In fourth grade, I was introduced to fantasy fiction through The Harry Potter series. I became a fan of the series when the fourth book was the latest book released. There was something irresistible about Harry’s world that I couldn’t explain. When I read the first three books, everything I read vividly appeared in my mind in bright colors. Once things got darker with the fourth books, the colors shone like stars in new characters and gave me hope for those I already knew.
I loved how Harry’s world painted my imagination with its characters and creatures. As I waited for the newest book in the series to be released, I decided to maintain that feeling by reading other fantasy series such as Percy Jackson and The Olympians and certain Dragonlance trilogies. Together with the Harry Potter series, these books painted my imagination into a lovely kaleidoscope and also sparked an interest in mythology and folklore.
For a while, race wasn’t an issue for me when it came to characters. I related to things that went beyond skin color, like Hermione’s brain and her being put down because of it. In high school, I realized I couldn’t find any characters of color I could relate to in contemporary teen fiction. Due to the lack of diversity in diverse characters, I looked to white characters even more.
After Harry’s adventures ended in my junior year of high school, I found one or two other series that I enjoyed. Then, I started to get bored with fantasy fiction. I was tired of the same old strong female characters and books with vampires, fairies, and demons. After a while, even fantasy series I loved to reread also became boring.
I wanted something new, but wasn’t sure what it was. Then last year, I watched the animated series W.I.T.C.H. on YouTube and found myself relating to Taranee Cook, a black female main character who could control fire. That’s when I realized that I wanted to read fantasy fiction with people of color.
On Goodreads, I requested fantasy fiction books written by African American authors and ended up reading Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson. While it took me a few chapters to get into the book, I found myself experiencing the same thrill I got from reading the Harry Potter books. However, the lack of fantasy fiction by black authors at my local libraries and my picky reading taste prevented me from finding more books.
It wasn’t until this summer that I was able to find more enjoyable fantasy fiction by black authors. Through the site Black Girl Nerds, I discovered Kyoko M. and her urban fantasy trilogy The Black Parade. The main character was Jordan Amador, a twenty-something black-Latina who could see ghosts, demons, and angels.
As I read the first book of the series, I found myself admiring how she fought demons inside and outside of herself. By the end of the book, I found myself wanting more and happily bought the second book of the trilogy, She Who Fights Monsters, when it was released in July. I also promoted the author on my blog with a book review of the first book.
Besides The Black Parade trilogy, I found other black fantasy fiction authors through the blog The Chronicles of Harriet, which introduced me to the genres sword and soul and steamfunk. Sword and soul had stories set in alternate versions of Africa and featured black men and women equipped with magic, swords, and spears. Steamfunk provides a different take on the steampunk genre with African American history and culture.
Although both genres sounded interesting, sword and soul was the genre I was most excited about. I researched black authors such as Charles Saunders, Milton J. Davis, and Balogun Ojetade. In addition, I also read a book on African mythology in order to be familiar with the myths they might draw on.
In order to get my feet wet in sword and soul, I bought the book Once Upon a Time in Afrika by Balogun Ojetade. From the first chapter, my imagination was painted with wonderful characters and places. I read the book in two or three days and did a book review to spread the word about it.
After I finished the book, I bought the anthology Griots: Sisters of the Spear to read sword and soul stories focusing on black women. I recently started to read it since October is Black Speculative Fiction Month and I’m awed at what I’ve read so far.
Black fantasy authors have repainted my imagination with fresh images of magic, horror, strength, and more. They have shown me that with creativity, black people can create a new view of their past, present, and future.