Black Speculative Fiction: Imagining Otherwise for Racial Justice

White on red text reads BLACK FUTURES MATTER, above two Black hands with line drawings of flowers and a horizon.
Image by Shyama Kuver

The Otherwise Motherboard is in solidarity with the current mass protests, in the US and beyond, that are fighting against police violence and white supremacy and for Black lives. We mourn George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and the countless other Black people whose lives have been cut short by police violence. We support the transformative coalitions now emerging to abolish white supremacist systems, structures, and institutions. We believe another world is possible.

To change the world requires that we first imagine it otherwise. One small thing that the Otherwise Award can do for the current struggle is to amplify the voices of Black authors whose visionary speculative fiction creates pathways to imagining and building a more just world. And so we offer a list of fifteen works, honored by the Otherwise Award in the past, to feed the imaginations of those engaged in this moment and this movement.

Some of the works on this list, such as Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts and The Deep, speak directly to Black people’s lived experience of oppression and uprising; others, such as Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, transport readers to worlds in which white supremacy, and whiteness itself, are absent. Andrea Hairston’s Redwood and Wildfire and Nisi Shawl’s Everfair decolonize history to center Black and Indigenous creativity, joy, and love. Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium, Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, and Hairston’s Mindscape reconfigure science fiction tropes to unmake the colonial conventions on which they rely. Three short story collections, Shawl’s Filter House, Sheree Renée Thomas’s Sleeping Under the Tree of Life, and Kiini Ibura Salaam’s Ancient, Ancient, provide multiple routes through Black history, memory, myth, and sensuality. Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Talents and N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth show people and communities in complex relationship to apocalyptic change and transformative social movement. And, in a mode that Bogi Takács describes as “speculative only so far as real life can be called such; which is, of course, considerably,” our most recent winner, Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, refuses colonial definitions of gender, self, and identity.

As you engage in this struggle in whichever ways you can, we hope these books bring inspiration, solace, escape, and pleasure.


Jennifer Marie Brissett, Elysium (Honor List, 2014)

Jennifer Marie Brissett — Elysium



Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents (Honor List, 1998)


Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater (Winner, 2019)

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi


Andrea Hairston, Mindscape (Honor List, 2006)

Andrea Hairston — Mindscape


Andrea Hairston, Redwood and Wildfire (Winner, 2011)

Redwood and Wildfire — Andrea Hairston (Aqueduct Press, 2011)


Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring (Honor List, 1998)

Nalo Hopkinson: Brown Girl in the Ring


Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber (Honor List, 2000)

N. K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season (Long List, 2015)

Nnedi Okorafor, Lagoon (Honor List, 2014)


Kiini Ibura Salaam, Ancient, Ancient (Winner, 2012)

Kiini Ibura Salaam — Ancient, Ancient


Nisi Shawl, Filter House (Winner, 2008)

Nisi Shawl – Filter House


Nisi Shawl, Everfair (Honor List, 2016)

Nisi Shawl — Everfair


Rivers Solomon, An Unkindness of Ghosts (Honor List, 2017)

Rivers Solomon, An Unkindness of Ghosts


Rivers Solomon, The Deep (Honor List, 2019)

Rivers Solomon, The Deeo


Sheree Renée Thomas, Sleeping Under the Tree of Life (Long List, 2016)

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