Newly Discovered WEB Du Bois Sci-Fi Story Reveals More Afrofuturist History

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NAACP founder WEB Du Bois was not only a committed and successful activist for black rights in America: he was also a prolific author of early 20th century science fiction and fantasy stories.

Now her first known short story, “The Princess Steel” (dating from 1908 and 1910) has been discovered and published (in a paid journal, although the story is in the public domain) by Britt Rusert of U Mass and Adrienne Brown by U Chicago.

The protagonist of the story, Hannibal Johnson, is a black sociologist who uses a “megascope” to look through time and space. He shows off his gadget to a honeymooning couple, using it to peer down from a New York City skyscraper into Pittsburgh’s fantastical past, in which supernatural beings play an allegory on colonialism and race. It’s a critical piece in the history of Afrofuturism, a lineage that spans writers such as Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler to Nalo Hopkinson and the current explosion of African science fiction.

In the story, protagonist Hannibal Johnson, a black sociologist, shows a honeymooning tourist couple a “megascope,” a machine he created to see through time and space. From the top of a New York skyscraper, they lean over the historic “Pittsburg Trench” and see an allegorical origin of the steel industry that frames steel production in a narrative that criticizes historical colonization and accumulation. primitive – the transformation of feudal production into capitalism. The Steel Princess, daughter of the “Black Queen of the Iron Isles, the one who once came out of Africa”, is separated from her mother, and after the lord of the Golden Way kills her lover, she locks him in a hearse of “burning, breathing silver” spun from his “silver hair.” The murderous lord, realizing the value of steel spun from the princess’s hair, steals it strand by strand to create a “mighty loom” of mills that bind the princess in “the imprisonment to which her spun hair lays it down. held back as they stretched out across the world. “

Discovering “The Princess Steel” is an important contribution to the evolution of Afrofuturism. “I think you can read in the story that Du Bois already understands something about the social construction of technology,” says Rusert, who teaches from his short fiction and other texts in a seminar at graduate studies on Afrofuturism. “In some ways, Du Bois’s commitment to revolution, social justice and social movements means of course he’s always interested in the future,” she says. She also believes that “Du Bois would ask us to think reflexively about what Afrofuturism means. … He would be interested in a kind of critical Afrofuturism, interested in questions of history with a capital H.

Rusert – who, along with Brown, publishes a collection of fantasy, sci-fi, mystery and crime fiction by Du Bois – unearthed “The Princess Steel” in one of two archive boxes cataloged only as “shorts fiction “and was struck by the range of genres – mystery, fantasy, science fiction, fairy tales, romance – represented therein. In this short story and others like “The Comet,” in which a comet releases poisonous gases over New York City, “you really see that Du Bois was an avid writer and reader of genre fiction,” says Rusert .

What story recently discovered by WEB Du Bois tells us about Afrofuturism
[Jane Greenway Carr/Slate]

(via IO9)

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