Racing Imaginaries: Limit and Resistance in Contemporary Black Women's Speculative Fiction

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Speculative fiction is sometimes described as a genre of the future—a genre that celebrates technological and scientific progress and that envisions limitless possibilities. However, for persons already estranged by the reality manufactured for them, the apparent strangeness of dystopian futures, state surveillance, or reproductive and genetic engineering is not so distant nor so fictional. In this dissertation, Alexandria Nunn elucidates the consequences of writing and reading science fiction for authors of color at the intersection between realism and speculative modes. In this exploration of contemporary science fiction by Black women authors, Nunn examines the speculative literature of Nalo Hopkinson, Octavia Butler, and N.K. Jemisin as they challenge generic assumptions and reframe the stakes of science fiction and Black literary theory. “Racing Imaginaries: Limit and Resistance in Contemporary Black Women’s Speculative Fiction” specifically attends to a conversation between Black realist thought and history’s continuance into the present and future, which foregrounds histories of anti-blackness, alongside speculative fiction by Black imaginative authors which negotiates with the language of possibility even in repressive spaces where opportunity and expression are being silenced.

Nunn maps a dialectic between Black realism and Black speculation in major works by Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, and N. K. Jemisin, three of the foremost authors of the late 20th and early 21st century in the realm of American science fiction. Each author showcases the limitations of perceiving futures apart from race, while likewise suggesting alternative possibilities for growth and thriving. The conversation between these writers provides a template for understanding how speculative forms uniquely impact writers and authors of color operating with and against real-world phenomena so outlandish and often horrifying one would think them fantastic. Ultimately, Nunn suggests that Black creators frame science fiction not as a "literature of the possible” but rather as a "literature of the limit,” reminding readers both of the limits of contemporary lived reality and of the opportunities that already exist at their fingertips.