Cristina de Middel, Bambuit (from the series Afronauts)

Black Speculative Literature: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Race, and Reality

Instructor: Joseph Earl Thomas
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Against the notion that race and the body are the problems of a nostalgia-laden past, Black Speculative Literature employs the “what if” of speculation as a point of departure for articulating the lived experiences of diasporic black subjects in a range of increasingly diverse aesthetic forms. Not simply a shorthand for fantasy or science fiction written by black writers, Black Speculative Literature works specifically as a locus for a critique of reality that centers the specific alienation of black people in the past, present, and sometimes, the future. While Black Speculative Literature can be thought of as part of a historical tradition that stretches back to the writings of Phyllis Wheatley or Martin R. Delany’s Blake, or the Huts of America, it has garnered increased attention in the 20th Century through writers such as Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler. Especially after the coining of the term Afrofuturism in 1993—which Mark Dery constructed through a series of interviews with Samuel Delany, Tricia Rose and Greg Tate—black speculation has become a common interest in both commercial and critical circles. But, what is Black Speculative Literature–a genre, a set of heuristics, an invaluable epistemology? What is the relationship between Black Speculative Literature, Afrofuturism, and the writers and scholars whose work is ordered and systematized under these rubrics for coherence and kinship, commerce, or the unchecked reifications of racial composition? What can we learn in reading and theorizing Black Speculative Fiction in the 21st century?

In this course we will think about Black Speculative Literature(s) as a capacious field across genres in prose which assume the inadequacy of reality, or realism, as the sole category for remembering, thinking, or learning to live better in the 21st century. Readings will include a combination of fiction, nonfiction and criticism excerpted from writers like Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, Saidiya Hartman, Victor LaValle, Alondra Nelson, Nalo Hopkinson and others. As we read these works we will consider what the practice of speculation offers more broadly, but especially for complicating questions of race and social difference.

“Black Speculative Literature: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Race, and Reality” is being held in partnership with Carnegie Hall as part of Carnegie’s Afrofuturism festival, taking place February-April 2022. For more information and a list of festival programming, please visit Carnegie’s event page

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
March 07 — March 28, 2022
4 weeks


Registration Open