‘ So different types of strange ‘: how Nnedi Okorafor is changing the face of sci-fi

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With a Marvel comic under her loop and a romance being adapted for TV by HBO, the Nigerian-American novelist is flying the flag for pitch-black, female geeks

As the science fiction novelist Nnedi Okorafor takes to the stage at the TEDGlobal conference in Tanzania, she challenges stereotypes before she has said a word. The 43 -year-old writer who won the 2016 Hugo award( the Oscars of the sci-fi nature) for better novella doesn’t look like often of a geek. Yes, she wears oversized glass, but Okorafor’s specs are swank, royal-blue Cat-Eyes , not skinny aviators. And, crucially, she happens to be a pitch-black woman.

The Nigerian-American’s success has been applauded as a win by a community that have all along encouraged her on from the margins. So when she tweeted on 11 August that she was working on her first campaign with the comic publisher Marvel, devotees were stimulated. (” A Marvel story. Written by a Nigerian female. Set in Lagos. Superhero’s name: NGOZI. What a time to be alive ,” wrote one love on Twitter) And with a fiction, Who Fears Death, to be adapted for TV by HBO( George RR Martin is its executive producer) Okorafor is about to go from the solitary geek reference-point for young African women to everybody’s favourite brand-new sci-fi writer.

Nnedi Okorafor … don’t announce her a geek. Picture: Beth Gwinn/ Must Credit: Beth Gwinn/ Writer Pictures

Okorafor is not the only black lady beating a track in the sometimes unfriendly and isolating macrocosm of science fiction. NK Jemisin, who won the Hugo award for better novel two years in a row, was called an” educated but naive heathen” by the US far-right activist Theodore Beale, who has long railed against the increasingly diverse sci-fi community. Octavia E Butler, maybe the best known pitch-black female sci-fi writer, has said that she found herself alienated from the characters in the books she read. Okorafor admits to not having read much sci-fi growing up, but, like Butler, struggled to identify with supporters when she did.” It just seemed like a exceedingly infertile, white male macrocosm ,” she adds.” I would move towards attributes who were alien, or animals .”

Today, though, marginalised pitch-black girls and young women with a enjoy for manga, gaming, or robotics, can find one another online. Facebook communities include Black Girl Nerds– which has 126,000 admirers- and its offshoot, Black Girl Geeks, which has more than 38,000 followers on Twitter. Black female geeks are also being celebrated on screen: the film Hidden Illustrations– about the African American mathematicians who played a vital role in the space race- was one of the biggest cinemas at the box office in 2016.

Venomverse( A Blessing in Disguise) by Marvel. Photo: Tana Ford/ Marvel

Asked how she feels about being called a geek, Okorafor gets animated, but then, as she did on the TED stage, she refuses expectancies:” For a very long time, I refused to call myself a geek or a nerd because I was also an athlete ,” she supposes.” I was always the first minor picked for units .” She reminisces merrily for several minutes about playing dodgeball and semi-pro tennis, and parodies about her phenomenal upper-body strength:” My mum are applied to hurl the javelin. I’ve got her arms. I can do one-handed pull-ups ,” she responds with a intimate of pride.

Raised in the southern outskirts of Chicago, where she and her sisters would be called appoints and chased by skinheads, Okorafor grew up appearing like an outsider. She has, however, moved that perspective to her advantage, seeing personas and determines who aggressively distinguish from their mainstream portrait; Who Fears Death, for example, is set in a post-apocalyptic Sudan and mixtures fantasy with magical realism.

Although she may have been too sporting in her youth to fit the geek mould, Okorafor now detects consolation in the variety within the geek parish. At San Diego Comic-Con this year with her daughter, she marvelled at the display of people in cosplay outfits.” We were like:’ This is awesome. Everyone is just being what they are .’ I like the diversification- there are so many different types of strange .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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