20 legendary Black science-fiction authors you need to know

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W.E.B. Du Bois

Most people know W.E.B. Du Bois as a prominent thinker and writer of the late 19th and 20th centuries. He was also one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and a leader in the early Black rights Niagara Movement, founded in 1905.

But, Du Bois was also a literary fiction writer. The Comet was published as part of Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil, a hodgepodge of mostly fictional writings published in 1920. This story, originally meant as the tenth chapter of the book, was truly groundbreaking for its time.

It starts with Jim Davis, a rather low-level bank employee who is sent to retrieve some documents from a vault deep beneath the bank. Davis, a Black man, knows that he was sent on this arduous errand because of his skin color, and he’s fairly upset over the fact.

While working, the huge door of the vault closes, trapping Jim inside. He eventually finds his way out, only to discover that everyone else has either died or disappeared completely. While traveling through the city, he enters buildings and walks freely in a way that would not have been possible for a Black man in the populated city.

What’s the cause? It’s apparently a comet, mentioned in passing at the beginning of the story. Jim eventually finds a white woman, apparently the only other survivor of the event. They grow closer over the next few pages, transgressing racial barriers that were even more blatant at the time than they are now.

In The Comet, Du Bois presents an early Afrofuturist vision, where Black people are able to exist in a reimagined present and future, often one that is much more hopeful than the actual present time. Jim Davis is clearly presented as a hopeful figure, the destiny-bearer of a people and the central figure in the tale.