‘ 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 region and a novel being adapted for TV by HBO, the Nigerian-American scribe 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 world-wide) for best novella doesn’t look like much of a geek. Yes, she wears oversized glasses, but Okorafor’s specs are stylish, royal-blue Cat-Eyes , not wiry 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 have all along 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, followers 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 manager creator) Okorafor is about to go from the solitary geek reference-point for young African females to everybody’s favourite new sci-fi writer.

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

Okorafor is not the only black maiden pulsating a course in the sometimes hostile and isolating world-wide of science fiction. NK Jemisin, who won the Hugo award for good 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 girl sci-fi writer, has said that she found herself alienated from the specific characteristics in the books she read. Okorafor declares to not having spoken much sci-fi growing up, but, like Butler, struggled to identify with supporters when she did.” It just seemed like a exceedingly sterile, grey male world-wide ,” she pronounces.” I would migrate towards reputations “whos” alien, or swine .”

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

Venomverse
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 defies expectations:” For a long time, I refused to call myself a geek or a nerd because I was also an athlete ,” she speaks.” I was always the first boy picked for crews .” She remembers merrily for several minutes about playing dodgeball and semi-pro tennis, and jokes about her phenomenal upper-body fortitude:” My mum used to throw the javelin. I’ve got her arms. I can do one-handed pull-ups ,” she enunciates with a suggestion of pride.

Raised in the southern neighbourhoods of Chicago, where she and her sisters would be called figures and chased by skinheads, Okorafor grew up feeling like an intruder. She has, nonetheless, diverted that position to her advantage, foreseeing references and prepares who crisply distinguish from their mainstream depicting; Who Fears Death, for example, is set in a post-apocalyptic Sudan and combinations fantasy with supernatural realism.

Although she may have been too athletic in her boy to fit the geek mould, Okorafor now observes comfort in the variety within the geek community. At San Diego Comic-Con this year with her daughter, she marvelled at the array of parties in cosplay garbs.” 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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