Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Speculative poets of Afrofuturism

As we close Black History Month in the US, here are some of my personal favorite emerging and established poets who've added greatly to speculative poetry and Afrofuturism over the years. There are of course, many more, but I hope this will be a good start to encourage my readers to seek their work out, as well as those whom I have not mentioned in this particular note.

It is my hope you all take the time to get to know their work. We often see the tremendous advances our prose writers and musicians are paving the way for us in Afrofuturism, but I feel it's vital to take the time to let our poets in the community know that they, too, have added deeply to the tradition, and their voice is meaningful and necessary, and at times terrifying and hilarious, as it should be. Keep going, keep creating.

Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith is an educator and the author of Life on Mars. Tracy K. Smith earned her BA from Harvard University and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. From 1997 to 1999 she held a Stegner fellowship at Stanford University. Smith is the author of three books of poetry. In addition to Life On Mars, she wrote The Body's Question (2003), which won the Cave Canem prize for the best first book by an African-American poet; and Duende (2007), winner of the James Laughlin Award and the Essense Literary Award.  In 2014 she was awarded the Academy of American Poets fellowship. She has also written a memoir, Ordinary Light (2015). Smith teaches creative writing at Princeton University and lives in Brooklyn.

Airea D. Matthews is the author of the highly anticipated Simulacra coming this year, selected by Carl Phillips as the winner of the 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets. Matthews received an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan, where she is currently the assistant director; she also serves as executive editor of The Offing. A Cave Canem Fellow and a Kresge Literary Arts Fellow, Matthews lives in Detroit. This year, she is also a Rhsyling Award nominated poet.

Linda D. Addison is a legendary figure in SFF who was the first African American to win a coveted Bram Stoker Award in Horror for her poetry, for 2001's Consumed, Reduced to Beautiful Grey Ashes, and she's gone on to win several more. I profiled her recently, along with Akua Lezli Hope, who is the author of Them Gone and a winner of the SFPA SF Poetry Contest in the short form category.

Tlotlo Tsamaase is the first speculative poet from Botswana I've read, but already her work shows great promise in the years ahead.

LaShawn M. Wanak‘s work can be found in Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, and Daily Science Fiction. She is a 2011 graduate of Viable Paradise.

Naru Sundar has just started coming onto the scene but I enjoyed his "Origami Crane / Light-Defying Spaceship" and so many of his other poems that I'm happy to recommend him for those who want to see one of our promising talents in action.

Out in Oakland, Lisa Marie is holding it down, exploring the complex possibilities of being through her poetry, theater, performance art and essays. It's well worth checking out her work.

Brandon O'Brien is a Rhysling-nominated poet and writer from Trinidad. His work has been shortlisted for the 2014 Alice Yard Prize for Art Writing and the 2014 and 2015 Small Axe Literary Competitions, and is published or upcoming in Strange Horizons, Reckoning, and New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean, among others. He is also a performer and facilitator with the.art.is Performing Arts Company, and the poetry editor of FIYAH Magazine. I'm just beginning to become familiar with his poetry, but what I've seen so far tells me we can expect great work from him over the decades ahead.

Nisi Shawl's been involved with Steamfunk, SFF and speculative literature for decades and has been a positive figure and mentor for many around the world.

Somali American Sofia Samatar has been an exceptional trailblazer in Afrofuturism and the world of speculative literature, particularly known for her prose, but I think it's vital to look at what she's doing in poetry, as well, such as "The Sand Diviner" or "Notes Towards a Theory of Quantum Blackness."

Tonya Liburd, whom I've also highlighted recently is an emerging poet who was recently nominated for a Rhysling Award. Based in Canada with Caribbean roots, she's an Associate Editor for Abyss & Apex, she was longlisted for a 2015 Carter V Cooper (Vanderbilt) Prize, and her work has appeared in Space And Time, Cascadia Subduction Zone, Postscripts to Darkness 6, UnCommon Minds, Expanded Horizons, the Mondays Are Murder series, Polar Borealis Magazine, Grievous Angel, and elsewhere. She’s also an affiliate member of the Horror Writer Association.

J.T. Stewart is an accomplished poet, writer, playwright, editor, teacher, and performance artist who has taught creative writing, literature, and film studies at the University of Washington, Seattle Central Community College, and at Fairhaven College (Western Washington University). Her poetry collections Nommo and Ceremony can be found in the University of Washington's archive of Northwest writers. Some of her other work appears in The Seattle Review, Raven Chronicles, Seattle Times, and The Portland Oregonian. J.T. belongs to New York City's Harlem Writers' Guild and co-founded Seattle's Clarion West Science Fiction Writer's Workshop.. She has been an invited writer-in-residence and board member at Hedgebrook, a private retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island, where a distinguished writer's scholarship was established in her name.

The late Octavia Estelle Butler (1947 – 2006) was a multiple recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, She was one of the best-known women in the field. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed the "Genius Grant," and her poem "Earthseed" remains deeply influential as an example of speculative poetry,

Yusef Komunyakaa is known for many amazing works, but among my favorites of his is his 2001 collection Talking Dirty To The Gods. That book assured me it was more than acceptable to keep on the path of the speculative poet. This collection was structured as "four by four by four-or-so verbal performances stuck together to form an oblique and psychologically intricate antihistory of the human world, from Homo erectus to MTV. The poems keep up particular interests in sculpture; craft objects, from thumbscrews to valentines; sex; insects; and classical and comparative mythography. Polyphemus the Cyclops, Godzilla the movie, a full bill of Greek gods and ancient personages, the Renaissance artist Pollaiuolo, Rodin, W.E.B. DuBois, the minor Modernist martyr Harry Crosby, and (as Komunyakaa's devotees might expect) a team of jazz musicians stand among the large cast of characters."

One of America’s most significant literary figures, Ishmael Reed has published over thirty books of poetry, prose, essays, and plays, as well as penned hundreds of lyrics for musicians ranging from Taj Mahal to Macy Gray. His work is known for its satirical, ironic take on race and literary tradition, as well as its innovative, post-modern technique. Reed’s books of poetry include Conjure (1972), nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, Chattanooga (1973), A Secretary to the Spirits (1978), New and Collected Poems (1988), and New and Collected Poems 1964-2007 (2007), which was named one of the best books of poetry of the year by the New York Times, and won the California Gold Medal in Poetry. Among his most influential poems on me is of course "Beware: Do Not Read This Poem."

Notoriously unphotographed, almost Sasquatchian in that regard, Francis Wesley Alexander is a Rhysling nominated speculative poet based in Ohio and is prolifically writing, while enjoying the antics of two kittens. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in diverse publications such as Disturbed, Star*Line, Prune Juice, Scifaikuest, Illumen, Martian Wave, Trysts of Fate, and numerous others. He particularly writes in shorter forms which I've found engaging and intriguing.

Finally, for this introduction, one of my other favorite poets is Gary Jackson. Born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, Gary Jackson is the author of the poetry collection Missing You, Metropolis, which received the 2009 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in Callaloo, Tin House, 32 Poems, and elsewhere. He is an Assistant Professor at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/595023 has two of my favorite poems of his, "Tryouts" and "Shazam." Be sure to read his work when you can.

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