Historical Context


The following is a brief, incomplete timeline of Black science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction published in the United States, in particular. For further context and works, see the above links.

The 19th Century

1859 Martin R. Delany — an African American abolitionist, physician, and writer — publishes Blake, or the Huts of America, sometimes cited as the first Black sci-fi novel, though falling more squarely in the domain of speculative fiction. In writing about slave revolt, and exploring the idea of pan-African utopia, the work introduced many themes present in Black sci-fi and fantasy today. 
1887 Charles Chestnutt’s work, The Goophered Grapevine, is published. The book, like Delany’s, conforms more closely with our contemporary genres of speculative and magical realistic fiction than sci-fi and fantasy, but was the first story published by a Black author in The Atlantic, a rare and significant breakthrough. 

The 20th Century

1920 W.E.B. Du Bois publishes his post-apocalyptic work, The Comet. Du Bois’ provocative short story explores a New York City in the midst of apocalypse, struck by a comet and suffusing the city in toxic gas, sparing only a wealthy white woman and a poor Black man. 
1947 Octavia Butler is born on June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, California. 
1954 Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola’s collection of short stories, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, is published to relatively wide recognition in both the U.S. and the U.K., incorporating magical and speculative themes. 
1981 Michael Donald lynching occurs in Mobile, Ala., sometimes considered the “last” conventional lynching in the American South. Jemisin lived nearby at the time, and she has cited Klan-backed murder as an influence in her life and work.
1984 Octavia Butler wins Nebula and Hugo Awards — among the highest honors in sci-fi and fantasy publishing — for her book Bloodchild, the first work in the Xenogenesis trilogy.

The 21st Century

2009 —Racefail controversy erupts, a sprawling, often messy debate across the sci-fi and fantasy blogosphere about the genre’s underrepresentation of writers from marginalized groups, seen by some as a pivotal point at which mainstream publishers began to offer greater opportunities for writers of color. 
2010 Jemisin publishes her first novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which receives a Hugo Award nomination. 
2013 — In the wake of a string of controversies, from Racefail to SFWA, Jemisin delivers a Guest of Honor speech at the Continuum convention in Australia, calling for a “Reconciliation” in the sci-fi and fantasy fan and publishing community. 
2016 Jemisin publishes The Fifth Season, becoming the first African American writer to win a Hugo Award in the category of “Best Novel.”


The Fifth Season’s Homepage

Caleb Owens 2020

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