ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Nnedi Okorafor - Science fiction writer
Nnedi Okorafor weaves African cultures into the evocative settings and memorable characters of her science fiction work for kids and adults.

Why you should listen

Nnedi Okorafor is an award-winning novelist of African-based science fiction, fantasy and magical realism. Born in the US to Nigerian immigrant parents, Okorafor is known for weaving African cultures into creative settings and memorable characters. Her books include Lagoon (a British Science Fiction Association Award finalist for best novel), Who Fears Death (a World Fantasy Award winner for best novel), Kabu Kabu (a Publisher's Weekly best book for Fall 2013), Akata Witch (an Amazon.com best book of the year), Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature) and The Shadow Speaker (a CBS Parallax Award winner).

Her 2016 novel The Book of Phoenix is an Arthur C. Clarke Award finalist, while the first book in the Binti Trilogy won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella. Her children’s book Chicken in the Kitchen won an Africana Book Award. The final installment of the Binti Trilogy, titled The Night Masquerade, will be released in September 2017, and the sequel to Akata Witch (titled Akata Warrior) is was published in October 2017. Meanwhile, her book Who Fears Death has been optioned by HBO, with Game of Thrones' George R.R. Martin as executive producer.

Okorafor is a full professor at the University at Buffalo, New York (SUNY).

More profile about the speaker
Nnedi Okorafor | Speaker | TED.com
TEDGlobal 2017

Nnedi Okorafor: Sci-fi stories that imagine a future Africa

Filmed:
995,831 views

"My science fiction has different ancestors -- African ones," says writer Nnedi Okorafor. In between excerpts from her "Binti" series and her novel "Lagoon," Okorafor discusses the inspiration and roots of her work -- and how she opens strange doors through her Afrofuturist writing.
- Science fiction writer
Nnedi Okorafor weaves African cultures into the evocative settings and memorable characters of her science fiction work for kids and adults. Full bio

Double-click the English transcript below to play the video.

00:12
What if an African girl
from a traditional family
0
760
3216
00:16
in a part of future Africa
1
4000
2136
00:18
is accepted into the finest
university in the galaxy,
2
6160
3736
00:21
planets away?
3
9920
1280
00:24
What if she decides to go?
4
12280
1560
00:27
This is an excerpt
from my "Binti" novella trilogy:
5
15360
2680
00:32
I powered up the transporter
and said a silent prayer.
6
20120
3456
00:35
I had no idea what I was going
to do if it didn't work.
7
23600
3256
00:38
My transporter was cheap,
8
26880
1416
00:40
so even a droplet of moisture
or, more likely, a grain of sand,
9
28320
3576
00:43
would cause it to short.
10
31920
1856
00:45
It was faulty, and most of the time
I had to restart it over and over
11
33800
3256
00:49
before it worked.
12
37080
1216
00:50
"Please not now,
please not now," I thought.
13
38320
3216
00:53
The transporter shivered in the sand
and I held my breath.
14
41560
3616
00:57
Tiny, flat and black as a prayer stone,
15
45200
2296
00:59
it buzzed softly and then
slowly rose from the sand.
16
47520
3240
01:03
Finally, it produced
the baggage-lifting force.
17
51760
2496
01:06
I grinned.
18
54280
1536
01:07
Now I could make it
to the shuttle on time.
19
55840
2080
01:11
I swiped otjize from my forehead
with my index finger and knelt down,
20
59360
4336
01:15
then I touched the finger to the sand,
21
63720
1856
01:17
grounding the sweet-smelling
red clay into it.
22
65600
2456
01:20
"Thank you," I whispered.
23
68080
1880
01:23
It was a half-mile walk
along the dark desert road.
24
71040
2976
01:26
With the transporter working
I would make it there on time.
25
74040
2760
01:30
Straightening up,
I paused and shut my eyes.
26
78080
2736
01:32
Now, the weight of my entire life
was pressing on my shoulders.
27
80840
3896
01:36
I was defying the most traditional
part of myself for the first time
28
84760
3216
01:40
in my entire life.
29
88000
1576
01:41
I was leaving in the dead of night,
and they had no clue.
30
89600
4136
01:45
My nine siblings, all older than me
except for my younger sister and brother,
31
93760
3656
01:49
would never see this coming.
32
97440
2016
01:51
My parents would never imagine
I'd do such a thing in a million years.
33
99480
3360
01:55
By the time they all realized
what I'd done and where I was going,
34
103640
3776
01:59
I'd have left the planet.
35
107440
1520
02:02
In my absence, my parents
would growl to each other
36
110840
2696
02:05
that I was never
to set foot in their home again.
37
113560
2856
02:08
My four aunties and two uncles
who lived down the road
38
116440
2576
02:11
would shout and gossip amongst themselves
39
119040
1976
02:13
about how I had scandalized
the entire bloodline.
40
121040
2680
02:16
I was going to be a pariah.
41
124360
1600
02:19
"Go," I softly whispered
to the transporter,
42
127000
2735
02:21
stamping my foot.
43
129759
1817
02:23
The thin metal rings I wore
around each ankle jingled noisily,
44
131600
3216
02:26
but I stamped my foot again.
45
134840
1560
02:29
Once on, the transporter worked best
when I didn't touch it.
46
137440
3336
02:32
"Go," I said again,
sweat forming on my brow.
47
140800
3040
02:36
When nothing moved,
48
144600
1256
02:37
I chanced giving the two large suitcases
sitting atop the force field a shove.
49
145880
4616
02:42
They moved smoothly,
and I breathed another sigh of relief.
50
150520
3056
02:45
At least some luck was on my side.
51
153600
2000
02:50
So, in a distant future part of Africa,
52
158360
3416
02:53
Binti is a mathematical genius
of the Himba ethnic group.
53
161800
3776
02:57
She's been accepted
into a university on another planet,
54
165600
2696
03:00
and she's decided to go.
55
168320
1400
03:02
Carrying the blood
of her people in her veins,
56
170760
2176
03:04
adorned with the teachings,
ways, even the land on her very skin,
57
172960
4776
03:09
Binti leaves the earth.
58
177760
1520
03:12
As the story progresses,
she becomes not other, but more.
59
180480
3856
03:16
This idea of leaving but bringing
and then becoming more
60
184360
3176
03:19
is at one of the hearts of Afrofuturism,
61
187560
2896
03:22
or you can simply call it
a different type of science fiction.
62
190480
2960
03:26
I can best explain the difference between
classic science fiction and Afrofuturism
63
194920
4136
03:31
if I used the octopus analogy.
64
199080
1920
03:34
Like humans,
65
202680
1216
03:35
octopuses are some of the most
intelligent creatures on earth.
66
203920
3176
03:39
However, octopus intelligence evolved
from a different evolutionary line,
67
207120
4936
03:44
separate from that of human beings,
68
212080
2496
03:46
so the foundation is different.
69
214600
2376
03:49
The same can be said about the foundations
of various forms of science fiction.
70
217000
3800
03:54
So much of science fiction speculates
71
222800
2656
03:57
about technologies,
societies, social issues,
72
225480
3216
04:00
what's beyond our planet,
what's within our planet.
73
228720
3016
04:03
Science fiction is one of the greatest
and most effective forms
74
231760
2976
04:06
of political writing.
75
234760
1656
04:08
It's all about the question, "What if?"
76
236440
2360
04:11
Still, not all science fiction
has the same ancestral bloodline,
77
239800
4936
04:16
that line being Western-rooted
science fiction,
78
244760
2976
04:19
which is mostly white and male.
79
247760
1800
04:22
We're talking Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne,
80
250200
3496
04:25
H.G. Wells, George Orwell,
Robert Heinlein, etc.
81
253720
3559
04:30
So what if a Nigerian-American
wrote science fiction?
82
258839
3441
04:35
Growing up, I didn't
read much science fiction.
83
263600
3296
04:38
I couldn't relate to these stories
84
266920
1696
04:40
preoccupied with xenophobia,
colonization and seeing aliens as others.
85
268640
5576
04:46
And I saw no reflection of anyone
who looked like me in those narratives.
86
274240
3440
04:50
In the "Binti" novella trilogy,
87
278840
1536
04:52
Binti leaves the planet
to seek education from extraterrestrials.
88
280400
4296
04:56
She goes out as she is,
89
284720
1736
04:58
looking the way she looks,
90
286480
1656
05:00
carrying her cultures,
91
288160
1616
05:01
being who she is.
92
289800
1440
05:04
I was inspired to write this story
93
292120
1656
05:05
not because I was following
a line of classic space opera narratives,
94
293800
4176
05:10
but because of blood that runs deep,
95
298000
2336
05:12
family, cultural conflict
96
300360
2616
05:15
and the need to see an African girl
leave the planet on her own terms.
97
303000
3640
05:20
My science fiction
had different ancestors,
98
308640
2976
05:23
African ones.
99
311640
1200
05:26
So I'm Nigerian-American.
100
314560
2136
05:28
I was born to two
Nigerian immigrant parents
101
316720
2496
05:31
and raised in the United States,
102
319240
2136
05:33
one of the birthplaces
of classic science fiction.
103
321400
2696
05:36
However, it was my Nigerian heritage
that led me to write science fiction.
104
324120
5296
05:41
Specifically I cite those family trips
to Nigeria in the late '90s.
105
329440
3520
05:47
I'd been taking trips back to Nigeria
with my family since I was very young.
106
335040
4896
05:51
These early trips inspired me.
107
339960
2576
05:54
Hence the first story that I ever
even wrote took place in Nigeria.
108
342560
3720
05:58
I wrote mainly magical realism and fantasy
109
346800
2896
06:01
inspired by my love of Igbo
110
349720
1576
06:03
and other West African traditional
cosmologies and spiritualities.
111
351320
3640
06:08
However, in the late '90s,
112
356400
2576
06:11
I started noticing
the role of technology in Nigeria:
113
359000
4216
06:15
cable TV and cell phones in the village,
114
363240
2856
06:18
419 scammers occupying the cybercafes,
115
366120
3776
06:21
the small generator connected
to my cousin's desktop computer
116
369920
3416
06:25
because the power
was always going on and off.
117
373360
2280
06:28
And my Americanness othered me enough
118
376760
2376
06:31
to be intrigued by these things
that most Nigerians saw as normal.
119
379160
3960
06:36
My intrigue eventually
gave birth to stories.
120
384400
2920
06:40
I started opening strange doors.
121
388320
2160
06:44
What if aliens came to Lagos, Nigeria?
122
392480
3080
06:50
This is an excerpt
from my novel, "Lagoon."
123
398800
2440
06:56
Everybody saw it,
124
404320
1976
06:58
all over the world.
125
406320
1600
07:00
That was a real introduction
to the great mess happening in Lagos,
126
408760
3536
07:04
Nigeria, West Africa, Africa, here.
127
412320
4560
07:10
Because so many people in Lagos
had portable, chargeable,
128
418360
3096
07:13
glowing, vibrating, chirping, tweeting,
communicating, connected devices,
129
421480
4416
07:17
practically everything was recorded
and posted online in some way,
130
425920
3696
07:21
somehow,
131
429640
1496
07:23
quickly.
132
431160
1200
07:25
The modern human world
is connected like a spider's web.
133
433080
2880
07:30
The world was watching.
134
438040
1400
07:32
It watched in fascinated horror
135
440200
2256
07:34
for information,
136
442480
1320
07:36
but mostly for entertainment.
137
444560
1600
07:39
Footage of what was happening
dominated every international news source,
138
447200
3536
07:42
video-sharing website, social network,
circle, pyramid and trapezoid.
139
450760
5016
07:47
But the story goes deeper.
140
455800
1560
07:50
It is in the mud,
141
458080
1736
07:51
the dirt,
142
459840
1536
07:53
the earth,
143
461400
1736
07:55
in the fond memory of the soily cosmos.
144
463160
2520
07:58
It is in the always mingling
past, present and future.
145
466560
3976
08:02
It is in the water.
146
470560
2056
08:04
It is in the powerful spirits
and ancestors who dwelled in Lagos.
147
472640
3896
08:08
It is in the hearts and minds
of the people of Lagos.
148
476560
3320
08:12
Change begets change.
149
480720
2416
08:15
The alien Ayodele knew it.
150
483160
1800
08:17
All her people know it.
151
485720
1840
08:21
So, this is a voice of Udide,
the supreme spider artist,
152
489200
3856
08:25
who is older than dirt
153
493080
1336
08:26
and lives in the dirt
beneath the city of Lagos,
154
494440
2576
08:29
listening and commenting
155
497040
1936
08:31
and weaving the story
of extraterrestrials coming to Lagos.
156
499000
3320
08:35
In the end, the great spider
who was the size of a house
157
503120
3736
08:38
and responsible for weaving
the past, present and future
158
506880
2936
08:41
decides to come forth
and be a part of the story.
159
509840
2719
08:45
Like Udide, the spider artist,
160
513559
2377
08:47
African science fiction's blood runs deep
161
515960
3175
08:51
and it's old,
162
519159
1201
08:52
and it's ready to come forth,
163
520960
2256
08:55
and when it does,
164
523240
1576
08:56
imagine the new technologies, ideas
and sociopolitical changes it'll inspire.
165
524840
4920
09:03
For Africans, homegrown
science fiction can be a will to power.
166
531520
4000
09:08
What if?
167
536840
1200
09:10
It's a powerful question.
168
538520
1480
09:12
Thank you.
169
540600
1216
09:13
(Applause)
170
541840
5120

▲Back to top

ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Nnedi Okorafor - Science fiction writer
Nnedi Okorafor weaves African cultures into the evocative settings and memorable characters of her science fiction work for kids and adults.

Why you should listen

Nnedi Okorafor is an award-winning novelist of African-based science fiction, fantasy and magical realism. Born in the US to Nigerian immigrant parents, Okorafor is known for weaving African cultures into creative settings and memorable characters. Her books include Lagoon (a British Science Fiction Association Award finalist for best novel), Who Fears Death (a World Fantasy Award winner for best novel), Kabu Kabu (a Publisher's Weekly best book for Fall 2013), Akata Witch (an Amazon.com best book of the year), Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature) and The Shadow Speaker (a CBS Parallax Award winner).

Her 2016 novel The Book of Phoenix is an Arthur C. Clarke Award finalist, while the first book in the Binti Trilogy won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella. Her children’s book Chicken in the Kitchen won an Africana Book Award. The final installment of the Binti Trilogy, titled The Night Masquerade, will be released in September 2017, and the sequel to Akata Witch (titled Akata Warrior) is was published in October 2017. Meanwhile, her book Who Fears Death has been optioned by HBO, with Game of Thrones' George R.R. Martin as executive producer.

Okorafor is a full professor at the University at Buffalo, New York (SUNY).

More profile about the speaker
Nnedi Okorafor | Speaker | TED.com