“What if an African girl from a traditional family in a part of future Africa is accepted into the finest university in the galaxy, planets away?” “What if she decides to go?” “What if aliens came to Lagos, Nigeria?” “What if a Nigerian-American wrote science fiction?”
Those two words-what if, are the basis of author Nnedi Okorafor’s talk, “Sci-fi stories that imagine a future Africa,”at the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania.
Nnedi projected the words- what if, as powerful and capable of opening doors of possibilities. Citing examples from her book, Binti, Nnedi tells the story of how she started writing science fiction.
Even though America is the home of science fiction, Nnedi said she is always inspired by her African roots.
Nnedi is one of the most successful authors of science fiction novels. She has published multiple novels and short stories about African societies. Her novel, Who Fears Death, is in production with HBO as an upcoming series.
Growing up, I didn’t read much science fiction. I couldn’t relate to these stories preoccupied with xenophobia, colonization and seeing aliens as others. And I saw no reflection of anyone who looked like me in those narratives.
In the Binti novella trilogy, Binti leaves the planet to seek education from extraterrestrials. She goes out as she is, looking the way she looks, carrying her cultures, being who she is. I was inspired to write this story not because I was following a line of classic space opera narratives, but because of blood that runs deep, family, cultural conflict and the need to see an African girl leave the planet on her own terms.
My science fiction has different ancestors, African ones. So, I’m Nigerian-American. I was born to two Nigerian immigrant parents and raised in the United States, one of the birth places of classic science fiction. However, it was my Nigerian heritage that led me to write science fiction.
Specifically I cite those family trips to Nigeria in the late ‘90s. I had been taking trips back to Nigeria with my family since I was very young. These early trips inspired me. Hence the first story I ever even wrote took place in Nigeria. I wrote mainly magical realism and fantasy, inspired by my love of Igbo and other West African traditional cosmologies and spiritualities.