Woke Sci-Fi and Fantasy | Read Woke

Books featuring people of color in outer space and alternative worlds.

The blockbuster success of Black Panther pointed to a demand for diversity in sci-fi and fantasy, as do TV shows such as Black Lightning and Luke Cage. ­Sci-fi and fantasy account for more than 20 percent of the circulation at my library. It’s vital for our students of color to see themselves in all literary genres, including these.

One of my Muslim students from Pakistan who loves Harry Potter writes fantasy stories on Wattpad. I asked about her protagonist’s race. She said he was white, as if there were no other answer. When I asked her to imagine that Harry Potter was Muslim, the biggest smile came over her face. “That would be so cool!” I told her she could write that book and have an impact—she could write woke!

Many of my students had never heard of great sci-fi writers of color such as Octavia E. Butler, Tananarive Due, and N. K. Jemisin. Sci-fi/fantasy with diverse characters offers a nonconfrontational, non-preachy way to teach about social justice. These YA titles (and one picture book) meet my Read Woke criteria: to challenge a social norm; give voice to the voiceless; provide information about disenfranchised groups; confront the status quo; and feature protagonists from underrepresented groups.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Holt. 2018.
Harry Potter meets Black Panther in this amazing novel about Zélie, who remembers the day her mother was killed and magic disappeared from the Oshïra monarchy. Narrated by alternating characters, the story follows a young girl’s quest to bring magic back to her people. An author’s note reads, “If you cried for Zulaikha and Salim, cry for the innocent children...shot and killed by the police.”


Internment by Samira Ahmed. Little, Brown. 2019.
When the U.S. Government forces Layla’s family to move to an internment camp for Muslims, she plans a resistance. Ahmed shows how anyone can be a social justice warrior. After the New Zealand shooting that targeted Muslim people, this timely story can educate about the effects of Islamophobia and complicit silence.


Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia E. Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illus. by John ­Jennings. Abrams. 2017.
What if you were mysteriously pulled back to the days of slavery? This adaptation of Butler’s masterpiece answers. It follows Dana, an African American writer, as she time travels and witnesses atrocities against slaves. My favorite part: While seeking to learn more about ­slavery, Dana throws out her copy of Gone with the Wind.


Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. HarperCollins. 2018.
A zombie-infused ride through the South’s darkest era. Picture this: In a world where slavery never ended, black people must wait on their masters hand and foot and protect them from zombies. Slaves are sent away for combat training. Our protagonist is female, fierce, and intelligent. This mind-blowing read will have you rooting for the good guy—and ready to slay the bad guy with your sickle.


Slay by Brittney Morris. Simon Pulse. Sept. 2019.
Get woke dueling in the online world of Slay, created by Kiera, an African American honors student and secret developer of a role-playing game with Nubian avatars. Sounds dope, right? Morris mixes facts about black history with fast-paced action. If you loved Ready Player One
and Warcross, read this. To Brittney Morris, I say, “Slayyyyyyyyy, Queen!”


Chicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor, illus. by Mehrdokht Amini. Lantana. 2017.
For picture book lovers, this is a story about young girl who finds a chicken in her kitchen and calls upon magic from Wood Wit, a nature spirit, to help her get rid of it. Check out Okorafor’s “Binti” series and Akata Witch, too.


Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. Scholastic. 2015.
This book is bursting with magic and action. Sierra Santiago is a Brooklyn Afro-Latina who loves to create murals and learns about the secret world of shadowshapers. Infused with Latinx folklore, this novel addresses gentrification, colorism, and sexism while highlighting the beauty and diversity of Sierra’s family and culture.


Cicely Lewis (Twitter: @cicelythegreat) welcomes suggestions.

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Cicely, I so look forward to reading your #readwoke articles! Social justice and writers of color in Sci Fi and Fantasy has such deep roots and new, epic voices. Slay is brand new to me and I cannot wait to order a copy for home and my school library. Akata Witch, the Binti series and the new Shuri comics by Nnedi Okorafor are must haves. Africanfuturism is a genre that will continue to grow and shape the world in so many important ways!

Posted : May 02, 2019 10:31



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