It’s been almost a week since that gorgeous, groundbreaking, record-shattering juggernaut of a film, Black Panther, hit theatres. I know a lot of us saw it opening weekend—it did earn $201.8 million domestically in three days, after all, which makes Black Panther‘s debut the biggest domestic opening weekend ever for a black director and the biggest global opening ever for a film with a predominantly black cast (you can read more about the film’s many historic successes in this fantastic Buzzfeed article).
So now that you’ve seen it (probably multiple times, maybe enough times that your wallet is shaking its head—yeah, us too), what do we do while we wait for the next appearance of T’Challa (hopefully along with Nakia, M’Baku, Shuri, and the whole crew) in Avengers: Infinity War?
We read, of course! Our resident Science Fiction and Fantasy nerd Lydia is recommending some brilliant Afro-futurist and/or fantasy/magical realism by African and African-American authors to get us all started.
Black Panther comics, by multiple authors
This seems like the best (and most obvious) place to start. Both the original history-making series written by Don McGregor and the new reboot series (written by MacArthur genius, National Book Award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates) are fast-paced, thoughtful works full of adrenaline-fueled fun and unapologetic black pride. Know a young reluctant reader who can’t stop raving about the movie? Get them started on the comics, and they’ll be ready for Ronald K. Smith’s new middle grade novel, Black Panther: The Young Prince, in no time.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
One of the most intriguing aspects of Black Panther is its setting, the hidden-in-plain-sight hyper-advanced country of Wakanda. Due in part to the rich resources brought by a Vibranium meteor, Wakandans were able to develop incredible technology that puts them a hundred years ahead of the rest of the world (eat your heart out, Tony Stark).
Similarly, Nisi Shawl’s masterful steampunked-history novel Everfair explores an alternate reality in which the people of the Congo were able to develop steam-powered technology ahead of the violent oppression and invasion from colonizing Belgium, England, and other developed nations. Everfair becomes a sanctuary utopia sheltering Congolese natives, as well as Africans stolen and pressed into slavery who escape from America and other nations to return. A fantastically complex tapestry woven from many voices, Everfair is a brilliant story about a little-studied time and place.
What is Means When A Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Arimah’s collection of magical realism stories set in many places, including Africa (much as the author herself has lived in many places, including Nigeria) is full of shimmering strangeness and wonder and possibility which, when cast alongside the grounding themes of family tensions, class dynamics, and dislocation, makes her first book truly one of a kind. Arimah’s work has received numerous grants and awards, including the 2015 African Commonwealth Prize and an O. Henry Award, and What is Means When A Man Falls from the Sky leaves no doubt as to why.
But! You don’t have to take my word for it: listen to national treasure LeVar Burton read the title story of Arimah’s collection on Episode 5 of his new (amazing) podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, as well as a fantastic bonus conversation with Arimah following Episode 8.
The Binti trilogy, by Nnedi Okorafor
This is a must-read for all of us celebrating the introduction of the newest Disney princess, genius techie smart-aleck Shuri. Nnedi Okorafor (who has also written for the Black Panther franchise) presents a masterpiece in the Binti trilogy. The story follows the titular character, another 16 year old African genius, on a journey to take her place at the most revered university while struggling to both preserve her cultural identity and survive extra-terrestrial war.
I also highly recommend Okorafor’s Akata Witch (and sequel, Akata Warrior) and Who Fears Death, which will be adapted into an upcoming HBO series (produced by George R.R. Martin).
The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden (a 2017 Texas Book Festival author)
Texas author Nicky Drayden’s novel of interconnected stories set in South Africa follows a young Zulu girl with immense powers, a queer teen who discovers he can control others’ minds, a sarcastic pop diva, a politician with a hidden side, and an ancient demi-goddess desperate to claw her way back to her former power. This book is an adventure and a whirlwind of fun.
Be sure to check out Nicky Drayden’s recent Q&A with Texas Book Festival where she talks writing, world-building, and her forthcoming novel, Temper!
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
This one comes out next month but we can promise—it’s completely worth the pre-order. This smartly paced, brilliant fantasy built on West African culture and folklore features a kingdom on the brink of war, forbidden magic, violent tensions in the royal family, and the age-old clash between modern change and traditional culture. This may be Adeyemi’s debut novel, but her immersive world-building and deft handling of several characters and a slow-burn, conflicted romance makes her a star on the rise. Children of Blood and Bone has been collecting rave reviews and deserves every word.
After the Flare by Deji Bryce Olukotun (a 2017 Texas Book Festival author)
In this brief but hit-the-ground-running quick-paced novel, Deji Bryce Olukotun explores a future where an enormous solar flare destroys electrical systems worldwide, strands an astronaut on the International Space Station, and leaves Nigeria the only country with a capable and working space program. At times serious and other times wryly hilarious, this is not one to miss.
The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
I’ve already recommended Jemisin’s award-winning record-setting Broken Earth trilogy on this blog and to everyone I know, but those are certainly not her only amazing books. Warring factions, royal families with dark secrets, surprise heirs—N.K. Jemisin brings all the profound history and family drama that helped make the Black Panther film so great in her Inheritance Trilogy. If you’re into rich fantasy, complicated families at war for the throne, and all-around badass women, run out and get The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and meet Yeine Darr today.
Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi (a 2017 Texas Book Festival author)
Onyebuchi’s dazzling world of sin-beasts (manifestations of a person’s sins) and Aki (young sin-eaters indentured by mages to destroy the beasts) is home to a young aki, Taj, working a dangerous job to help his family survive in the corrupt walled city of Kos. The first in a duopoly, Beasts Made of Night is perfect for lovers of dark magic tales and underdog triumph.
Also recommended: everything ever written by queens of Science Fiction/Fantasy, Nalo Hopkinson and Octavia Butler! While these two prolific and award-winning authors are considered “canon” for SFF, they’re always worth a revisit (or a first visit for some).