audio, masks, and the elaborate Afrofuturistic/Samurai-like costumes that he designed, built, and wore.

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Anthologies

Anthologies have been central to the documentation and establishment of Afrofuturism as a movement, as has historically been the case with cultural movements constituted by artists, writers, musicians, and scholars of color. Jackson and Moody-Freeman 2011 presents a broadly useful treatment of Afrofuturism through scholarly essays that range widely in topic and media considered. Campbell and Hall 2013 offers short fiction by Afrofuturist writers, including Charles R. Saunders, Nisi Shawl, and Greg Tate. Hopkinson and Mehan 2004 collects science fiction by writers of color from around the world, including Afrofuturist writers such as Andrea Hairston and Sheree R. Thomas. Thomas is also the editor of the two most influential Afrofuturism anthologies published to date, Thomas 2000 and Thomas 2004, which include both fiction and nonfiction essays by some of the most prominent and important African American writers of the 20th and 21st centuries, among them W. E. B. Du Bois, Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley, and Tananarive Due. Barr 2008, a collection of scholarly essays and short fiction, offers an explicitly feminist take on Afrofuturism, while Imarisha and Brown 2015 offers an explicitly political collection of short speculative and science fiction by writers of color. Hartmann 2013 is the first collection of African science fiction. Duffy and Jennings 2010 offers the first major collection of black comics.

  • Barr, Marlene S. Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction’s Newest New-Wave Trajectory. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2008.

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    This anthology of criticism and fiction offers a welcome feminist perspective on Afrofuturism and includes important essays by Hortense Spillers, Madhu Dubey, Mark Dery, and De Witt Kilgore, along with fiction by leading African American, African, and African diasporic women writers such as Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, and Nnedi Okorafor. Includes an interview with Samuel Delany and a section of tributes to Octavia Butler.

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  • Campbell, Bill, and Edward Austin Hall, eds. Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond. College Park, MD: Rosarium, 2013.

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    Includes forty short stories of speculative and science fiction by African American and black diasporic writers and other writers, primarily writers of color, from around the world. All the stories focus on people of color in fantastic or futuristic settings.

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  • Duffy, Damian, and John Jennings, eds. Black Comix: African American Independent Comics Art and Culture. New York: Mark Batty, 2010.

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    Groundbreaking collection that samples the work of dozens of black comic artists. Many of the pieces represent superheroes or other motifs from fantasy and science fiction. Remarkable for its inclusiveness and its production values.

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  • Hartmann, Ivor W., ed. Afrosf: Science Fiction by African Writers. Harare, Zimbabwe: Storytime, 2013.

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    Edited by Zimbabwean writer Ivor Hartmann, this anthology offers a diverse sampling of contemporary African science fiction from both settler and indigenous writers. The inclusion of only previously unpublished work distinguishes this volume, as does its mixture of established authors such as Nnedi Okorafor and Biram Mboob along with emerging authors such as Mandisi Nkomo and Rafeeat Aliyu. Like Eshun 2003 (cited under General Overviews), this helps correct for what has been a US bias in scholarly and anthological treatments of Afrofuturism.

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  • Hopkinson, Nalo, and Uppinder Mehan, eds. So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy. Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp, 2004.

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    While not strictly Afrofuturist, this collection of postcolonial science fiction includes speculative, science, and fantasy fiction by a number of black writers. It is organized by themes central to Afrofuturism: the body, future earth, allegory, encounters with the alien, and re-imagining the past.

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  • Imarisha, Walidah, and Adrienne Marie Brown. Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. Oakland, CA: AK, 2015.

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    Collection of short science fiction by writers of color. The stories carry social justice themes and advance the idea that science fiction permits the envisioning of other, better worlds. Among the African American and black diasporic authors in the collection are Tananarive Due, LeVar Burton, and Mumia Abu-Jamal.

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  • Jackson, Sandra, and Julie E. Moody-Freeman, eds. The Black Imagination: Science Fiction, Futurism and the Speculative. New York: Peter Lang, 2011.

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    This essay collection is notable for its engagement with popular culture as well as with literary science fiction. Television and action films are represented, along with literature by prominent contemporary writers including Nalo Hopkinson and Walter Mosley. Also see General Overviews.

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  • Thomas, Sheree R. Dark Matter: A Century of Fiction from the African Diaspora. New York: Warner, 2000.

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    Offers a wide-ranging and highly useful (if loosely organized) examination of late-19th- through 20th-century speculative fiction from the African diaspora. Includes short fiction by well-known writers from across the 20th century, including Charles Chesnutt, W. E. B. Du Bois, Samuel Delany, and Octavia Butler. Also includes fiction by less well-known writers, such as Kalamu ya Salaam and Akua Lezli Hope. Ends with section of nonfiction essays.

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  • Thomas, Sheree R. Dark Matter: Reading the Bones. New York: Warner, 2004.

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    The second in a series of three planned Afrofuturism anthologies edited by Thomas. Includes short science and speculative fiction and nonfiction essays by black writers, ranging from W. E. B. Du Bois to Walter Mosley and Jewelle Gomez. Arranged thematically and stylistically rather than chronologically.

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Special Issues

The publication of a number of special issues on Afrofuturism in a wide range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary journals since the beginning of the 21st century reflects the movement’s emergence, development, and impact across disciplines and art forms. Although Nelson 2002 remains the most prominent, influential, and most-cited among them, others merit attention as well. Chun 2009 offers a broadly useful theorization of visual technologies in relation to race; similarly, Bould and Williams 2015 delivers a broad view of contemporary science fiction including in terms of race and indigenousness. Bould 2014 brings much-needed attention to the flourishing state of science fiction in Africa. Veen 2013 and Lewis 2008 amply demonstrate the multimedia and multidisciplinary qualities of Afrofuturism, while drawing our attention to many contemporary performers in the movement. Bould and Shavers 2007 offers a relatively early and useful scholarly survey of literary texts and figures within Afrofuturism.

  • Bould, Mark. Special Issue: Africa SF. Paradoxa: Studies in World Literary Genres 25 (2014): 7–349.

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    This special issue includes essays and interviews that help map the current state of science fiction across the African continent and among African and African diasporic writers. Contexts include the history and recent development of the science fiction in Africa and the African diaspora, the representation of Africa, and Afrofuturism. Among the topics covered are postcoloniality, apocalypse, animal studies, and cyberpunk. Also includes interviews with writers Nalo Hopkinson and Andrea Hairston.

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  • Bould, Mark, and Rone Shavers, eds. Special Issue: Afrofuturism. Science Fiction Studies 34.2 (July 2007): 177–364.

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    Essays in this special issue cover a wide range of topics, including: “ethnoscape” as a new way of understanding speculative fiction by African American authors, African American literary inversions of utopia, and neo-slave narratives as examining the future via an imagined past. Among the authors considered: Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, W. E. B. Du Bois, Amiri Baraka, Colson Whitehead, and Nalo Hopkinson.

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  • Bould, Mark, and Rhys Williams. Special Issue: Paradoxa: Studies in World Literary Genres 26 (2015): 7–312.

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    The issue, although not focused solely on Afrofuturism, includes essays and interviews that consider science fiction in terms of race and indigenousness, as well as an article on Janelle Monáe. Also includes an interview with Nigerian American science fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor.

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  • Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong, ed. Special Issue: Race and/as Technology. Camera Obscura 24.70 (September 2009): 1–207.

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    Although not focused on Afrofuturism, this special issue offers valuable theorization of race as a technology and race with regard to technology. The articles focus on photographic, filmic, and digital representations of the face, considering how we recognize one another and how race constructs our social spaces and interactions.

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  • Lewis, George E. Special Issue: Technology and Black Music. Journal of the Society for American Music 2.2 (May 2008): 139–293.

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    This special issue of an international and interdisciplinary journal on American music is remarkable for its consideration of a rich range of topics and art forms. Includes essays on musical themes in the writings of Henry Dumas and Samuel Delany, speculative technologies in Anthony Braxton’s music, and the alternative spatial and temporal qualities of music crafted by contemporary rap and R&B producers. Also includes reviews of multimedia projects, recordings, and scholarly monographs.

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  • Nelson, Alondra, ed. Special Issue: Afrofuturism. Social Text 71 (Summer 2002): 1–146.

    DOI: 10.1215/01642472-20-2_71-1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This special issue remains the most influential and most often cited for studies of Afrofuturism. Remarkable for the range of topics considered. Includes a number of landmark essays by scholars such as Nelson, Anna Everett, Alexander Weheliye, Ron Eglash, and Kali Tal. Also includes creative work by Fatimah Tugger, Tana Hargest, Tracie Morris, and Kalil Tal, along with an interview of science fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson. Also see General Overviews.

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  • Veen, Tobias C. van, ed. Special Issue: Afrofuturism. DANCECULT: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture 5.2 (2013): 1–168.

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    Includes articles on Detroit techno producer Jeff Mills and performer Janelle Monáe, Derrida’s “hauntology” in relation to Tricky’s music, the queer Afrofuturism of disco performer Sylvester James, and other Afrofuturistic topics. Also includes reviews of films and monographs, among them one by the issue’s editor on Ytasha Womack’s Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-fi and Fantasy Culture (Womack 2013, cited under General Overviews).

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Major Topics

Scholarly treatments of Afrofuturism have clustered around several topics central to the movement: posthumanism, the body, and the cyborg; technoculture and race; music and technology; black feminism; representations of race and blackness; space, space travel and cosmology; and time studies and futurism. These sources take a wide variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches and consider an equally wide range of aesthetic forms, including film, comics, visual art, film, music, and fiction.

Posthumanism, the Body, and the Cyborg

Afrofuturism scholars have repeatedly considered representations of the black body in relation to posthumanism and to bodily technologies, including prosthetics and the figure of the cyborg. Haraway 1991, with its theorization of the cyborg as a liberatory, progressive figure, is a staple for many scholarly treatments of Afrofuturism. Chaney 2003, Roberston 2010, Kilgore 2010, and Wilcox 2007 offer close readings of literary texts in relation to race and technology. Rivera 2007 does the same for black-authored comics. Vint 2007 and Weheliye 2014 offer broader theoretical considerations of race and representations of the black body.

  • Chaney, Michael. “Slave Cyborgs and the Black Infovirus: Ishmael Reed’s Cybernetic Aesthetics.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies 49.2 (Summer 2003): 261–283.

    DOI: 10.1353/mfs.2003.0013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for the representation of African American communication as a viral form of information and for the centrality of the man-machine cyborg in Reed’s novels.

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  • Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. By Donna Haraway, 149–181. New York: Routledge, 1991.

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    Although not focused on Afrofuturism, this now-classic Haraway chapter has been influential for many Afrofuturist artists, musicians, writers, and scholars. Argues for the feminist and otherwise progressive power of the figure of the cyborg.

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  • Kilgore, De Witt Douglas. “Difference Engine: Aliens, Robots, and Other Racial Matters in the History of Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 37.1 (March 2010): 16–22.

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    Offers a condensed survey of posthumanist concerns in the tradition of science fiction and in contemporary Afrofuturist fiction. Explores the implications of race within a posthumanist framework.

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  • Rivera, Lysa. “Appropriate(d) Cyborgs: Diasporic Identities in Dwayne McDuffie’s Deathlok Comic Book Series.” MELUS 32.3 (Fall 2007): 103–127.

    DOI: 10.1093/melus/32.3.103Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for comics artist Dwayne McDuffie’s subversion of past representations of a white cyborg via his black character Deathlok. Situates the character at the intersection of cyborg consciousness and African diaspora experience.

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  • Roberston, Benjamin. “‘Some Matching Strangeness’: Biology, Politics, and the Embrace of History in Octavia Butler’s Kindred.” Science Fiction Studies 37.3 (November 2010): 362–381.

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    Focuses on Butler’s engagement with science fiction themes and the figure of the cyborg in relation to her concerns with US history and politics. Deploys Haraway’s figure of the cyborg along with other biopolitical theory.

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  • Vint, Sherryl. Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science Fiction. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

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    Connects the problem of a Cartesian separation of mind and body to posthumanism and embodiment. Argues for an ethical, embodied posthumanism that honors the experiences of people of color. Includes a chapter on Octavia Butler.

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  • Weheliye, Alexander G. Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

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    Although not explicitly Afrofuturist, situates black feminist theory as a corrective for partial and inadequate notions of the human and the human body promulgated by Giorgio Agamben and Michel Foucault. Theoretically rich treatment of Afrofuturist figures and groups such as Drexciya (see Music) and of posthumanist theorists such as Rosi Braidotti.

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  • Wilcox, Johnnie. “Black Power: Minstrelsy and Electricity in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.” Callaloo 30.4 (Fall 2007): 987–1009.

    DOI: 10.1353/cal.2008.0047Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for Invisible Man as the first American text to link cybernetics and race. Focuses on the novel’s sustained tropes of electricity and its representations of the narrator’s body as cyborg.

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Race and Technoculture

A number of Afrofuturist scholars locate and document progressive possibilities for black people in technoculture, including Coleman 2009 and Everett 2002. Others challenge the notion that there is a racial divide in use of computers and in technoculture, including Everett 2009, Nakamura 2002, Hobson 2008, and Nelson 2002. However, some scholars have questioned the degree to which linking black people with digital and information technology expertise will lead to their political empowerment, including Eglash 2002 and Kevorkian 2006.

  • Coleman, Beth. “Race as Technology.” Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 24.1 (2009): 176–207.

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    Argues that understanding race as a technology permits race, particularly non-whiteness, to move away from a position of abjection and toward agency. Considers images of Barack Obama and the 1966 film The Battle of Algiers in rich historical and theoretical contexts. Also considers the potential and power of black temporalities.

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  • Eglash, Ron. “Race, Sex, and Nerds: From Black Geeks to Asian American Hipsters.” Social Text 20.2 (Summer 2002): 49–64.

    DOI: 10.1215/01642472-20-2_71-49Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines nonwhite nerds and technological experts as represented in popular culture. Argues that these figures only at times challenge gender and racial norms associated with technological expertise. Figures studied include a number of Samuel L. Jackson’s roles as well as the characters Urkel and Lieutenant Uhura. Concludes that Afrofuturism carries the potential to undo static categories associated with race and technoculture.

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  • Everett, Anna. “The Revolution Will Be Digitized: Afrocentricity and the Digital Public Sphere.” Social Text 20.2 (Summer 2002): 125–146.

    DOI: 10.1215/01642472-20-2_71-125Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for a sustained and ongoing African diasporic consciousness and presence in cyberspace. Situates this black cyber-presence as an empowering source of community and of future egalitarian possibilities.

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  • Everett, Anna. Digital Diaspora: A Race for Cyberspace. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009.

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    Essential reading on African diasporic engagements with digital technologies and cyberspace. Especially valuable for its documentation and consideration of that engagement during the earlier years of the Internet. Offers rich history, analysis, and theorization of disparate topics, including the Million Woman March and contemporary gaming culture.

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  • Hobson, Janell. “Digital Whiteness, Primitive Blackness: Racializing the “Digital Divide” in Film and New Media.” Feminist Media Studies 8.2 (2008): 110–126.

    DOI: 10.1080/00220380801980467Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critiques popular representation of cyber-experts as white and male, with African Americans often represented as outside technology and modernity. Like Everett 2002, Nakamura 2002, and Nelson 2002, Hobson challenges the notion of a racial digital divide. Analyzes films, including The Matrix and The Digital Diva, and events, including the 1992 Rodney King–related uprising and the day of observation of violence toward women.

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  • Kevorkian, Martin. Color Monitors: The Black Face of Technology in America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006.

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    Following Ralph Ellison’s ideas about race and the machine, examines the trope of black people as machines that enable the information age. Evaluates popular, commercial, and literary representations of black people in the role of tech-savvy problem solvers. Concludes that such representations often express white fear of both blackness and information technology.

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  • Nakamura, Lisa. Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet. New York: Routledge, 2002.

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    Examines how Internet use has shaped our ideas about race, ethnicity, and identity. Argues that African Americans are often misrepresented as outsiders to digital economies and systems of representation. Challenges notions of less constricted or post-racial identities in cyberspace.

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  • Nelson, Alondra. “Introduction: Future Texts.” In Special Issue: Afrofuturism. Social Text 20.2 (Summer 2002): 1–15.

    DOI: 10.1215/01642472-20-2_71-1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Introduction to special issue on Afrofuturism. Explores what has happened to race in the virtual age. Notes the continuation of race and racism as well as the uneven access to freely constructed identities on the Internet. Critiques the notion of a racialized digital divide.

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  • Nelson, Alondra, Thuy Linh N. Tu, and Alicia Headlam Hines, eds. Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

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    Collection examines the relationship between race and technology. Among the topics: stereotypes of Black and Latino people as technophobes, Indian H-1B workers, and Detroit techno music.

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Music and Technology

Considerations of music and technology represent one of the liveliest areas of scholarly study of Afrofuturism. Many scholars focus on particular groups and performers, demonstrating how they further Afrofuturist ideas, including English and Kim 2013, Lock 1999, Rollefson 2008, Rambsy 2013, and Williams 2001. These scholars also consider the ways that funk music and electronic music have been central to the movement. Other scholars, including David 2007, Eshun 1999, Weheliye 2002, and Zuberi 2007, have focused not as much on individual performers as on how certain musical and sonic forms such as experimental jazz, funk, electronic music and other mediated sounds, along with digital production techniques, have enabled Afrofuturism.

  • David, Marlo. “Afrofuturism and Post-Soul Possibility in Black Popular Music.” African American Review 41.4 (2007): 695–707.

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    Responds to Weheliye 2002. Argues for the critical significance and political power of post-soul and popular R&B. Situates those musical forms as both humanist and post-humanist such that they make new space for black subjectivity and promote the well-being of black people.

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  • English, Daylanne K., and Alvin Kim. “Now We Want our Funk Cut: Janelle Monáe’s Neo-Afrofuturism.” American Studies 52.4 (2013): 217–230.

    DOI: 10.1353/ams.2013.0116Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Identifies contemporary singer and performer Janelle Monáe’s music and stage presence as feminist revisions of the Afrofuturistic funk performed by George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic in the 1970s. Argues for Monáe’s and Clinton’s common and empowering use of electronic musical forms. Coins the term “neo-Afrofuturism” to denote Monáe’s break with the masculinism and the suspicion of commodity culture that characterized Clinton’s music.

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  • Eshun, Kodwo. More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction. London: Quartet, 1999.

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    Strong theorization of the power and potential inherent in technology, in terms of both musical technique and computer-generated music, for black music and black musicians, including Herbie Hancock, a range of Detroit techno figures, Sun Ra, and George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. Offers an early (if not the first) use of the term “digital diaspora” to refer to computer technologies deployed across the African diaspora. Also figures Afrofuturism as challenging linear chronologies.

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  • Lock, Graham. Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.

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    Examines utopian visions of the future in the music of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton. Argues for their music as presenting alternative future realities and imaginative revisions of a black past. Analyzes Ellington’s “Blutopia,” the soundtrack to Sun Ra’s film Space is the Place, and Braxton’s For Alto, among many other recordings, as well as performances, concert tours, and writings by the three figures.

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  • Rambsy, Howard II. “Beyond Keeping It Real: OutKast, the Funk Connection, and Afrofuturism.” American Studies 52.4 (2013): 205–216.

    DOI: 10.1353/ams.2013.0113Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the duo OutKast challenges notions of black (and particularly black male) authenticity and embeds Afrofuturist motifs in their music. Points to the ways OutKast’s music engages multiple temporalities and technologies as it adopts the techno and science fiction techniques of hip hop and funk, rendering it characteristic of Afrofuturism.

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  • Rollefson, J. Griffith. “The ‘Robot Voodoo Power’ Thesis: Afrofuturism and Anti-Anti-Essentialism from Sun Ra to Kool Keith.” Black Music Research Journal 28.1 (2008): 83–109.

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    Deploys Paul Gilroy’s idea of “anti-anti-essentialism” to uncover Afrofuturist cultural critique in the music of rapper Kool Keith and jazz musician and composer Sun Ra, among others. Argues that their strategic, playful use of an apparent black essentialism challenges notions of black authenticity as well as white-dominated versions of the future.

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  • Weheliye, Alexander G. “‘Feenin’: Posthuman Voices in Contemporary Black Popular Music.” Social Text 20.2 (2002): 21–47.

    DOI: 10.1215/01642472-20-2_71-21Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Landmark essay for studies of technology and black popular music. Using the work of Donna Haraway and Kodwo Eshun to construct a theoretical framework, this essay argues for a black humanism that also taps the possibilities of the posthuman. Locates this empowering combination in the figures of the DJ and the R&B producer and in the technology of the vocoder.

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  • Williams, Ben. “Black Secret Technology: Detroit Techno and the Information Age.” In Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. Edited by Alondra Nelson, Thuy Linh N. Tu, and Alicia Headlam Hines, 154–176. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

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    Traces the history and development of techno music in Detroit. Highlights the science fiction tropes, including the cyborg, in the music and in the ways that its creators embraced highly mediated music. Groups and figures considered include Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Drexciya (see under Music).

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  • Zuberi, Nabeel. “Is This The Future? Black Music and Technology Discourse.” Science Fiction Studies 34.2 (2007): 283–300.

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    Responds to Weheliye 2002. Examines the haunting and disembodiment that are mediated through electronic and other means in contemporary popular black music. Considers scratching, sampling, and other phonographic as well as digital techniques. Argues for the power and presence of black digital public culture while also pointing to the limitations of technological utopianism.

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Representations of Race and Blackness

Not surprisingly, considerations of how race (and particularly blackness) is represented, challenged, and altered have appeared regularly in Afrofuturist scholarship. Many scholars have located alternative and liberating possibilities regarding race in Afrofuturist art and literature, including Haslam 2015, Lavender 2011, Nama 2008, Saldívar 2013, and Van Veen 2013. Others offer a tempered view, noting for example how white-authored science fiction and comics have often represented a normative whiteness or have otherwise marginalized or stereotyped black characters and blackness, particularly in relation to gender, including Lavender 2014 and several scholars in Howard and Jackson 2013. Nama 2011 offers a balanced view via a consideration of black comic book characters, arguing that they may or may not represent progress for black people.

  • Haslam, Jason. Gender, Race, and American Science Fiction: Reflections on Fantastic Identities. New York: Routledge, 2015.

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    Identifies science fiction as the ideal genre through which to reimagine identities, pointing to the fantastic as the mode through which it does so. Uses a strong combination of psychoanalytic, queer, and genre theories to build its argument. Also considers a rich range of texts, from Black No More to The Matrix trilogy to Octavia Butler’s fiction.

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  • Howard, Sheena C., and Ronald L. Jackson, eds. Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

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    This edited collection of scholarly essays provides a useful and broad view of comic strips, comics, and political cartoons and their representation of black characters, such as the characters in Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks, and of black people, such as Condoleeza Rice. Divided into three sections: the first offers an excellent historical overview of black comics and of representations of black women in comics; the second focuses on representations of race and gender; the third on comics as political commentary.

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  • Lavender, Isiah, III. Race in American Science Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.

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    Argues that white science fiction has long been concerned with race and racial representation even when it conceals that concern. Also argues that science fiction can serve to reimagine blackness as normative rather than as alien. Examines fiction by contemporary black writers Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Walter Mosley, Nalo Hopkinson as well as fiction by H. G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Philip K. Dick.

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  • Lavender, Isiah, III, ed. Black and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781628461237.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Collection of essays by some of the foremost scholars of Afrofuturism and representations of race in US science fiction, including Marlene Barr, Lysa Rivera, and De Witt Douglas Kilgore. Among the topics considered are: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; fiction by Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, and Andrea Hairston; and the politics of race among science fiction fans.

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  • Nama, Adilifu. Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008.

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    Underscores popular science fiction films’ ability to imagine alternatives to current racial realities. Analyzes representations of blackness via black characters and black-white race relations in a variety of popular films, including The Time Machine, Demolition Man, The Matrix trilogy, and Predator, among many others.

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  • Nama, Adilifu. Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011.

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    Focuses on black superheroes in DC and Marvel comics. Uses post-structural theory to examine the cultural work accomplished across decades via these superheroes, concluding that they are complex and neither uniformly oppressive and stereotypical nor uniformly progressive and liberatory. Also sees the fantastic as a mode of decalcifying race and blackness. Characters considered include Black Lightning, The Black Panther, and Storm from the X-Men.

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  • Saldívar, Ramón. “The Second Elevation of the Novel: Race, Form, and the Postrace Aesthetic in Contemporary Narrative.” Narrative 21.1 (January 2013): 1–18.

    DOI: 10.1353/nar.2013.0000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines via narrative theory the speculative fiction of Colson Whitehead as commenting ironically on the notion of “postrace.” Associates Whitehead’s novels with Afrofuturism and with a speculative realism that seeks alternative, future forms of representation that are both substantive and just.

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  • Van Veen, Tobias C. “Vessels of Transfer: Allegories of Afrofuturism in Jeff Mills and Janelle Monáe.” Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Music Culture 5.2 (2013): 7–41.

    DOI: 10.12801/1947-5403.2013.05.02.02Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers helpful working definition of Afrofuturism and an effective, if condensed, overview of the movement in music. Identifies Detroit techno producer Jeff Mills and performer Monáe as Afrofuturists whose work challenges past perceptions and conceptions of blackness and calls our attention to technologies of the self and of otherness.

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Black Feminism

Black feminist approaches represent a vital and expanding area of Afrofuturist scholarship. Often, feminist Afrofuturist studies focus on individual authors, especially Octavia Butler, as in Hampton 2014, Morris 2012, and Holden and Shawl 2013. Other figures and groups identified as feminist Afrofuturists have included Harriet Tubman in Hobson 2014, Labelle in Royster 2013, and Nalo Hopkinson in Sorenson 2014. Broader treatments of the subject have included Durham, et al. 2013, with an overview of feminist hip-hop and Morris 2014, with a consideration of a wide range of contemporary performers. Jones 2012 provides an essential expansion of Afrofuturist scholarship by focusing on African-Brazilian science fiction via feminist analysis of a novel written in a language other than English.

  • Durham, Aisha, Brittney C. Cooper, and Susana M. Morris. “The Stage Hip-Hop Feminism Built: A New Directions Essay.” Signs 38.3 (Spring 2013): 721–737.

    DOI: 10.1086/668843Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides a useful overview of contemporary feminist hip-hop in music, literature, scholarship and community activism. Frames hip-hop feminism as Afrofuturist to the degree that it takes digital form and imagines new worlds that center on the experiences of women of color.

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  • Hampton, Gregory Jerome. Changing Bodies in the Fiction of Octavia Butler: Slaves, Aliens, and Vampires. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014.

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    Argues for Butler’s black feminist reconfiguration of the body throughout her oeuvre. Deploys a rich range of theory, including gender, critical race, posthumanist, new historical, and black feminist theories.

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  • Hobson, Janell. “Between History and Fantasy: Harriet Tubman in the Artistic and Popular Imaginary.” Meridians: Feminism, Race Transnationalism 12.2 (2014): 50–77.

    DOI: 10.2979/meridians.12.2.50Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Highly original analysis of representations of Harriet Tubman in African American art and popular culture. Argues that the hyperbolic and fantastic nature of those representations, along with their revisionist imagination of the past, has much in common with Steamfunk and Afrofuturism.

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  • Holden, Rebecca J., and Nisi Shawl, eds. Strange Matings: Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct, 2013.

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    This collection of essays, interviews, and personal narratives examines Octavia Butler’s fiction in terms of feminist, gender, and queer theories.

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  • Jones, Esther L. “African-Brazilian Science Fiction: Aline França’s A Mulher de Aleduma.” Obsidian 13.1 (Spring/Summer 2012): 15–36.

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    Argues for the black feminism that is enabled by the science fiction form in França 1985 (see Late 20th Century and 21st Century). Focuses on the novel’s representation of reproduction and alternative powers and spiritualities, including telepathy and mystical healing practices.

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  • Morris, Susana M. “Black Girls Are from the Future: Afrofuturist Feminism in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 40.3/4 (Fall/Winter 2012): 146–166.

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    Focuses on Octavia Butler’s vampire novels, arguing for their construction of a black feminist Afrofuturist epistemology. Both connects and contrasts Butler’s vampire characters to other cultures’ constructions of preternatural beings and other contemporary representations of vampires. Offers useful definitions of Afrofuturism and makes a good case for its compatibility with feminist thought. Argues for the black female body as a technology of flight in African American women’s music, singing, costumes, and performances.

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  • Morris, Susana M. “Androids, Shape Shifters, and Vampires: Black Women’s Afrofuturist Feminist Cultural Productions.” Georgia Institute of Technology School of Literature, Media, and Communication, Auburn University, 20 March 2014.

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    In this presentation, Morris argues for the feminist futurism of black women artists and writers, including Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, Alice Smith, Octavia Butler, and Tananarive Due. Sees their work both as challenging dominant visions of futurism and as empowering black women.

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  • Royster, Francesca T. “Labelle: Funk, Feminism, and the Politics of Flight and Fight.” American Studies 52.4 (2013): 77–98.

    DOI: 10.1353/ams.2013.0120Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for the Afrofuturism and feminism of the 1970s funk/rock/soul group Labelle.

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  • Sorenson, Leif. “Dubwise into the Future: Versioning Modernity in Nalo Hopkinson.” African American Review 47.2–3 (Summer/Fall 2014): 267–283.

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    Shows how Nalo Hopkinson adapts dub music to create new Afrofuturistic literary forms and narrative structure in her novels Midnight Robber and The Salt Roads. Argues that these new forms challenge modern discourses by centering on the perspective of Afro-Caribbean women.

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Space, Space Travel, and Cosmology

Although Afrofuturist scholars have not focused as much on this topic as they have on some others, the theoretical frameworks offered in these sources have been useful for those studying Afrofuturism more broadly. For example, Kilgore 2003, although not specifically focused on Afrofuturism, offers a rich framework for understanding the movement by uncovering the racial and imperial politics underlying 20th-century science fiction and science writing about space exploration. Fawaz 2012 offers a broad consideration of films that appear regularly in Afrofuturist film scholarship, while Wald 2011 offers a strong framework for understanding how sound and space might work together in Afrofuturism writ large. Josephs 2013 seemingly provides a more local analysis, by bringing an Erna Brodber novel together with the ideas of Afrofuturist icon Sun Ra; yet here again, the source offers a model for the way that media and figures overlap in compelling and sometimes unexpected ways in Afrofuturism.

  • Fawaz, Ramzi. “Space, That Bottomless Pit: Planetary Exile and Metaphors of Belonging in American Afrofuturist Cinema.” Callaloo 35.4 (Fall 2012): 1103–1122.

    DOI: 10.1353/cal.2013.0025Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the trope of planetary exile in several films: The Brother from Another Planet, Space is the Place, and Alien. Suggests that Sun Ra offers an alternative cosmology that represents an Edenic emancipated black collective on another planet. Sayles maps race and its history onto the American metropolis through the figure of the alien, and Fincher links exile in space with both blackness and queerness.

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  • Josephs, Kelly Baker. “Beyond Geography, Past Time: Afrofuturism, The Rainmaker’s Mistake, and Caribbean Studies.” Small Axe 17.2 (July 2013): 123–135.

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    Uses Kamau Braithwaite’s notion of cosmology to situate Jamaican writer Erna Brodber’s fiction as Afrofuturist.

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  • Kilgore, De Witt Douglas. Astrofuturism: Science, Race, and Visions of Utopia in Space. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

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    Although not focused on Afrofuturism, this monograph places speculative fiction and science writing, particularly about space travel and about futuristic dreams of outer space, in contexts of race, class, and gender. Kilgore locates progressive possibilities for African Americans in science and speculative fiction but generally focuses on white-authored science fiction and nonfiction, considering its social implications and shortcomings, its utopianism and its imperial politics.

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  • Wald, Gayle. “Soul Vibrations: Black Music and Black Freedom in Sound and Space.” American Quarterly 63.3 (September 2011): 673–696.

    DOI: 10.1353/aq.2011.0048Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Links sound and music to space both literal and figurative, focusing on two musical events, Marian Anderson’s April 1939 concert on the National Mall and “Soul at the Center,” a 1972 black arts festival at Lincoln Center. Uses Sun Ra’s concepts of vibration and outer space to interpret those events as imagining a Black utopia.

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Time Studies and Futurism

This area represents one of the exciting, newer developments in Afrofuturist scholarship. Indeed, time studies, more broadly conceived, within African American literary, historical, and cultural studies have been a rapidly expanding area of interest. Keeling 2009 offers a rich theorization of queerness, blackness, and time in several films as powerfully reconfiguring the future. Kreiss 2012 demonstrates the importance of the past and of non-linear chronologies in Afrofuturist texts Wright 2015, although not explicitly Afrofuturist, unsettles linear chronologies while taking a broader, more theoretical view of time and space in relation to race and to a contingent blackness. Yaszek 2006 also argues against linear time but does take an explicitly Afrofuturist stance as it focuses on the ways that past and future are inseparable in the fiction of the movement. English 2013, while not focused on Afrofuturism, offers a general treatment of representations of time across an African American literary tradition and includes consideration of a possible better future as suggested by the works of authors such as Suzan Lori-Parks and Sun Ra.

  • English, Daylanne K. Each Hour Redeem: Time and Justice in African American Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816679898.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for the intertwining of time and justice in works across an African American literary tradition. Offers the concepts “strategic anachronism” and “strategic presentism” to describe how African American authors have registered and expressed black experiences of non-standard time and of partial or non-citizenship.

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  • Keeling, Kara. “Looking for M—: Queer Temporality, Black Political Possibility, and Poetry from the Future.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 15.4 (2009): 565–582.

    DOI: 10.1215/10642684-2009-002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers three films, Looking for Langston (dir. Isaac Julien; 1989), Brother to Brother (dir. Rodney Evans; 2004), and particularly The Aggressives (dir. Daniel Peddle; 2005) as offering often liberatory and specifically black queer temporalities that promote a sense of political possibility in the future. Considers how fear of a black future may promote violence as well as the ways that the films may help imagine and create a less violent future.

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  • Kreiss, Daniel. “Performing the Past to Claim the Future: Sun Ra and the Afro-Future Underground, 1954–1968.” African American Review 45.1–2 (Spring/Summer 2012): 197–203.

    DOI: 10.1353/afa.2012.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the 2006 exhibition Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun Ra, El Saturn & Chicago’s Afro-Futurist Underground, 1954–68. Argues for the wide and disparate set of influences on Sun Ra that inform his futuristic vision of a pan-racial utopia.

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  • Wright, Michelle M. Physics of Blackness: Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.

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    Highly original analysis of the ways that blackness is constructed through time and space. Combines lay physics with cultural and literary studies and diaspora theory to offer close readings of a number of African and African diasporic texts by authors such as James Baldwin and Aima Ata Aidoo. Argues against using Newtonian time to undergird a linear progress narrative for black people that begins at the Middle Passage and that does not offer the best understanding of blackness in “spacetime.”

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  • Yaszek, Lisa. “Afrofuturism, Science Fiction, and the History of the Future.” Socialism and Democracy 20.3 (2006): 41–60.

    DOI: 10.1080/08854300600950236Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for the political power of Afrofuturist fiction in its recovery of the past and imagination of an alternative future.

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