In 2019, two African MFA students – Yvette Ndlovu from Zimbabwe and Shingai Kakunda from Kenya – met while studying in the United States. Appalled by the lack of resources for and about black speculative writers in their programs, the two frequently dreamed of creating the kind of space that actively facilitated, nurtured, and validated black science fiction and fantasy writers. When the pandemic hit in 2020 and programs started moving online, the duo, along with HD Hunter and LP Kindred, started the Voodoonauts (now Fellowship) summer workshop.
Together, the four have held three online workshops so far, bringing together writers, artists, poets, editors and editors. During these workshops, they took craft classes, genre-specific writing sessions, lessons on African story forms and speculative literary canons, and tutorials for navigating the sides of the science fiction, fantasy and horror publishing industry.
But the most important thing is that the Voodoonauts team practices what it preaches. Next week they are releasing their first collection of short stories and poems by students and animators via Android Press: Voodoonauts Presents: (Re)Living Mythology – A Collection of Black Magical Stories and Poems. This collection is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the team to ensure their students can train in the world, and it serves as a showcase of their students’ talent. This book includes a mix of fourteen short stories and poems, in which the writers tap into their stories, cultures, and passions while reimagining aspects of mythologies in new, fresh, and trippy ways.
While I’d love to review all of the entries, I don’t have the space or the time, but here are three of my favorites from this delicious collection.
“The Names We Take” by SOF
“Born shortly after my grandfather’s death, I was named as his reincarnation and nicknamed Babátúndé. There was no money for new names, only incarnations or inheritances. My grandfather was called Àjàyí, and it seemed he lived his whole life as he was born, face down – oppressed and trampled, sitting in abject misery and disgrace. And as his heir, I had walked the same dark path. But not anymore, I remember, not anymore.
“The Names We Take” is one of the stories in the collection that explores parent-child relationships. It examines the sacrifices parents make so that their children can have long and fulfilling lives. For many parents, this means making sure their children are clothed, fed, housed and educated. But what would you do if you could change your child’s destiny?
Enter Àjàyí, a poor Lagosian woman who has only a few hours left to change the fate of her newborn baby before he is sealed in his christening ceremony. Names and denominations are an important part of Yoruba culture because a good name can shape your future. But good new names are expensive, a luxury only the wealthy can afford. To ensure that his daughter can have a good name and that her sealed destiny will be rich and fulfilling, he is determined to steal one.
He finds his target, the wealthy white general manager of a local oil company and has gathered the materials and calculated his time to the last dollar he needs for the bus ride home. He hits. He steals! He scrambles to the name dealer and distills his daughter’s new fate and name to the core. But that’s the easy part. Now he has to go home and give his baby the new name and the new destiny before the sun goes down. Unfortunately for him and his meticulous plan, Lagos herself seems determined to slow him down.
I loved how this story explores the anxiety of parents and how they go out of their way to ensure their children have a better life. Àjàyí fights poverty, class and powerful systems of exploitation to change the course of her daughter’s future. This story is a powerful statement about parental love and the struggle for class elevation.
“The Visit” by Tina Jenkins Bell
“Senora moved from her sofa to the door, and it is true that it was Malcolm, dominating the four panes of her door. But the wretch whom Senora’s father called Walumbe was also present.
“Walumbe rested his chin on Malcolm’s shoulder and grinned an infamous grin. Senora grabbed her chest and gagged her. He hadn’t finished. He continued to toy with an unconscious Malcolm, feeling Malcolm’s head with webbed bony fingers and his long fingernails resting like bangs on Malcolm’s forehead.
“The Visit” also delves into the parent-child dynamic, but this time around the relationship adult children have with their aging and sick parents.
Senora Glad Johnson is ill, having recently been diagnosed with a heart condition that is causing her blood pressure to spike. These spikes, much to her son Malcolm’s horror—because Senora is determined to live on her own—cause severe chest pains or cause her to pass out.
Malcolm wants Senora to sell her house and move in with him so he can care for her and his wife and children simultaneously. But Senora loves her independence and tight-knit community in Chicago and doesn’t want to be a burden on Malcolm. More importantly, she wants to keep him away from Walumbe, a wretched spirit who haunted her father and started targeting her since the start of his illness.
The pair butt heads when Malcolm visits, as he worries about her health and lifestyle and she tries to maintain her lifestyle and keep Walumbe at bay. It’s not until they start talking to each other and Senora explains their strange family history that they find a way to move forward together, and Senora gathers the strength she needs to banish Walumbe.
I spoke to Jenkins Bell about this story and what she had in mind while she was writing it. I was curious how she used Walumbe – a Ugandan folk character from The Story of Kintu: The First Man – in her story about a sick woman in Chicago. She explained that Walumbe has always been an indiscreet and harmful spirit. In Kintu’s story, he is the embodiment of death and disease who came to earth uninvited and started stealing from Kintu’s children. He has a similar role in this story, as he tries to trick his victims into giving up their lives before their time.
Walumbe represents Senora’s fear, but also the trauma she experienced caring for her sick father and witnessing Walumbe’s terrible work. To defeat him, or at least keep him at bay, she must open up to her son about his history, his traumas, and his current struggles. For Malcolm to help her in turn, he must accept his mother’s needs and desires.
This forces them both to overcome their fears. Jenkins Bell noted that they were both scared in this story, and when a parent or close relative is sick, their children or other family members are expected to step in and help. Although it comes from a place of love, a fear-based approach to caring often leads to a breakdown in communication: the carer tries to impose what they think is best for their loved one. without asking him what his wants and needs are. This then leads to conflict, resistance and resentment.
But once the two are able to open up about their fears, concerns, wants and desires, they are able to have those tender moments that strengthen their relationship but also bring them to a better understanding of what they are about. need each other at the moment.
“Stars Born Blue” by LP Kindred
“The night came first
Her name was Nulyk
His Black was magnificent.
Expansive, endless, eternal, the only
Nulyk remains perfect.
“Star came second.
He amused Nulyk, the light tickled
Because she was everything and
Had never been touched
She called him Hytl.
Finally, there’s LP Kindred’s sci-fi poem “Stars Born Blue,” which is written as a myth of the creation of the universe by personifying the stars and the darkness of space.
Nulyk, the blackness of space, was the first thing to exist in the universe until the first star, Hytl, materialized. They quickly fell in love and their unions produced the many celestial bodies we know today: nebulae, asteroids, planets and more. But once Nulyk starts giving birth to suns, which glow blue when young, Hytl takes them away from her so they can learn how to shine. These suns and other celestial bodies form clusters that make up the known universe, and crowd together in the dark.
As the skies fill up and become increasingly crowded, Nulyk grows lonelier. She has never produced anything like her. She is only seen, briefly, in the shadows her brilliant sons create as they shine on their brothers and sisters. Hytl notices his pain, but can only create a container for his pain: a thing he calls time. As time passes and more and more stars scatter across the cosmos, it becomes their web, Kindred writes, but it connects them forever.
I loved this poem. I had never read a piece of science fiction poetry before, only witty poems about scientific concepts. Kindred’s ability to create myths out of science was delightful to read, and it reminded me of other cosmologies, the Hindu cosmology about Rama opening Kristina’s mouth after eating dirt and finding everything a universe within. Astronomy has always been beautiful to me, and seeing it rendered with such emotion and richness in this collection was a real pleasure.
There are many other stories in Voodoonauts Presents: (Re)Living Mythology. There’s Mami Watas and Hags, stories of old gods and new powers. Overall, this collection is a great example of what the future of speculative fiction can look like: a global community of authors from different cultures writing and re-examining their mythologies and doing new things. I’m excited to see what future Voodoonaut collections will look like, I hope to see more work from the Voodoonauts team and their students around the world soon.
Do you want to know more about the Voodoonauts Summer Scholarship? Check out their website, https://www.voodoonauts.com/.
Want to read more team work? Check these:
• Futureland: Battle for the Park by HD Hunter
• “And This is How To Stay Alive” by Shingai Njeri Kagunda (This short story was recently developed into a novel)
• Reclaiming a Traditional African Genre: Ngano AfroSurrealism by Yvette Lisa Ndlovu
• “Your Rover is Here” by LP Kindred, read by LaVar Burton
You can scan the QR code below for links to these works: