Black Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors You Need to Read

These authors deserve to be read all year round.

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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

While we've always been avid science fiction and fantasy readers, it's impossible to overlook one of the genre's most glaring problems—namely, its predominant whiteness. 

Luckily, there has been a surge in dialogue regarding this lack of diversity, and more and more voices are being heard, published, and given the praise they deserve. There is still a ways to go before our books reflect the heterogeneity of our off-page lives, but steps have been taken in the right direction.

Below, you'll find a list of black science fiction and fantasy authors whose work has left, or is currently leaving, a footprint on the genre we all love. 

Appreciating writers like Octavia E. Butler and Samuel R. Delany should be something we do all year round.

Octavia E. Butler

Buy Parable of the Sower at Amazon

Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler

Read any “Best of SF/F" list, and you’ll inevitably find Octavia Butler’s name—regardless of race and gender. Butler began writing at the age of ten when, motivated to overcome her dyslexia, she penned a short story that would later become her Patternist series. By college, she was winning writing contests and, again, publishing the first seedling of another classic, Kindred

Raised by her widowed mother in a diverse but segregated Pasadena community, Butler often channelled her own experiences into her fiction. In fact, on the subject of Butler’s iconic novel, Parable of the Sower, author N.K. Jemisin says “she wrote...the world as it actually is,” offering "futurism" rather than "escapism." 

Parable follows a black 15-year-old refugee who creates a revolutionary philosophy, Earthseed, to ensure the survival of humankind.

RELATED: Octavia Butler Books: The Complete Canon 

Samuel R. Delany

Buy Dhalgren at Amazon

Dhalgren

By Samuel R. Delany

William Gibson called Dhalgren an unsolvable riddle—a statement that Delany himself affirms in the video above. But while the novel’s complexity was praised by some and scorned by others, its contribution to the science fiction community is indisputable. 

Drawing from his stint at a mental hospital and the suppression of his homosexuality, Delany used Dhalgren to portray race, sexuality, and identity in ways the genre had never done before. 

It’s set in the mind-bending city of Bellona, which becomes a mecca for marginalized individuals after an near-apocalyptic disaster.

RELATED: Interview: Sci-Fi Legend Samuel Delany Doesn't Play Favorites 

Walter Mosley

Buy Futureland at Amazon

Futureland

By Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley has described his science fiction as being about “how humans want to be very important but, in the end are not very important.” 

Such is the theme running through his nine-story collection, Futureland, which depicts a society divided by technology and economic wealth. “Whispers in the Dark” is about a young POC genius who, because of his intelligence, can be lawfully taken by the government. 

The final story, “The Nig in Me,” shows the effects of a virus—one created to destroy the black race—that has unexpectedly backfired on its white supremacist engineers. Each story paints a picture of an America that is frightening, but at the same time seems far too close at hand.

RELATED: 13 Sci-Fi Short Stories You Can Read Over Your Lunch Break 

Nalo Hopkinson

Buy Skin Folk at Amazon

Skin Folk

By Nalo Hopkinson

Born in Jamaica and raised in Trinidad, then Canada, Nalo Hopkinson has been heavily influenced by her heritage. With both parents enjoying lit-oriented careers—her mother was a library technician and her father, a poet and professor—she was introduced to Afro-Caribbean folklore and Western classics at an early age. 

From her debut, Brown Girl in the Ring, to her World Fantasy Award-winning Skin Folk, Hopkinson infuses her science fiction with a long standing appreciation for Caribbean storytelling, in addition to using it as an avenue for addressing issues of race, class, and sexuality.

RELATED: Enchanting & Captivating Fairy Tales for Adults 

Ishmael Reed

Buy Mumbo Jumbo at Amazon

Mumbo Jumbo

By Ishmael Reed

Though Ishmael Reed primarily wrote literary fiction, his foray into magical realism—this 1972 novel—belongs in every fantasy reader’s collection. As with all of his work, Reed gives underrepresented African Americans a voice—though Mumbo Jumbo features a unique twist. 

The story takes place in an alternate 1920s as a disease, “the Jes Grew,” sweeps across the nation and "plagues" people with the desire to dance. As white society tries to prevent the epidemic from spreading, another man steps forward—a voodoo priest named PaPa LaBas—and tries to keep it alive. 

Reed’s ingenious blend of fiction, real history, and light fantasy made him a National Book Award finalist. 

RELATED: 8 Stories of Feminist Travels in Time and Space 

N.K. Jemisin

Buy The Broken Earth Series at Amazon

The Broken Earth Series

By N.K. Jemisin

This t three-time Hugo Award winner hardly needs an introduction, but we’ll try anyways: N.K. Jemisin first burst onto the scene in 2010 with her critically-acclaimed short story, “Non-Zero Probabilities,” and equally praised first novel in her Broken Earth trilogy, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Often compared to the aforementioned Octavia Butler, she has since become the first African American author to take home the “Best Novel” Hugo Award—which she won for The Fifth Season

In 2018, she had another historic win when The Stone Sky, the third book in the Broken Earth trilogy, won a Hugo, making her the first-ever author to win three consecutive Hugo Awards, and to win a Hugo for every novel in a series. 

Jemisin's groundbreaking series "[focuses] on an oppressive society at the macro scale and what that society does to individuals," including an impoverished WOC living among privileged whites (New York Times).

RELATED: 17 Must-Read Hugo Award-Winning Books 

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  • N.K. Jemisin.

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Nnedi Okorafor

Buy Who Fears Death at Amazon

Who Fears Death

By Nnedi Okorafor

After a devastating surgery limited her mobility, Nigerian author Nnedi Okorafor swapped her burgeoning track career for writing. It was a successful venture, to say the least. 

By 2011, she was already the winner of several awards, including the World Fantasy Award for her novel Who Fears Death, which Publishers Weekly called “emotionally fraught." 

Partly inspired by women’s stories from the War in Darfur, Okorafor sets her tale in post-apocalyptic Sudan where Onye—a “half breed,” sorceress, and child of rape—must accept and achieve her terrifying destiny. An adaptation of Who Fears Death is also in development at HBO, and will be produced by George R.R. Martin.

RELATED: Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books Featuring Powerful Women 

Sheree R. Thomas

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Dark Matter

By Sheree R. Thomas

Back in 1998, SF/F fan Sheree Thomas felt the genre’s black authors were grievously underappreciated. In response, she created Dark Matter—a groundbreaking showcase of black SF/F talent that, like the anthology’s namesake, existed but often went unseen. 

One of the most notable additions is W.E.B. Du Bois’ forgotten and racially-charged story, “The Comet,” about the survivors of a cosmic disaster. Also included in the anthology is a story by Charles W. Chesnutt—a trailblazer of the late 19th century—and other names that are, thankfully, now recognized due to Thomas’ efforts.

Karen Lord

Buy Redemption in Indigo at Amazon

Redemption in Indigo

By Karen Lord

Among Karen Lord’s influences, which include Ray Bradbury and Terry Pratchett, is the rich history of oral tradition—something that inspired her “expanded folk tale,” Redemption in Indigo. The novel reimagines the Senegalese legend “Ansige Karamba the Glutton,” following a woman named Paama who, now free of her husband, is suddenly granted the power of Chaos.

This piques the interest of the Indigo Lord who, as the former owner of this power, decides to steal it back ... Lord, a native of Barbados, is also the author of the emotional sci-fi epic The Best of All Possible Worlds

RELATED: Impactful Female Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers 

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  • Karen Lord. 

    Photo Credit: Twitter

Amos Tutuola

Buy The Palm-Wine Drinkard at Amazon

The Palm-Wine Drinkard

By Amos Tutuola

After a difficult childhood and sporadic employment, Nigeria-born Amos Tutuola finally tried his hand at writing. His most famous novel, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, was the result of this initial experiment—a modern take on Yoruba folklore that Tutuola completed in the span of a few days. 

While it received mixed reviews in the 1950s, Drinkard is now regarded as a significant text of the African literary canon and charts the fantastical, almost hallucinatory, adventures of a boozy, Homer-style hero. 

Victor LaValle

Buy The Ballad of Black Tom at Amazon

The Ballad of Black Tom

By Victor LaValle

The winner of a Shirley Jackson Award—and a finalist for just about every other genre prize—Victor LaValle’s novella offers a new (and much-needed) interpretation of Lovecraft’s racist tale, "The Horror at Red Hook." 

While the Cthulhu mythos remains intact, LaValle has turned the rest of the story on its head, assuming the perspective of a black man working for the story's antagonist, Robert Suydam. 

The native New Yorker also published the full-length novel, The Changeling, which harkens back to the Brothers Grimm.

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  • Victor LaValle. 

    Photo Credit: Alchetron

Tomi Adeyemi

Buy Children of Blood and Bone at Amazon

Children of Blood and Bone

By Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American writer whose debut novel Children of Blood and Bone—winner of both the 2018 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy and the 2019 Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book—draws heavily from African mythology and history. 

Her story follows Zélie, a young divîner who lives in a dangerous world where magic has been stomped out. But, teaming up with a rogue princess, Zélie may have a way to protect her fellow maji and restore magic to the world.

Adeyemi’s second book Children of Virtue and Vengeance was released on December 3rd, 2019 and continues the Legacy of Orïsha Trilogy.

RELATED: The Enthralling Magical Battle Continues in Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Virtue and Vengeance

Marlon James

Buy Black Leopard, Red Wolf  at Amazon

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

By Marlon James

Marlon James’ most recent book, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, kicks off his new Dark Star Trilogy. A mercenary named Tracker is gifted with an incredible sense of smell, and finds himself hired to locate a boy who had gone missing three years prior. 

Immersed in a group of other individuals hunting for the mysterious boy, Tracker is no longer the only one with exceptional abilities. 

But as their search through ancient cities and dark forests grows more and more dangerous, Tracker can’t help but wonder why the boy he seeks went missing in the first place—or why people are trying so hard to keep him hidden.

The Jamaican novelist has, to date, written three other novels, one of which is A Brief History of Seven Killings, which won the 2015 Man Booker Prize. Thematically, James’ novels tend to center around colonialism, violence, and identity. His writing style is often regarded as raw and brutal, yet lyrical and complex.

RELATED: ‘Our Myths, Ourselves’: Marlon James Talks J.R.R. Tolkien

Nisi Shawl

Buy Everfair at Amazon

Everfair

By Nisi Shawl

Released in 2016, Nisi Shawl’s first novel Everfair is a steampunk Neo-Victorian alternate history of the United States, Europe, and the Congo. Shawl writes a story in which the natives of the Congo develop steam power before Belgium's colonization of their land. 

The haven land of Everfair is established by Fabian Socialists from Great Britain and African-American missionaries, and acts as a utopia for the Congo natives and escaped American slaves. This outstanding work of speculative fiction was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel.

Shawl is also well-known for her short fiction. She won the James Tiptree Jr. Award for Filter House, which collected fourteen of her short stories. Her 2009 novella Good Boy was also nominated for a World Fantasy Award. 

Cadwell Turnbull

Buy The Lesson at Amazon

The Lesson

By Cadwell Turnbull

The science fiction book The Lesson—set in his homeland of the U.S. Virgin Islands—is Cadwell Turnbull’s debut novel. A mostly benevolent alien race called the Ynaa live among the human locals as they carry out a secret research mission, but any act of aggression toward the Ynaa, no matter how small, is retaliated against with a volatile wrath. 

When a young boy dies as a result of the Ynaa’s actions, three families are caught in the eye of storm that could shatter the already strained interspecies relations. Optioned by AMC for a television series, The Lesson has also been named Best Book of 2019 by Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews.

Turnbull has also had notable success with short fiction, having been published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and Nightmare. "Jump," as seen in Lightspeed, was selected for The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019, as well as featured on LeVar Burton Reads.

RELATED: 16 Dark Fantasy Books You Won’t Be Able to Put Down

Buy Rosewater at Amazon

Rosewater

By Tade Thompson

Tade Thomspon, a British-born Yoruba psychiatrist and author/illustrator, won both the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and the Nommo Award for Best Speculative Fiction Novel for the first book in his Wormwood Trilogy, Rosewater

The town of Rosewater sits along the edges of a strange alien biodome, and the locals are varying degrees of curious and desperate to see if the alleged healing powers of the dome are real. 

Kaaro, an ex-criminal government agent, has seen the other side of the dome—but he wishes he hadn’t. However, when something kicks off a mysterious string of murders, Kaaro will have to come to grips with his dark past and an even darker potential future.

The Rosewater Insurrection and The Rosewater Redemption follow in the popular and cutting-edge Wormwood Trilogy. Thompson’s debut novel was the 2015 crime thriller Making Wolf, but he’s made quite a name for himself with short fiction and novellas as well, like in the case of his horror story "The Murders of Molly Southborne."

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Featured photos of Octavia E. Butler, Walter Mosley, and Nalo Hopkinson: Alchetron