Recently, I finished a novel titled Promise of Shadows, written by Justina Ireland. I came across an article online, listing about 5 or 6 novels, written with diversity in mind. This novel was the last on the list and the one I was most interested in, due to the genre–Fantasy. The main character of Promise of Shadows, Zephyr Mourning, was a black teenager, and she was a Harpy! I rushed to rent this book from the library and, within two days, I had devoured it. I didn’t realize how ABSOLUTELY STARVED I had been, up until that moment. Starved for literature in which I see myself. Starved for representation. Starved for black girls in fantasy novels.
So, now it’s your turn! Can you name the last fantasy novel you read with a black, female protagonist?
No, I’ll wait.
Oh, right. You probably can’t.
Let’s talk about that.
There are tons of fantasy novels on the shelves. These novels tell stories of different worlds, universes, and realms, where magic and mythical creatures run rampant. Authors have minds creative enough to invent new languages, animals, social structures, religions, and even species. Unfortunately, the same writers are too closed minded to write about a dimensional, black protagonist.
Fantasy, unfortunately, is one genre where black people just seem to disappear. And it’s exhausting.
Black and brown people do not have space in popular literature. It is for this reason that campaigns like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #1000BlackGirlBooks were started. Both of these movements were created in order to enact change and shed light on the lack of diversity in literature. These movements are growing in popularity and will continue to do so, because the NEED for diverse books is high.
Growing up, I loved the Harry Potter Series, like the majority of my generation. It allowed for me to escape my mundane lifestyle and experience something entirely new. I loved reading about the adventures and the danger that Harry and his friends experienced, every year they returned to Hogwarts. Unfortunately, as much as I loved those books, I could never see myself in them. There were no visible black characters in the series. In the movies, they slipped one or two black people in, but it was still clear that people of color were not written into the novels. As I got older, I lost the ability to read and enjoy those same books for that reason. There was no space for me.
Fantasy novels provide an escape. For black, female, readers who grow up in situations that are less-than-ideal, a literary escape might be their only form of escape. Black girls should be able to escape into a character, become the character, and see themselves in those novels when they read them. Authors must paint dimensional, black, female protagonists. People need to believe that black girls can be magical too. People need to believe that black girls can save the world. When I read Promise of Shadows, I saw myself, my blackness, in Zephyr Mourning. I believed that Zephyr could save the world.
The reason I began writing my book is because I couldn’t find one like it. I wanted to read about a black girl with amazing powers, who could protect people. I wanted to read about an ambitious black girl who reminded me of myself. I wanted to read about a black girl who was kick-ass.
I couldn’t find that book.
So I wrote it.
I encourage all black authors to do the same. Write what you cannot find. Don’t settle for anything less than what you want.
One of my kindest friends has always reminded me that I have the right to take up space. We all do. TAKE UP SPACE. CREATE SPACE. And don’t forget to write about magical black girls!