ASU honors Black Speculative Fiction Month with a multimedia exhibit at Hayden Library
What does the film “Black Panther” have in common with an exhibit that just opened at Arizona State University’s Hayden Library?
Like the 2018 blockbuster, the multimedia exhibit focuses on the genre known as Black Speculative Fiction.
“GriotsGriots are traditional African storytellers. and Galaxies: Unveiling the Multiverse of Black Speculative Fiction” opened this month on the first floor of the Tempe campus library in honor of Black Speculative Fiction Month, which takes place in October.
The exhibition is on view through February 2024 and is co-produced by the ASU Library and the Center for Science and the Imagination.
Black Speculative Fiction has been described as a “super genre.” It is an umbrella term for forward-looking works of fantasy, science fiction, horror and more. Characters in Black Speculitive Fiction novels may shape-shift into exotic animals, travel through time or be devoted disciples of HoodooNot to be confused with Voodoo, Hoodoo is a set of spiritual practices, traditions and beliefs that were created by enslaved African Americans in the Southern United States from various traditional African spiritualities, Christianity and elements of Indigenous botanical knowledge. Source: Wikipedia. spirituality.
The genre is expansive. For example, musician Gil Scott-Heron’s protest song “Whitey on the Moon” exists right next door to artist Janelle Monáe’s album and film project, both of the same name, “Dirty Computer.”
“(Black Speculative Fiction) is designed to spur people into action,” said Lauren Ruffin, associate professor at ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering and curator of the show. “And it really does provide a blueprint for a better future for all of us.”
The exhibit spotlights a selection of 70 books from the library’s vast collection, including those by prominent authors from 1969 to 2023. Films, artwork, a music-listening station and a podcast by the same name, are also part of the show.
Ruffin hopes the exhibit increases the visibility of Black Speculative Fiction and accomplishes what any good fiction can, regardless of the background of the readers or writers.
“These aren’t just Black stories,” Ruffin said. “We want our students to read books that help them make meaning of their own lives and their own experiences. And Black Speculative Fiction does a really good job of that.”
“Griots and Galaxies: Unveiling the Multiverse of Black Speculative Fiction” was inspired by a podcast of the same name.
The 10-week podcast series is hosted by ASU Assistant Professor Jenna Hanchey and African authors Chinelo Onwualu and Yvette Lisa Ndlovu, and features interviews with Black Speculative Fiction writers — many from Africa.
Prior to working at ASU, Hanchey volunteered in the Peace Corps in Tanzania, where she said she saw how sometimes ideas proposed by Western agencies often grew out of a Western mindset that was vastly different from those of the communities they set out to serve.
Black Speculative Fiction, on the other hand, offers an alternative narrative — "a future beyond the legacies and histories of colonialism,” Hanchey said.
“Whether it’s science fiction, fantasy, surrealism or horror, it messes with what we assume about the future,” she said, “by creating futures that center on Blackness and people who've been left out of other futures. It enables everybody to have better futures where no one will be marginalized again.”
Bob Beard, senior program manager at the Center for Science and the Imagination, helped put the podcast and exhibit together.
“The stories we tell ourselves today do play a role in shaping what’s to come,” he said. “If we’re looking to create a world that is inspiring, inclusive and truly just, it is essential to get to know the stories and storytellers who are creating these visions for better, alternative futures.”
Top photo: Video art by Mark Sabb that's featured in “Griots and Galaxies: Unveiling the Multiverse of Black Speculative Fiction,” an exhibit on view at Hayden Library on the Tempe campus through February 2024. Photo by Jordyn Kush/ASU Library