8 Afrofuturism Novels Worth Adding to Your Collection

Delve into the rich genre of Afrofuturism with these fascinating reads.
Delve into the rich genre of Afrofuturism with these fascinating reads. / Akashic Books / Grand Central Publishing / Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group / Amazon

Popularized by Mark Dery in his 1993 essay “Black to the Future” [PDF], Afrofuturism is a movement that encompasses art, technology, films, philosophy, and literature—all of which explores Black history and culture, but often through a science-fiction lens. These works imagine alternate histories and possible futures as they relate to the African diaspora.

As a genre, it’s enjoyed a welcome boom in popularity over recent years, thanks in part to Marvel’s 2018 feature film Black Panther and its forthcoming sequel. Although the term was first coined in the early ’90s, the roots of Afrofuturism stretch back as far as the 19th century, with Martin R. Delany’s Blake; or The Huts of America (1859) standing as an important early example.

The list presented below aims to serve as a concise literary introduction to Afrofuturism. While naming every great work would be impossible, honorable mentions go to writers like Samuel R. Delany, N. K. Jemisin, and Nalo Hopkinson, who helped to define this wonderful genre.

1. Parable of the Sower // Octavia Butler

'Parable of the Sower' by Octavia Butler cover.
'Parable of the Sower' by Octavia Butler / Grand Central Publishing / Amazon

As a shy kid, Octavia Butler found refuge in her local public library, losing herself in tales of far-flung worlds. During her lifetime, she wrote a wealth of novels and short stories, and was the first science fiction writer to be awarded a MacArthur fellowship. The setting for Parable Of The Sower is a disturbingly plausible dystopia, in which climate change and social inequality have transformed America into an unstable and dangerous land. When her community is attacked, the novel’s protagonist, a young woman named Lauren, must undertake a treacherous journey north in search of safety.

2. The Black God’s Drums // P. Djèlí Clark

'The Black God's Drums' by P. Djèlí Clark cover.
'The Black God's Drums' by P. Djèlí Clark / Tordotcom Publishing / Amazon

A winner of both the Nebula and Locus Awards, author Dexter Gabriel (who writes under the pen name P. Djèlí Clark) is rightfully ranked among the best contemporary writers of speculative fiction. Anything by Clark is worth tracking down, but his 2018 novella, The Black God’s Drum is a particular highlight. Set in an alternate timeline, in which the Confederate States won the American Civil War, this wildly imaginative story centres on a New Orleans street urchin named Creeper, who finds herself drawn into a Machiavellian plot concerning the mysterious titular weapon and the struggle for its mastery.

3. An Unkindness of Ghosts // Rivers Solomon

'An Unkindness of Ghosts' by Rivers Solomon cover.
'An Unkindness of Ghosts' by Rivers Solomon / Akashic Books / Amazon

Non-binary author Rivers Solomon writes with striking authority and style. An Unkindness of Ghosts, their debut novel, is an engrossing story set aboard a vast “generation ship,” where society has splintered along racial lines and those with darker skin are relegated to the lower decks and lives of servitude. The book’s heroine, Aster Gray—an inhabitant of said lower decks—must untangle a mysterious death which is somehow connected to her own mother’s suicide.

4. Nigerians in Space // Deji Bryce Olukotun

'Nigerians in Space'  by Deji Bryce Olukotun cover.
'Nigerians in Space' by Deji Bryce Olukotun / The Unnamed Press / Amazon

This is a delightfully thoughtful and endlessly entertaining read, which turns its unconventionality into a strong point. When protagonist Dr. Wale Olufunmi, a lunar rock geologist, is tasked with stealing a piece of the moon, he finds both his personal and Nigeria’s national glory at stake. A tale of international intrigue taking in multiple times, places and people, Nigerians in Space explores issues of identity in an endearingly original manner.

5. Riot Baby // Tochi Onyebuchi

'Riot Baby' by Tochi Onyebuchi cover.
'Riot Baby' by Tochi Onyebuchi / Tordotcom Publishing / Amazon

Former civil rights lawyer Tochi Onyebuchi caused quite a stir with his 2020 debut science fiction novella, Riot Baby, which garnered an impressive array of honors, including an Alex Award and a World Fantasy Award. Set in a near dystopian future, Onyebuchi’s work wraps up insightful observations on family dynamics and the Black American experience inside a page-turning tale of two siblings, one of whom is blessed—or perhaps cursed—with immeasurably powerful telekinetic powers. Throughout, Onyebuchi writes with creativity and flair.

6. Binti // Nnedi Okorafor

'Binti' by Nnedi Okorafor cover.
'Binti' by Nnedi Okorafor / Tordotcom Publishing / Amazon

Penned by Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor, Binti pops up regularly in best of lists, and with good reason. As a winner of both the 2016 Hugo and Nebula awards (and with a Hulu adaptation said to be in the works), this compelling science fiction novella manages to feel both classic and new, and is the first entry in an enjoyable trilogy. In it, the titular young heroine travels to take her place at a prestigious university, but finds herself thrust into the middle of an intergalactic conflict.

7. The Intuitionist // Colson Whitehead

'The Intuitionist' by Colson Whitehead cover.
'The Intuitionist' by Colson Whitehead / Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group / Amazon

The setting for this terrifically original tale from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead is a skewed version of a modern metropolis, the soaring skyscrapers of which are wholly dependent on elevators for vertical transportation. Two rival factions of lift-inspectors exist, the Intuitionists and the Empiricists, whose practices are diametrically opposed. When an elevator previously inspected by the novel’s heroine, Lila Mae Watson, suffers catastrophic failure, events unfold which might forever alter the city itself. As with all of the writers on this list, any book by Whitehead is worth investigating, but this 1999 debut work is a good place to start.

8. Chaka // Thomas Mofolo; $12

Born in Lesotho in 1876, Thomas Mofolo is considered one of the greats of Southern African literature. Chaka, which was first published in 1925 and written in Sesotho (a Southern Bantu language), is his best-known work and an important milestone in the development of Afrofuturism. It was translated into English and republished six years after its initial release, and presents a fictionalized account of Shaka Zulu (also known as Shaka kaSenzangakhona), but reimagined with heavy speculative elements. A classic tale of ambition and arrogance leading to ultimate downfall, Chaka equals any Shakespeare play for its drama and tragedy.