Reviewing the Bookrise: Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness

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By Truth Thomas
Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness
Edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles E. Jones
240 pp. Lexington Books. $75. Kindle $67.99.

One of the first noticeable aspects of both science fiction and speculative fiction is that, for the most part, black people are absent in those narratives. Traditionally, Eurocentrism is the sun around which future focused literary imaginaries revolve.  Whether one considers “Star Trek” in the 20th or 21st centuries, for example, black folks are cast as happy sidekicks on space ships of white supremacy.  As a result of the poisonous legacy of slavery, non-white people all over the world are envisioned as marginal human beings in the context of literature, film, music, and technology–if we are envisioned at all.  To a significant extent, black people are chained to alien, invisible, less-than-ness identities in the world. In spite of that reality, we are here, have been here, and are on our way to a liberating “away mission” of our own deciding. This point is made profoundly clear in Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness, edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles E. Jones.

Indeed, in one of the many essays that punctuate the anthology, David DeIuliis and Jeff Lohr write, “Afrofuturism imagines positive futures that, through speculative discourse, sever the shackles of slavery’s shadow” (177).  Their entry is entitled “Rewriting the Narrative: Communicology and the Speculative Discourse of Afrofuturism.” It abounds with black and hopeful future thought. For this reason and a multiverse more, Afrofuturism 2.0 has enduring noteworthiness because it explicitly promotes the idea that black people must first imagine themselves free to be free.

Mark Dery coined the term “Afrofuturism,” and describes it by saying that it, “…fosters the artistic practice of navigating past, present, and future simultaneously” (Dery 1994). Lisa Yaszek puts it thusly: “‘Afrofuturism” addresses themes and concerns of the African Diaspora through a technoculture and science fiction lens, encompassing a range of media and artists with a shared interest in envisioning black futures that stem from Afrodiasporic experiences” (Yaszek 2006). Certainly, the “range” of media and artists, that editors Anderson and Jones have chosen to highlight in featured essays, is rich and thoughtful. Historic and contemporary expressions of Afrofuturism in visual art, hip hop, film, technology, theology, and Africana Women’s Science Fiction are gripping. Esther Jones’ reflections in that latter Afrofuturist area are particularly magnetic as she explores science fiction in conjunction with Narrative Medicine. Another essay that shines is “The Real Ghosts in the Machine,” by Ricardo Guthrie.  In that piece, he compares and contrasts themes of Afro-Pessimism and Afrofuturism in the films I, Robot and DETROPIA.  Guthrie writes,

In many documentary and sci-fi films of the last twenty-five years, urban America is depicted as a site of decay…overrun by savage hordes who destroy civilization or worse: persisting as the hapless inheritors of urban jungles in which no “white” citizen can survive. Heroic reconquests by whites yield semblances of hope for the future…Future urban life  is clearly a white projection of racial fears  and hopes of conquests to come. (45)

Guthrie’s observations are as sobering as they are timely, especially in light of the 2016 presidential election and Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” montra. In view of his broad support from white supremacist organizations (Mahler 2016), his slogan is, most certainly, a simple code for “Make America White [Dominated] Again.” Arguably, Trump has cast himself in the role of anti-afrofuturist hero–one who works to conquer black savages so that the future white world can survive.  For Trump, and too many like him, the Afro-Pessimist ship is his primary mode of space travel. Thankfully, in the interest of overcoming racism, Guthrie documents efforts–again, both past and present–where black filmmakers have seized control of their own thematic vessels.

Some of the many highlights in this book have to do with explorations of contemporary black artists like Wangechi Mutu, Sun Ra, Janelle Monae, and an interview with fiction writer Nneid Okorafor that closes out the anthology. What is particularly appealing about these elements of Afrofuturism 2.0 is that (a) the historical and contemporary artists featured are already Afrofuturist time travelers and (b) the language that frames the examination of their work is straightforward.

Undoubtedly, within the context of diction, there are elements Afrofuturism 2.0 I wish were more accessible. It’s editors and authors are scholars, and the language contained in the anthology–for the most part–reflects its academic genesis.  Points raised in the book that promote the advancement of people of color are of vital importance.  Making that freedom-speak as plain and powerful as a Malcolm X speech would have benefitted multitudes of black people in need of reading hope (which is something I am sure all of those involved with this anthology sought to do).  

Nonetheless,  as a textbook and educational resource on the subject of mapping the future black imaginary, it represents a significant literary achievement. It’s scholarship is absolutely astounding–a work of passion, creativity, and excellence–plus it’s pretty. I highly recommend it as a book to include in Africana studies curriculums worldwide.  I say that because the impact of slavery and colonialism on people of color continues to have a global death-baiting impact. In many areas of the planet where black people currently abide, they have been brought there, placed there, planted there like aliens. Author tobias c. van Veen mentions this the fourth chapter of the Afrofuturism 2.0 entitled “The Armageddon Effect.” Very pointedly, he writes, “[for Africans as abducted aliens] there is no ‘normal’ to return to” (64).  I agree–but there may be a way forward. Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness may prove to be one such vessel–a very durable literary conveyance to a future black freedom.

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Dr. Reynaldo Anderson

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Dr. Charles E. Jones

References

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Click Here to Order: Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness

Reviewing the Bookrise: “Patron Emeritus” By Chad Parenteau

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Review by Dennis Daly
Patron Emeritus by Chad Parenteau
71 pp. FootHills Publishing. $16.

Minimalist poems, like those in Patron Emeritus by Chad Parenteau, imbue each word with a density of meaning that demands resolution and balance. Without careful calibrations, stanzas would fall off the page and punctuation could explode. Parenteau not only avoids these pitfalls but successfully plays off the tension created by them. At heart these poems are narrative, although the stories, culled from the common experience of day-to-day living, the poet rubs raw, dices, compresses, and then highly polishes.

Parenteau, who hosts the famous and long-running Stone Soup poetry readings in Cambridge, Massachusetts, connects with the deceased originator of that venue, Jack Powers, in his first poem. There is sensitivity here and also a not unexpected validation. The poet says,

Thought I saw you
walking taller, talking clearer

nearby crutches
lady at your table

cowboy hat
ten gallon paladin

head weighed
nodding toward me.

In the poem entitled Manifesto Parenteau navigates two different venues of performance poetry with unabashed excitement and, interestingly enough, admits to liking the comfort and inclusion of committee work. Of course, society is really a set of self-appointed committees so why not. Here are the pertinent lines,

I strafe both sides
one-way streets
run down

running
crop circles
slim pickings.

Committees agree
I do my best work
when in committee

belonging still…

I like the use of the crop circle image. Like some open-mike participants they appear suddenly at night and take surprising shapes.

Even charged language can be funny. In Parenteau’s piece Come Lately the persona-host of a poetry reading venue is at his wit’s end on a particularly bad night. I’m guessing Stone Soup.  Here’s how the poem begins,

Scant showing
only host pays
success insisted on.

Those closest
edge forget
no hands

left to hold
outreach
let alone signal

help
what they know
malady.

Of course the production of a comedic scene is at the host’s expense and due to his very earnestness and caring nature.

Another humorous poem entitled Working Late struts out longer lines and a less compressed syntax. It is one of a handful of exceptions to the poet’s prevailing style. The poet’s persona, making a living like the rest of us, works in a lab. His duties include prepping hamster cages. But in reality, our poet thinks subversively and has other agendas. He identifies with the intruder, the outsider. I’m shocked! The poem ends this way,

…the empty cages always need
water freshened, new shavings every week,
more if we have a visit
from the department head.

Sometimes I’ll mess things up,
leave a cage door open, watch eyes,
mouse braving the climb to
the desktop,
pupils growing large
while sniffing my similar stare
before scurry escapes.

Any worker worth his salt knows how to hide from his boss and steal precious moments of humanity through imagination or creativeness. The poet in his piece Passing has chosen one of the most common of all havens—the bathroom. Parenteau describes his sanctuary,

Bosses wait for
bidden bathroom
you rinse meeting off
face,  unsmear specs.

They know you
trespasser
door closing there
they are

talking by door
cordially predatoral…

The poem Air Lines begins with the passengers vaguely fearing discovery and surrendering their metallic implements and ends with their expected arrival in Pittsburgh, the city built on the melting of metals and its own factory-employed citizens. Parenteau catches the unease felt by many air travelers perfectly. In this context, even nature’s controls become dangerously businesslike. The poet explains,

travelers cringe at thought
added contact, padded shells
hard complimentary cashews

muttering minor turbulence
as if nature were bureaucracy
bringing us to Pittsburgh

another mill town in search
of purpose its people long
melted down

Another airport terminal. Another flawed city. The poem Not In Denver attributes Parenteau’s unpleasant work experiences to the soullessness of his surroundings. His world-weariness is evident. Yet his observations, wry visions, and the way he holds fire at the end seem to imply future hope. Here’s the conclusion,

World like
Pseudo-Denver
forget face
looking between alarm
clock stings
hand smashed poise.

Revolving doors
state soul
water bodies
looked nice
all I’ll say.

Parenteau romps over the page in the poem Phoning In. His sparse wording hits all the right notes. The poet’s persona calls in sick. His attitude mixes anger, wit, imagination, and misery. The misery seems to be more job-related than illness-related. Here’s how the poet starts off,

Calling sick
citing teeth marks,
yesterday’s wolves.

Shoulder bites
sting more recalling
pat shoulders.

The point again? Explain
more they ask your
chewed foot.

The title poem, Patron Emeritus, deserves to be the title poem. It speaks to Everyman. A poet must make do as a citizen of life. He faces internally as an artist must, but he also must deal with the external and, in that realm, hug, revisit, forgive, and remain his own person. A coffee shop represents the universal backdrop of the poet’s existence. As patron emeritus he settles in for the duration in spite of past difficulties. In a steadying voice Parenteau briefs us on how it feels,

Sitting down
finally unfamiliar
feels immune.

The manager said
Your firing was inevitable.

Ask for him
Demand halves
Take everything…

Like gemstones, the hard knocks of life shine with intensity from these accomplished poems. Get yourself a coffee. Make sure the boss is not around. Then read this book.

Click Here to Order: Patron Emeritus — $16.00 Print