Nnedi Okorafor, a renowned science fiction writer and co-author of three recent issues of Marvel's Black Panther comics, spoke about her story inspirations and her relationship to the term “Afrofuturism” at the Kellogg Global Hub Thursday. The event was co-hosted by Kellogg Africa Business Club and Buffett Institute for Global Studies as part of the #KelloggAfricaWeek initiative.
“My definition has been that the root of Afrofuturism is in Africa,” Okorafor said. She described her relationship with the word as “fraught and confused,” as it has historically been regarded as an African-American science fiction genre.
“If I’m going to own it, then I’m going to redefine it myself,” she said. “I feel like by doing that, it groups all diaspora – it groups all black people of the world.”
Regarding the “futurism” part of the word, Okorafor said she sees the “past, present and future all interconnected,” and that old, ancient technologies are also modern.
Moderated by English professor and poet Chris Abani, the event began with Okorafor reading from her 2015 science fiction novella Binti before elaborating on recurring themes of her stories.
“My Nigerian-Americanness – the cultural aspect and the physical aspect, they’re all playing into something,” she said.
Okorafor's creative writing career began when she, a top track and field athlete during her teenage years, was diagnosed with scoliosis and had to go through spinal surgery. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago and being one of the very few blacks in the area, she said she constantly had to deal with racial slurs and discrimination.
“Because I’ve moved across the borders and been on the borders, I always felt like I don’t fully belong to anywhere,” she said. “And it’s okay.”
On Marvel's recent Black Panther film, Okorafor said she found it “incredible,” although “not perfect” as she hoped to see more of ordinary Wakandans.
“I think I can look at the issues I have with Wakanda and address those things from the inside,” she said.