Creating the science fiction authors of the future!

Octavia Butler's Dawn, first book of the Xenogenesis Saga

How do we increase the publication of science fiction works (or for that matter, any writing) by African-Americans?

This essay was my response to a question posted on the Black Science Fiction Society Website. The question was posted by William Landis on August 3, 2010 at 9:34pm in Black Internationale on The Black Science Fiction Society Website

Any effort to convince young men and women of color to contribute to the potential pool of stories using speculative fiction, science fiction or fantasy of any type will first require the creative energies of young people to be directed toward the written word.

As a whole, African-Americans do not seem to have a love affair with the written word, but it is especially evident in our lack of interest in the science fiction genre. We would rather see works, judging by the popularity in bookstores, where we are engaged in illicit love affairs, scandalous relationships, pimping and whoring tales of excess, or tales of brothers and sisters making good except for their addiction to drama of one sort or another. Perhaps these tales more reflect an anchoring in reality as we know it. Perhaps they are a more fiduciary form of wish-fulfillment, since money is so difficult to come by and so prized by our community as a whole, that may explain the success of that type of fiction. We also have a love of historical works, if bookstore racks are any indication, a fascination for successful African cultures such as Kemet (Egypt), or of periods where African-Americans were discovering their power in American society during the Age of Invention in the early 1900s or during the 1920-30’s Harlem Renaissance, or the Civil Rights Movement when so much changed in the world for people of color.

With all that said, we are as a whole, less interested in speculative fiction, and I suspect it is partially an effect of modern media. It is rare that we saw science fiction with people of color participating effectively in those story lines. We did not see a successful agent of science fiction in the media until Nichelle Nicoles appeared as Lt. Uhura in Star Trek in the 1960’s. Science fiction was not a medium we appeared in often and I suspect it had some major effect on whether we were interested in it.

If we want to get science fiction to our people, we have to get them interested in science, in worlds larger than themselves, in ideas that span time and space, convincing them of a world greater than where they grew up. We will have to get them away from the television and useless social media that does not spawn true creativity. There was the question of the Digital Divide keeping our children from having access to computers but now that more of them have computers, they are still not inclined to use that technology to empower themselves. They use it more to communicate mindlessly using social media, often in ways that appear to be narcissistic and unproductive. Not a judgment, per se, just something I have noticed over the years and this is not something that is new. When AOL was still a basic subscription service back in 1986, people of color used the technology to communicate in real time, but having the tech did not seem to make any more of them more inclined to write for consumption or production.

I think the real issue revolves around a lack of personal creativity. Creativity is something you must develop and our children do not get the same energy devoted to creative thinking that you see in charter or private schools. I believe that time spent doing creative things boosts creativity. It is theorized that for every hour a child watches television, they lose some aspect of their creative ability. This makes sense, because television is a passive delivery system, requiring only that you sit there, not actively participate in any way. If we are going to return our children to the creativity we know they are capable of, we will have to promote creativity as the norm, something acceptable, no matter what form you use it in, and we are more than capable of being creative outside of the rap, music, or video industries where so much talent is lost or wasted pursuing a career of limited social value. (IN MY OPINION!)

If you wanted to foster creativity in writing with your kids, you will have to disguise it as something else and you will have to put your own creativity on the table. It might be uncomfortable at first, but after a time, you may discover your own creativity blossoming. So the plan might look like this:

  1. Limit your child to six hours of television, non-school computer use or computer gaming per week. If you have a DVR then you can record all of the television during the week and they get to watch it at the end of the week as a reward for work well done. The same goes for gaming. The goal is to expand their urge to create something they have not seen before.
  2. Since they will have more time during the week after their homework, it might help them to try and create simple children’s tales of adventure. They do not have to be complex, and in the beginning, it might help if it were following the oral traditions of storytelling before writing them down. My favorite method of creative story-telling is the round robin, where each person tells a piece of an unscripted story, and after a paragraph passes it on to the person on the left. This allows for open ended story development without any pressure to be great initially.
  3. Allow the tales to take on a more fantastic vein over time. Do not be afraid to add more unusual elements to the story during your turn (as the guiding adult) and watch to see what the children do. Promote the development of story elements and description of scenes. This should grow easier with time and practice. Use diverse and unusual words where possible, and promote the addition of new words to the children’s lexicon. Let the stories take on the tone the children set for them and alter them only once they are comfortable with expanding their story lines. Do not force the creativity, allow a child to speak only as long as they are comfortable. Guide the story with the premise that a Storyteller cannot add more than one element in his paragraph of the story at a time.
  4. Child with school supplies

    The right time to create an author

    Introduce them to published science fiction and fantasy, appropriate for their age groups. Do readings of published works during the week, when you are not creating stories yourselves. There are so many books out there, I will not make a list for you to consider, but keep it varied, keep it interesting and keep them involved. Let everyone read if they can. Discuss the chapter, talking about how the author told the story, what was good (to them and to you) and what they thought they could do to add to a story like that in the future.

  5. Once they are used to telling stories, have someone become a Chronicler. The Chronicler does not participate in the round robin, they jot down the basic ideas of each Storyteller. If they are a fast typist, they can do more but the goal is to get the basic gist of the story and then have the group, take those basic notes and flesh out the tale from beginning to end. Keep the first Chronicles short so they can remain complete stories. As Chronicle creation gets easier, the stories can grow more complex and allow each Storyteller some time as a Chronicler. The Chronicles can then become chapters in bigger books.
  6. If any of your Storytellers are more artistically inclined than verbally, they may also contribute to the story with their art, either in creating visual elements, or by enhancing the chronicle with their visual insights into the story. They may not be as quick on their feet with the Storytelling but they may enhance it visually, the same way a backdrop painting or a cinematographer adds to a scene with art or placement or pacing of a scene visually.

Using this iterative process, children could be convinced to be involved in story creation from a very early age, without any particular appearance of anything other than boosting their creativity and having fun. How would you approach the idea of bringing up new writers and what would you use as a training regimen?