So I was Googling stuff about the difference between epic and high fantasy earlier when I somehow came across this blog post by a black writer named Derek Tyce who asks a poignant question: “Black authors writing fantasy… Where are they?” Naturally, being both black and interested in fantasy, I was intrigued, so I decided to read on to see what he had to say.
…And it got me thinking.
First of all, I must note that Derek, of course, does mention a few black writers like N. K. Jemisin and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series, among others (which I read the first book of though wasn’t terribly crazy about it myself; still, I found certain things to admire and appreciate). There are others, which fans have pointed out, but Derek’s point still stands: why aren’t there more black writers tackling epic fantasy? He also points out a lack of diversity among the characters displayed in epic fantasy stories. Granted, his post was written back in 2013 and a lot of new stuff has come out since then, but these are all still relevant topics to consider.
At least, I think so anyway.
Blacks & Diversity in Epic Fantasy: Who’s Responsibility Is This Anyway?
Before I go any further, I must make my own beliefs clear: I don’t believe it’s the black writer’s responsibility to write more diverse epic fantasies—about black characters or otherwise. I certainly think we have the option to and it’s something worth exploring, but I also think that writers of any race can jump in on this challenge. After all, it’s really a collective opportunity to fill a void that has been lacking in the epic fantasy genre at large.
The reason I say this is because I’m a black writer who’s currently editing an epic fantasy novel of my own (the first in a planned series), yet I chose not to write about a protagonist who is black herself—simply because I never envisioned my story that way. I’ve been black all my life, so I wanted to write about someone who has a much different experience from me. I also don’t have an interest in writing about black POV characters in epic fantasy settings for the sake of putting more black POV characters out there. (I have a pretty low ethnocentric outlook on life, I think.) Instead, I’m more interested in creating worlds that are racially diverse and exploring cultures in which people-of-color not only exist but also play more prominent roles in my stories—not necessarily immediately in the beginning of the story I’m editing now but definitely more as it progresses.
My story, as it currently stands, slowly builds up to an exploration of perspectives from people of differing races. Whether this was a conscious decision or not, I can’t stay, but it’s actually designed to pull not just the protagonist but also the reader into cultures that vastly differ from their own, forcing them to examine their native cultures as well as the individual perspectives they’ve developed. I do this by taking a somewhat familiar segment of a secondary world—that is one filled with American- and European-inspired “majority” races and cultures—as a base for gradually branching out to explore perspectives found in other races, all in an epic fantasy setting (with psychic and psychokinetic abilities and what have you). Since this is going to be a series eventually, I can really take my time exploring other cultures over time and in considerable depth.
The gradual evolution of my protagonist’s perspective is really what drives my story.
Why There Aren’t More Black Writers Writing Epic Fantasy
In the original blog post, Derek postulates that the reason there aren’t more black writers churning out epic fantasy stories is because “black people, in general, are not [into] fantasy.”
I don’t think the problem is so simple.
I think the problem of a lack of representation of blacks, among other races, in epic fantasy may actually be feeding into this assumption that blacks simply just don’t read it. (Clearly, though, Derek and I are exceptions.) I don’t think this phenomenon, if there’s any truth to it, is unique to blacks alone because I think it’s just human nature for people to more naturally, and most easily, identify with people of their own race—if (big if) they grew up surrounded by a high percentage of those who share their race to begin with. I don’t fit this mold because I grew up in very diverse neighborhoods from the beginning, but I do think some members of the black community tend to identify with other blacks more easily than those of other races, based on the continuation of ethnocentric clubs, organizations, and so on.
The point is: people often gravitate to what’s familiar to them.
So why would a black person, who surrounds themselves with (or has always been surrounded by) many other blacks, be interested in reading, let alone writing, epic fantasy—when almost all the main characters in this genre are not black characters? By nature or nurture, it’s not likely something they’re going to be attracted to based on the types of characters that are typically represented on the covers of these novels. (And let’s be honest: we all judge a book by its cover, to a certain degree—and this could even extend to genres themselves.)
The Bigger Picture
Not epic fantasy, but in relation to this topic: I loved the introduction of Black Panther to the Marvel Movie Universe and the fact that he’s getting his own flick to star in. He was a strong, interesting character in his own right—not because of his race but because of his unique perspective on and approach to life. I’m certainly stoked to see more of him. (Yes, I’m aware it started with the comic books, but I didn’t read the comics so I’m referring to the movies instead.)
Anyway, I think with more colored characters like Jemisin’s Yeine Darr and Marvel’s Black Panther being featured in prominent works of speculative fiction and other artistic media (meaning the Gate Holders have to be willing to publish this stuff in the first place), it could easily attract more black artists to create their own fictional works and spur on more culturally diverse casts of characters in epic fantasy as well as other speculative genres.
Whether that’s because black writers, white writers, or some diverse group of individuals are making these contributions hardly matters to me. What matters is that more folks in the artistic community are able to not only recognize this void but find an interest in filling it.
Why do you think there aren’t more black writers who write epic fantasies?
Could education also be a factor, something else? Also, I’m not particularly well-read when it comes to epic fantasy, to be honest, so how do you think writers in this genre, on the whole, are doing when it comes to diversity among their characters?