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

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With a Marvel comic under her belt and a fiction being adapted for Tv by HBO, the Nigerian-American writer is flying the flag for 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 world) for best novella doesn’t look like much of a geek. Yes, she wears oversized glass, but Okorafor’s specs are trendy, 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 succes by their home communities that has long applauded her on from the margins. So when she tweeted on 11 August that she was working on her first projection with the comic publisher Marvel, fans were thrilled. (” A Marvel story. Written by a Nigerian lady. Set in Lagos. Superhero’s name: NGOZI. What a time to be alive ,” wrote one devotee on Twitter) And with a fiction, Who Fears Death, to be adapted for Tv by HBO( George RR Martin is its manager farmer) Okorafor is about to go from the solitary geek reference-point for young African ladies to everybody’s favourite 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 pitch-black dame overpowering a route in the sometimes unfriendly and isolating macrocosm of science fiction. NK Jemisin, who won the Hugo award for best novel two years in a row, was called an” educated but naive brute” by the US far-right activist Theodore Beale, who has long railed against the increasingly diverse sci-fi parish. Octavia E Butler, possibly the most wonderful known black female sci-fi writer, has said that she found herself alienated from the specific characteristics in the books she spoke. Okorafor acknowledges to not having read much sci-fi growing up, but, like Butler, struggled to identify with exponents when she did.” It just seemed like a very infertile, grey male world-wide ,” she says.” I would move towards reputations who were alien, or swine .”

Today, though, marginalised pitch-black girls and young women with a affection for manga, gaming, or robotics, can find each other online. Facebook communities include Black Girl Nerds– which has 126,000 followers- 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 movie Hidden Representations– about the African American mathematicians who played a crucial role in the seat 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 eludes beliefs:” For a long time, I refused to call myself a geek or a nerd because I was also an athlete ,” she says.” I was always the first kid picked for squads .” She reminisces merrily for several minutes about playing dodgeball and semi-pro tennis, and jokes about her phenomenal upper-body forte:” My mum been applied to throw the javelin. I’ve got her limbs. I can do one-handed pull-ups ,” she says with a hint of pride.

Raised in the southern suburbiums of Chicago, where she and her sisters would be called figures and chased by skinheads, Okorafor grew up feeling like an outsider. She has, nonetheless, turned that view to her advantage, envisaging attributes and arranges who sharply differentiate from their mainstream show; Who Fears Death, for example, is set in a post-apocalyptic Sudan and mixes fantasy with magical realism.

Although she may have been too athletic in her boy to fit the geek mould, Okorafor now spots comfort in the variety within the geek community. At San Diego Comic-Con this year with her daughter, she marvelled at the array of people in cosplay dress.” We were like:’ This is awesome. Everyone is just being what they are .’ I like the diversity- there are so many different types of strange .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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