Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed

In February of 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” Since then Tor.com has published my in-depth essays on nine of the 42 works mentioned. The original “Crash Course” listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but the essays skip around a bit. This tenth one talks about Ishmael Reed’s magnum opus, Mumbo Jumbo.

JES GREW

Mumbo Jumbo is the story of a life-giving epidemic known colloquially as “Jes Grew,” a spiritual cure-all for soullessness sweeping across the continental U.S. during the 1920s. If the book has a human hero it’s Papa LaBas, a self-anointed houngan—that is to say, a priest of ancient African mysteries. LaBas searches alongside Jes Grew for its long-lost sacred text in the hope of grounding and legitimizing it, and thus defeating the prudish rulers ...

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: Walter Mosley’s Futureland

In February of 2016, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” Since then, Tor.com has published my in-depth essays on eight of the 42 works mentioned. The original “Crash Course” listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but the essays skip around a bit.

This ninth installment looks at Walter Mosley’s 2001 collection Futureland: Nine Stories of an Imminent World.

BLENDING A FEW OF GENRE FICTION’S FINEST FLAVORS

Mosley is best known for his crime fiction—especially for the Easy Rawlins mysteries set in mid-Twentieth Century Los Angeles but written from 1990 through the present. His work is often compared with that of Raymond Chandler, one of L.A. Noir’s original practitioners. The narratives, plots, and overall aesthetic of science fiction’s cyberpunk subgenre owe a debt to Noir as well; Futureland takes on that ...

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: The Spook Who Sat by the Door, by Sam Greenlee

Over a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction. Since then I’ve been asked to write individual monthly essays on each of the 42 works mentioned. The original essay listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but these essays skip around a bit. A year before the Broadway premiere of the Lorraine Hansberry play discussed here in May, Les Blancs, British press Allison & Busby published Sam Greenlee’s novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Eventually Bantam published a paperback version in the U.S., but though that went into over a dozen printings and the book was later made into a movie, Spook has remained a so-called cult classic since its initial appearance on the literary scene. The “cult” to which its popularity is limited is apparently that of ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: The Spook Who Sat by the Door, by Sam Greenlee

Over a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction. Since then I’ve been asked to write individual monthly essays on each of the 42 works mentioned. The original essay listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but these essays skip around a bit. A year before the Broadway premiere of the Lorraine Hansberry play discussed here in May, Les Blancs, British press Allison & Busby published Sam Greenlee’s novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Eventually Bantam published a paperback version in the U.S., but though that went into over a dozen printings and the book was later made into a movie, Spook has remained a so-called cult classic since its initial appearance on the literary scene. The “cult” to which its popularity is limited is apparently that of ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: The Spook Who Sat by the Door, by Sam Greenlee

Over a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction. Since then I’ve been asked to write individual monthly essays on each of the 42 works mentioned. The original essay listed those 42 titles in chronological order, but these essays skip around a bit. A year before the Broadway premiere of the Lorraine Hansberry play discussed here in May, Les Blancs, British press Allison & Busby published Sam Greenlee’s novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Eventually Bantam published a paperback version in the U.S., but though that went into over a dozen printings and the book was later made into a movie, Spook has remained a so-called cult classic since its initial appearance on the literary scene. The “cult” to which its popularity is limited is apparently that of ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl, by Virginia Hamilton

Over a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction. Since then I’ve been asked to write individual monthly essays on each of the 42 works mentioned. This column’s subject, Virginia Hamilton’s The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl, is a children’s novel about a child goddess come to Earth. From her heavenly home on top of Mount Highness in Kenya, Pretty Pearl journeys to America beside her brother John de Conquer. Their plan is to investigate the cruelties of chattel slavery. In the form of albatrosses they follow a slave ship to Georgia, but on landing they lie down in the red clay rather than jump right into interfering. Interference has a habit of backfiring, the grown-up god informs his little sister. But divine time runs differently than human time. The siblings take a ...
Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Expanded Course in the History of Black Science Fiction: Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs

Over a year ago, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination published an essay by me called “A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction.” Since then I’ve been asked to write individual monthly essays on each of the 42 works mentioned. This one’s about Les Blancs, Lorraine Hansberry’s last play.  

WHERE IT FITS IN THE OEUVRE

First produced in 1970, a little over five years after the author died of cancer at the age of 34, Les Blancs never achieved the acclaim of Hansberry’s massively successful Broadway play A Raisin in the Sun, nor that of the Off-Broadway dramatic adaptation her widower Robert Nemiroff patched together from her notes and autobiographical writings, To Be Young, Gifted and Black. But though it remained unfinished at the time of her death, she considered Les Blancs her most important work.  

HOW TO TELL IT’S FANTASTIC

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Everfair by Nisi Shawl