I’m not saying I started this podcast as a way to defend my increasingly expensive reading habit, but… I definitely did just that! And it is books like Agnes Gomillion’s The Record Keeper that continue to make me excited about genre fiction. If nothing else, genre fiction allows authors to explore complex cultural issues from different angles, prompting people to reexamine their ideas and address issues they might otherwise have swept under the rug.
Why did you want to re-tell/reinvent an existing true story, that of Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave?
Once slavery was abolished many American slave-narratives fell out of print and, today, they still aren’t widely circulated. Consequently, the lessons they impart are lost to us. After reading Frederick Douglass’ story, I wanted to harvest its wisdom and make it accessible to modern society, particularly young people.
At the climax of his tale, Douglass describes an encounter he had with his white master, a man so cruel he’s known as a ‘slave breaker’. After weeks of torture, Douglass decides he’d rather die than receive another beating from the man. And so, when the whip falls next, instead of cowering, Douglass fights back, knowing he’d likely be killed for resisting. Upon reflection, Douglass says that, in that moment, he became a free man. Even though he remained a slave in form for several more years, his refusal to cower and attitude of independence meant he was never again a slave in fact.
It’s this definition of freedom that’s at the heart of Arika’s tale. Although she’s female and much younger than Douglass, her evolution from fearful girl to spirited woman is one I knew was needed in today’s political environment.
Science fiction is a genre that ought to be limitless, but time and again we see sci-fi narratives re-enforcing prejudices and injustices of the past if not completely writing out certain voices/perspectives. What are the top things you wish science fiction writers would stop doing – or start to include?
I would like to see more diversity in science fiction; from diverse expressions of the future to diverse heroines. It’s vital for people, especially those in marginalized groups, to envision themselves outside of their current reality. Envisioning encourages them to endure current hardships and empowers them to imagine a better, less oppressed, future. It’s no secret that seeing is believing. It’s up to us, as socially responsible writers, to consider how the world should be when we imagine what could be.
What makes the Afro-futurist approach to science fiction distinct?
Afrofuturism combines science-fiction with black aesthetics to illuminate black culture – past, present and future. When writers approach science-fiction with an Afro-futurist lens, they are seeking to understand black people and appreciate their struggle in a world disproportionately controlled by the white race. From a reader’s perspective, Afrofuturism adds another element of interest which, in my view, makes Afro-futurist science-fiction more dynamic. However, it’s not just cool. Centering marginalized people makes Afro-futurist fiction protest literature. It’s counter-culture art that also happens to be extraordinarily entertaining.
What are some of your favourite speculative fiction narratives that explore issues of race and slavery?
Pitch The Record Keeper to us! Why should we pick up a copy?
A two-part question! I’ll answer both with one sentence. If you liked the intellectual depth and thrilling narrative of Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood as much as I did, you’ll absolutely love The Record Keeper!
Agnes Gomillion is an #Ownvoice writer and speaker based in Atlanta, Georgia, where she lives with her husband and son. Homegrown in the Sunshine State, Agnes holds a degree in English literature with a focus on African-American literature from the University of Florida and a Juris Doctorate and Legal Master degree from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law. She is a voracious reader of the African-American literary canon and a dedicated advocate for marginalised people everywhere. Her debut novel, The Record Keeper, is a literary addition to the afro-futuristic science-fiction genre.