Mazi Fred Nwonwu, editor with strong emotional ties to speculative fiction
Mehul Gohil – Kenyan Writer
Nnedi Okorafor – Nigerian American author and professor
Dilman Dila – Ugandan writer, filmmaker and activist
Tendai Huchu (Unavoidably absent)
Speculative fiction concerns itself with supernatural and futuristic themes thereby encompassing science fiction, fantasy and horror which are only just beginning to gain traction in Africa.
Mazi Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu opens the panel discussion with brief introductions of the panelists. All seated to his left there is Nnedi Okorafor African fantasy and science fiction writer, Dilman Dila Ugandan writer and filmmaker and Mehul Gohil, Kenyan writer.
Chiagozie throws the first question to the general panel but it is Dilman who goes first, talking about his experience in Nepal and how he was made aware of the fact that the world wasn’t primarily made up of black people. He gives a nod to Nnedi’s book ‘Who fears death’ saying it spoke to him directly.
The next question is about the debate that played out on Facebook about the naming of the genre of African and African Diaspora writing fantasy. He asked the panelists if they felt there was a need for a name and the movement. Nnedi was quick to respond making it clear she resists the terms “movement” and “new”. In her response she says “I’ve been doing this for years” citing her earlier works both published and unpublished as proof that this genre of speculative fiction is not new to Africans and Africans in diaspora. After all, “does something not exist because people don’t know about it?” she asks.
Returning to the first half of the question she believes there is no need for a name. Nnedi thinks labelling the genre then places a level of anonymity to the originality and unique nature of the African and African in diaspora fantasy writings. Ours is much different from all the others and labelling it will make it one of the many types of fantasy out there. At this point Chiagozie mentions the ease with which people would identify works of that nature if they were labeled but Nnedi remains of the opinion that it robs the work of its identity and affects the perception of the story.
The next question asks how authentic a work of fiction needs to be albeit it being expectedly fictitious. Mehul Gohil has a quote regarding this which says “the truth is deeper with fiction even if it’s only make-believe”. To expatiate on this, Nnedi tells a story on how she came up with the descriptions in one of her latest books ‘Lagoon’ for one of the sea creatures. She went as far as getting to rub against a similar mammal just to get the feel of what she would be describing in her book. She admits “that’s how far I go with authenticity”.
The power of speculative fiction in effecting social change was also talked about. It was agreed that speculative fiction has a way of taking a well-worn and sensitive issue and turning it into something seemingly new and more presentable to people otherwise averse to it.
The acceptance of African fantasy and science fiction in the local and international scene was addressed as well and Nnedi also had a few words to say concerning this. She told us how she’d received hate mail and death threats over her first novel Who Fears Death. She said the attitude towards African fantasy locally is still geared towards the taboo sense of things and how certain topics should not be addressed at all. On the international scene it is almost the same thing, she lets us know how her work has been taken to major film houses and have been rejected outright because it’s African fantasy and science fiction. We learn this is part of the reason she has to change the name of her book Akata Witch to What Sunny Saw in the Flames because the word “witch” was too much for the local scene to handle.
The panelists were allowed to read excerpts from their books after which questions were entertained before Chiagozie announced the end of the panel discussion.
Emeka is a retiring bibliophile and a blue-moon writer. His hobbies include reading books as research material on how to write and daydreaming about actually writing. He enjoys good music and poetry. He also studies medicine.