Thursday, December 21, 2017

Searching For Sycorax: The Fluidity Of Black Women's Horror Fiction


"Black Women Writing Fluid Fiction: An Open Challenge to Genre Normativity"

Thesis: Black women genre (horror, science fiction, fantasy, speculative) writers uniquely blend these themes in their work, creating a "fluid fiction" "to articulate the simultaneity of oppressions that uniquely affect black women."

The participation of black women in genre fiction:

1. Refuse to write their work in one genre. There is no distinct separation of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and the speculative.

2. Should not be positioned in "speculative fiction and Afrofuturism," and demonstrate an entirely unique subgenre "that is explicitly black and female."

3. Because genre lines have a natural tendency to blur, black women use this to their advantage in literary works, thus creating a subgenre that Dr. Brooks coins, fluid fiction.


Keywords:

speculative fiction - a branch of storytelling that typically consists of worlds, times, and characters in provacative situations that allows a suspension of disbelief of what is possible in our actual world, but a reflection of ponderances we have about our society and each other; 'hightlights difficult social issues in a non-threatening way'

fluid fiction - a forward moving "racially gendered framework that revises genre fiction in that it purposefully obfuscates the boundaries of science fiction/fantasy/horror writing just as black women confound the boundaries of race, gender, and class."

Discussion Topics:

Defining genre, anything under the category of horror, science fiction, and fantasy is an almost impossible task. There are general definitions that aid in narrowing the scope of what is described as genre yet, their tendencies to almost always bend in the varying directions and intertwine with each other usually makes interpretation of texts virtually open-ended.

Speculative fiction developed into a all encompassing term for everything under the terms of horror, science fiction and fantasy. When reading and analyzing black women's genre fiction, this is a hinderance because black women write the speculative to specifically address/express their realities, struggle, dreams (regardless of their positive or negative outcomes) in the present and for the future.

The very presence of black women's work in speculative fiction has created an evolution in this space that calls for the need to investigate how it has made use of genre in order to produce stories that weave matters of race and gender, with the fantastic.

Fluid fiction is where black women writers declare their visibility and subjectivity within and out of the pages; disrupting traditional definitions of genre that further destabilize their existence in speculative discourse. What develops are stories that centralize blackness, black characters, a definitive, self-defining act that aligns directly with the nucleus of actively participating in black feminism. Fluid fiction is a liberatory step in an awareness of work by black women that is both intersectional and fantastic, divorcing from the historic parameters around Black feminism, literary merit, and speculative/Afrofutiristic narratives.

Fluid fiction:

centers black women in stories
uses fantasy, science fiction, and horror throughout a story
blends multicultural cosmologies as reflective of historic geography
demonstrates a relationship with other novels written by black women (commonly those in the literary canon)

Examples:


Author Nalo Hopkinson uses science fiction, fantasy, and horror in her stories that critique Western "cultural mores" while examining the place of specific, Carribean cultures within it.

Nalo Hopkinson's "Greedy Choke Puppy" in Skin Folk (2001)


A modestly successful young woman struggles with the fact that she's a woman of a certain age who remains single with no children. How far will the pressure to be a "real woman" take her and what dark path will entice her decisions?

- fantasy/horror

- blends the European witch with the French vampire to tell the Caribbean folktale of the soucoyant. The soucoyant is "an old, evil-tempered woman" who at night, takes off her skin and transforms into a ball of fire. She travels to find the body of a child in which she can suck the life out of.

- gendered: "Hopkinson steadily escalates the metaphoric association of fire and heat to Jacky's growing panic--that she will fail in fulfilling the sociocultural roles the hegemony demands of women she has dangerously internalized."

-racialized: Jacky's conflict further unmasks "the black community's sociosexual expectations of respectable black womanhood," using the epistemology (the way of knowing) and ontology (the way of being) of black women that relates ("in conversation with") canonical text in black women's literature

Nalo Hopkinson's Sister Mine (2013)


Once conjoined twins learn that they are descents of West African gods called orishas. One of the twins' journey revolves around self-discovery and her place in the world with this information.

- science fiction: use of the "rigid rules of magic"; fantasy: "Africanist re-reading of the great journey"; horror: "re-imagining the African American folklore legend of the haint" (ghost)

- heavily uses African religions, especially Santeria and Vodou, but emphasisizes the multiplicitous nature of spiritual practices in the Caribbean that are (mixed) influenced by African, South Asian, European, Asian, and aboriginal cultures on those islands

- additionally intertwines attributes of different deities in certain characters

- the haint presents an immediate, physical threat to the character Makeda; it is violent and heidious, yet its motives are not to terrorize, but a manifestation of a part of herself lost to the mythical demands of her elder

Discussion Questions:

Let's look at horror, science fiction, and fantasy. What parameters do we put around these genre categories? List examples of films, TV shows, and literature where they intermingle.

How does Afrofuturism fail to be a critical source for examining black women's genre literature?

What is fluid fiction's "three significant features"?

Why is fluid fiction an important space for black women genre writers? How does this term/theory give literary legitimacy where it has been historically negated due to the ghettoization of genre work and the ongoing fight for Black feminist ideology?

"Literary homeplace" is a concept that aligns with fluid fiction to explain why its existence is necessary as a respose to the parameters surrounding "white patriarchal constructions of literature" and traditional ideas of "black women's literary expression." Describe literary homeplace and not only its broad definition, but examples of its specificity.

Why does Brooks spend so much time on discussing Hopkinson's use of Caribbean language? What importance does it contain in the realm of fluid fiction and the history of how Black women have developed communication mechanisms "as a tool of resistance and politicization"?

Further Readings:

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (2010) by N.K. Jemisin
"Ganger Ball Lightening" (2001) by Nalo Hopkinson
"From the Poets in the Kitchen" (1983) by Paule Marshall



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