20 legendary Black science-fiction authors you need to know

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Everfair, by Nisi Shawl. (Cover image via Tor Books).

Nisi Shawl

Like some of the earliest Black speculative fiction writers, Nisi Shawl uses alternate history to explore the ways in which history can turn on matters of chance and seemingly small acts.

Shawl has written plenty of short stories that have appeared in big deal magazines and anthologies, like Asimov’s Science Fiction and Strange Horizons. She’s never shied away from the activist themes in her work. Critics have praised her for achieving the difficult balancing act of maintaining a strong moral message while delivering it with fantastic writing and characterization.

Thanks in part to her activist work, Shawl has also become a major figure in the writing and speculative fiction world. With Cynthia Ward, she wrote Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction, from a workshop of the same name. It’s intended for writers who want to create diverse characters, but without so much of the bungling that can come with writing outside of your own particular culture and ethnicity.

Shawl is also a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and now sits on the workshop’s board. She co-founded the Carl Brandon Society as well, which was created to focus on and address the representation of people of color in speculative fiction.

Her first novel, Everfair, is an alternate history steampunk tale focusing on the Belgian Congo. African-American missionaries team up with British socialists to buy land from King Leopold. This land becomes a utopian community known as Everfair where Africans, escaped slaves, and other people of color are welcome. It’s a dramatic contrast to the real-life history of the Belgian Congo, which ended up as one of the biggest human rights disasters in memory.