UR English Professor Jeffrey Tucker presented a speech Tuesday on African- Americans and science fiction in the Welles-Brown Room of Rush Rhees Library. The event was sponsored by the Black Students’ Union to commemorate Black History Month.
“It’s a pleasure to participate in events recognizing Black History month,” Tucker said. “What I want to do is convince you that African- American science fiction is not an oxymoron.”
The conception that African-Americans do not write science fiction has been perpetuated by an absence of talent that can be traced through the genre, which has been traditionally dominated by white writers and readers, Tucker said.
“White domination may explain the disdain of science fiction by African-Americans,” Tucker said. Expecting an explosion of African- American science fiction over the next five years, however, he added,
“Science fiction and black culture are changing to embrace one another.””Science fiction is a powerful figurative tool,” Tucker said. Its characteristics make it suited to addressing past and recent African-American experiences and confronting issues of the day.
“It is a significant distortion of the present,” he explained. “It should be taught with attention to historical context.”
Tucker summed up the ability of science fiction to express social concerns. “It’s a tool for thinking about the here and now, and also for imagining alternatives — how the world might be different.”
Tucker also discussed significant African-American science fiction writers such as Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler.
Currently Tucker is finishing a book on Delany, one of the first major writers of African-American science fiction and the first African-American to win the Hugo and Nebula Awards. He is the author of novels such as “Empire” and “Dhalgren.”
The book is called “A Sense of Wonder,” a phrase coined by science fiction writer and critic Damon Knight to refer to the reaction that the genre inspires in readers. “It’s a phrase used to identify what makes science fiction special,” Tucker said.
In their works, writers such as Delany and Butler, who are considered two of the most important African-American contemporary writers, deal with issues such as the history of slavery.
“The genre provides a new way to work with that history,” Tucker said. “It’s quickly becoming the next big thing in African-American literature. There still exists antipathy and resistance by whites to African-Americans in science fiction,” Tucker said. He added that gains have been made, such as Butler winning the MacArthur Foundation Award. “Attitudes are changing as people become more interested and curious.”
Student reaction was positive. “I learned more about the views of blacks and whites regarding science fiction,” Sharifa Stewart, a junior and a member of the BSU executive board, said.
“It was interesting to hear about the accomplishments of black people. Science fiction never seemed interesting, but I never knew blacks had an interest in it as a career,” junior Kristin Robinson said.
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