In the second of a series of posts, Midwest BSFA member Renee Tecco discusses African American folklore as it relates to Black speculative fiction.

In their essay “Speculative Sankofarration: Haunting Black women in Contemporary Horror Fiction,” writers Kinitra D. Brooks, Alexis McGee and Stephanie Schoellman touch upon John Jennings’s term “Sankofarration.” Sankofa is a Twi word which means to go back and get. The symbol of the adinkra bird shows the bird looking behind him. In their essay the authors write:

Sankofarration: “It is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot” John Jennings coined the term “sankofarration” and defines it as a conflation and Sankofa and narration, a cosmological episteme that centers the act of claiming the future as well as the past Jennings specifically expands upon a central notion of Afrofuturism — that the Western construct of time as linear is a fallacy.”

Today, writers have been inspired by the African American folklore that preceded them and are creating these stories into Afrofuturism and the Black Fantastic. Afrofuturism is a speculative fiction genre that explores art, literature, and culture through the lens of Black culture. It is forward looking. Black Fantastic is a subgenre of fantasy with a focus on people of African descent. The stories are often surreal with stories of superheroes or magical creatures. So to keep this presentation brief let’s look at how a few contemporary writers in the Black Fantastic are influenced by a couple of these past characters.

The first is Brer Rabbit. As explained before, Brer Rabbit is a trickster character. In the stories he is a stand in for enslaved African Americans. Just like Anansi, he can be a hero or he can be the villain, depending on the story.

Comic book writer/illustrator Jeremy Love has incorporated the character into his graphic novel Bayou (2009). The story takes place in the Jim Crow South. Lee Wagstaff is the daughter of a Black sharecropper. When her best friend is abducted by magical forces her father is accused of murdering her which leads Lee on a quest to find her friend to free her father from jail. On her way Lee meets a friendly giant and is joined by Brer Rabbit, still the trickster but is decked out in the sartorial selections of his day. With the use of folkloric characters like golliwogs and giants, Love creates a surreal story that speaks to readers today about racism and resistance. Lee is a sympathetic character that readers can see themselves in as she travels into an underworld to find her friend.

Next week, we’ll talk about the Boo Hag.


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