‘ 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 fiction being adapted for TV by HBO, the Nigerian-American columnist 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 nature) for best novella doesn’t look like much of a geek. Yes, she wears oversized glasses, but Okorafor’s specs are classy, royal-blue Cat-Eyes , not sinewy aviators. And, crucially, she happens to be a black woman.

The Nigerian-American’s success has been applauded as a win by their home communities that have all along applauded her on from the margins. So when she tweeted on 11 August that she was working on her first assignment 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 fan on Twitter) And with a tale, Who Fears Death, to be adapted for TV by HBO( George RR Martin is its manager make) Okorafor is about to go from the lonely geek reference-point for young African ladies to everybody’s favourite brand-new sci-fi writer.

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

Okorafor is not the only black girl overpowering a itinerary in the sometimes hostile and isolating world-wide of science fiction. NK Jemisin, who won the Hugo award for best novel two years in a row, was called an” educated but ignorant brute” by the US far-right activist Theodore Beale, who has long railed against the increasingly diverse sci-fi parish. Octavia E Butler, probably the best known 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 spoken much sci-fi grown up, but, like Butler, struggled to identify with supporters when she did.” It just seemed like a very infertile, white-hot male world ,” she says.” I would migrate towards personas who were alien, or swine .”

Today, though, marginalised pitch-black girls and young women with a love for manga, gaming, or robotics, can find each other online. Facebook communities include Black Girl Nerds– which has 126,000 adherents- and its outgrowth, Black Girl Geeks, which has more than 38,000 adherents on Twitter. Black female geeks are also being celebrated on screen: the movie Hidden People– about the African American mathematicians who played a vital role in the opening hasten- was one of the biggest movies at the box office in 2016.

Venomverse( A Blessing in Disguise) by Marvel. Photograph: 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 apprehensions:” For a very 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 crews .” She remembers gladly for several minutes about playing dodgeball and semi-pro tennis, and jokes about her prodigious upper-body persuasivenes:” My mum used to shed the javelin. I’ve got her arms. I can do one-handed pull-ups ,” she says with a indicate of pride.

Raised in the southern suburbs of Chicago, where she and her sisters would be called calls and chased by skinheads, Okorafor grew up feeling like an intruder. She has, nonetheless, turned that perspective to her advantage, seeing personas and prepares who crisply differ from their mainstream show; 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 boy to fit the geek mould, Okorafor now discovers solace in the variety within the geek parish. At San Diego Comic-Con this year with her daughter, she marvelled at the display of parties in cosplay dress.” We were like:’ This is awesome. Everyone is just being exactly what we .’ I like the diversification- there are so many different types of strange .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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