Arts organization aims to bring black sci-fi genre to Mainers

A federal grant will fund a Maine nonprofit’s efforts to teach residents across the state a growing genre of black science fiction.

The National Endowment for the Humanities announced this month that it has awarded the Maine Humanities Council $250,000 to teach people across Maine about Afrofuturism, a cultural movement most closely tied to science fiction that depicts generally black people in a technologically advanced future.

Even though many Mainers don’t recognize the term itself, they probably know of at least one such work. The 2018 film “Black Panther” contains elements of this, as do the works of R&B singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe, rock musician Jimi Hendrix, and funk ensemble Parliament-Funkadelic.

“People have been really intrigued by these texts that they may have never heard of before,” said Samaa Abdurraqib, associate director of the Maine Humanities Council. “Or maybe they’ve been curious about science fiction and have never read science fiction by black and brown authors before.”

The Portland-based Humanities Council decided to present Afrofuturist texts to residents following the May 2020 murder of Geoge Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and his partner’s desire to include more readings on race and gender. racial justice, according to a statement from the body.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, said Abdurraqib, who is also director of the Afrofuturism project.

The council saw in the genre a reflection on the power of creativity to advance towards a future without oppression or borders. He noted a parallel between Maine’s official slogan “The Way Life Should Be” and a central question posed by texts like “How should life be?”

The primary means through which these new titles will reach readers is through the council’s Discussion Projects program: several Afrofuturist titles have been added to the lists that libraries, schools, and museums, among other organizations, can apply to be part of groups. of books organized by the Council. The group even provides the books.

The organization makes a point of expanding programming in both rural and urban sections of Maine: events planned for the coming months range from 350 miles from Kennebunk to Frenchville.

This year’s Reader’s Retreat event will also highlight Octavia Butler’s Afrofuturist novel “Wild Seed,” a 1980 book that tells the story of two immortal Africans whose journeys span centuries. The council has already sent 400 copies of the book across the state for the retreat and other discussion groups, Abdurraqib said.

The Afrofuturist genre has in fact been linked to Maine for more than a century: Pauline Hopkins, who wrote “Of One Blood”, considered one of the first Afrofuturist works and among the titles that the Humanities Council promotes, is born in Portland in 1859.

For the Council, the goal is to engage with black and non-black Mainers about the difficult, and often existential, questions posed by the titles. About 40,000 people (3% of the state’s population) in Maine identify as black, according to recent US Census data, a number that includes a substantial portion who identify with multiple races.

What is particularly striking about Afrofuturist works is that although they are usually set in times of conflict, including war or food insecurity, they feature characters who want to build community and collaborate to create a future. safer and fairer,” said Abdurraqib.

“They focus on liberation, often for black people, which then leads to liberation for everyone,” Abdurraqib said. “And that’s a very beautiful thing.”

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