Thursday, October 30, 2014

Black Speculative Fiction Month, Day 30: Author Bret Alexander Sweet Talks About #BSFM

So we officially close our Black Speculative Fiction Month event starting tomorrow, with our usual Martial Artist Spotlight, but we just have one more interview left.

We almost met this author back in early October, when we ventured to Sacramento for KidLitCon. Obviously because we'd never been, and lack of time management, we weren't able to cross paths.

But we saved one of the best interviews for last on our Black Speculative Month event. His book "Among The Veils" made our Top Ten list of spec fic titles featuring Bi/Multi-Racial protganists of African descent.

Author Bret Alexander Sweet is always a pleasure to have on the blog. Here's what he has to say about Black Speculative Fiction Month.

1. Black Speculative Fiction Month is relatively new, but most, especially authors, have responded well to it. Had you heard of it before? If so, how? If not, what prompted you to learn more?

No, in fact the concept was brand new until you two introduced it to me. I love the idea though. Anything that it is encouraging black people to read or exposes as many audiences as possible to the literary works that black are producing, I am in full support of. I know for a fact that reading is weight lifting for the brain. The research shows that literacy has a huge effect on job readiness, college acceptance and mental health; positively or negatively. Those three components are pretty much deciding factors in poverty. Reading is not a silver bullet for every problem but it sure is a good pathway for approaching problem solving. Plus reading is cost effective like soccer. It doesn't require a lot of capital to get into. I am a big fan of reading.

2. Do you think there is a different take on Speculative Fiction for writers of color?
Yes. Absolutely. There are some unspoken stereotypes about writers of color. The assumption is they come from an academic background or liberation spiritual movements, because many have. They are known for historical fiction or treatises of the soul. Knowledge of self, find your light in the darkness type writing.That is say one "box" that writers of color automatically get put into. Then there is the writer artist. Let's say the poet or the celebrity biography. Equally important as the list before but also another "box". Then on the other extreme we have the "keep it real" writers of color. The juke joints on the page. Infidelity, murder, betrayal and revenge. These are necessary too because they reflect a slice of reality but they are also a "box". The underlying assumption is that writers of color do not touch speculative fiction.

Now is probably when we should do the one a bit. Do a Google search and you will find the following definition: Speculative fiction is a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements. Most folks agree Robert Heinlein coined the phrase. Stranger in a strange land elements which is probably why he didn't feel it applied to fantasy. There is a interesting paradox in there. Writers of color probably identify these elements the most. With everything going in the United States right now, how can you not feel like a stranger in a strange land as a black male? Realistically, if we are to blend the boxes I mentioned before, where would you find them? Speculative fiction. To me its the logical choice for writers of color.

It is also interesting to note that when writers of color deal with the supernatural it is somehow not seen as urban fantasy or urban science fiction. I am not sure why completely. Usually it is put into the box of "magical realism". This is especially true with writers dealing with the Latin American diaspora or African writers. 

However the real issue is there a different take by the audience of speculative fiction for works done by writers of color. Yes. And we are not saved. People love vampire books. They love werewolves. They love Underworld. They are surprised to find out Underworld was written by a black man. They shouldn't be. We still have a way to go in the speculative fiction field in terms of the expectations of the audience tribes. Especially with black people....older black people. I go to a lot of events that are based around social justice, civil rights and the advancement of black folks. It amazes me how many dollars go into books about hair or getting even with some man who did you wrong. When I say "my book is modern mythology for black folk" I get this look like "oh that's nice.....". We have to do more to expand the expectation. You can't just get a tattoo of an African god on your arm and stay afraid to read about them.

3. Do you consider yourself a Speculative Fiction writer? What does Black Speculative Fiction Month mean to you as an author? Why do you think it's important to have a month solely for Speculative Fiction writers?
"I'm not a biter, I'm a writer for myself and others".......

I am a writer. I wrote business plans, text books, research papers, blog posts, role playing game scenarios, songs, diss tracks, etc. I am writer. However I think the audience I have the largest and most vocal following for is "Among The Veils". I can never decide what genre it is. Maybe because genres and labels worry me. Urban sci fi fantasy? Modern mythology? I like calling it urban speculative fiction. 

Black Speculative Fiction Month is time to celebrate these art forms that are specific to our diaspora and our experience here in North America. It is important to highlight the month so the same young kids I see riding the trains rocking their cosplay from Attack On Titan or Guardians of the Galaxy know they have the write similar stories about their experience as black people. Being black is great. It's wonderful. The more people who participate and celebrate blackness, the better of the planet will be. Black Speculative Fiction month is also very important because it is an opportunity to bring in the other audiences I was mentioning before. Try it you'll like. It's like pho.....

When I first started dating my then girlfriend, now wife, she wanted to get pho. I had never had the stuff but everyone kept talking about it. Where I live here in the Bay Area, its very popular. I went on Google and looked it up. Vietnamese soup. Okay I love Vietnamese food but $7 for some soup? Come on, son! I told her I wasn't feeling it and I wanted to get jerk chicken instead. She had never tried Jamaican food so she didn't want to compromise either. I agreed to try her favorite food if the week after we could get jerk chicken. She took me to get some Pho and said "try'll like it".

Two spoons later, I was in love with pho. Try it, you'll like it.

4. Do you have any favorite Speculative Fiction writers of African descent? What makes their work stand out to you?

Octavia Butler - She is probably the mother of BSF. Other than comic book writers, you didn't really see a black voice woven into a world shared by aliens or psychics or vampires. She gets a lot of support for her Parable series but I think it was her Patternmaster series that motivated. I also feel she confronted some of those boxes I mentioned earlier with her Kindred novel. 

Ishamel Reed - He is most likely the father with the themes he brought out in Mumbo Jumbo. It was also prescient when you consider how much of marketing and movements through social media are considered for their "viral" effects.

Derek Bell - I don't know that Bell wrote anything else like "And Yet We Are Not Saved". What an incredible attempt though. I don't want to spoil the premise but at one point a civil rights lawyer travels back in time and uses an energy shield to lock down the Continental Congress. She makes the architects of the United States defend why they didn't abolish slavery at the formation of the country. 

Toni Morrison - You know Morrison's work tends to get shelved under African American literature. When you look at works such as Song of Solomon, Beloved and Sula, it as much magical realism as anything else. 

Ben Okri - Ben is a Nigerian who spent alot of time in London. I think there is some resonance between the African in England and the African brought to America. Especially with Nigerians. I think that is part of the reason Idris Elba is so popular with young people. You hear it Fela's music. You hear it in reggae. What's fascinating about Ben's writing is his ability to parallel the politics of post-colonial Nigerian to the spiritual realm. 

5. How do you plan on celebrating BSFM? What is some advice for readers looking to honor the event?

For one, I am trying to read some new authors I haven't read before. I am ashamed to say that I am just now starting to get into Tananarive Due which is cold because she comes from the same parts as my father's family. I am also working to promote other black speculative fiction authors like J. Malcolm Stewart who wrote "The Eyes Of The Stars" and Theolonius Legend who wrote "Sins Of The Father". Hopefully by next year I can promote some black women doing speculative fiction.

The best advice I can give readers is do your part to get your community out of the box. I am a bit of a fire brand, I know this but it comes from a place a love. If we have time to wax poetic about Game Of Thrones on social media, we have time to read something where there are black characters. If we can dvr True Blood, we can make time for these authors as well. I say this a lot but if you watch Love & Hip Hop, you should probably read some black speculative fiction because at least that is being honest about the fact its not real.


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