Hugo-winning author Nnedi Okorafor wasn’t inspired to dive into science fiction after reading Jules Verne or Isaac Asimov—in fact, she largely avoided traditional scifi as a kid because she couldn’t relate to the stories, characters, and ethical quandaries. Rather, she said her inspiration came after visiting her parents’ homeland of Nigeria in the 1990s. For Okorafor, her heritage inspired the creation of her speculative future.
“My science fiction had different ancestors—African ones,” Okorafor said.
TED.com recently released a clip of Okorafor speaking at August’s TED Global 2017, where she shared some passages from her Hugo-winning Binti series and her 2015 novel Lagoon. During the talk, Okorafor explained the history and intent of Afrofuturism alongside what has been considered classic science fiction—which, according to Okorafor, has meant “western-rooted science fiction, which is mostly white and male.”
In explaining Afrofuturism, Okorafor compared it to the evolution of humans versus octopi, saying the science fiction genre evolved along a different “ancestral bloodline” than Western European or American science fiction, which meant it has different roots, characters, and (especially) themes. Okorafor said she never really identified with western scifi themes of xenophobia or fear of alien invasions, because they didn’t reflect her history or identity. Rather, Okorafor’s fiction draws on things like traditional African spiritualism, Nigeria’s relationship with technology, and the idea of “becoming more” through experience.
Okorafor called science fiction “one of the greatest and most effective forms of political writing,” and added that Afrofuturism’s future lies in the characters being shared, the stories it tells, and the questions it continues to ask.
“African science fiction’s blood runs deep, and it’s old, and it’s ready to come forth. And when it does, imagine the new technologies, ideas and sociopolitical changes it’ll inspire,” Okorafor said. “For Africans, homegrown science fiction can be a will to power. ‘What if?’ It’s a powerful question.”
You can watch the TED Talk below.