Books interview: André M. Carrington, Drexel University

The author of Speculative Blackness on Star Trek and race, fan fiction and graphic novels, and life-changing works by Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Ray Bradbury

April 28, 2016
André M. Carrington, Drexel University

What books meant most to you as a young child?
Librarians would read aloud to my elementary school class, and one of the picture books I’ve never forgotten is Anansi the Spider. We had an already dated World Book Encyclopedia in my home when I was young, and I read as much of it as I could understand. I dwelled on the pages about dogs, fish and other animals, most of the time. I also recall reading books my older sisters owned: Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker (I had only seen the film version of The Color Purple), a paperback edition of Six Women’s Slave Narratives, and The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison.

Were you a fan of science, fantasy or speculative fiction when growing up?
I was. I read Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series of novels over and over again. One of the first Golden Age texts I read was The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, and I still think it’s among the best fiction of the 20th century.

Which science fiction or fantasy works do you find most interesting, in light of what you’ve noted are these genres’ overwhelming whiteness?
Wild Seed is my favourite Octavia Butler novel. I also recommend Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines by Suzy McKee Charnas; they depict a dystopian patriarchy and a feminist utopia, respectively, with the absence of black men as a shared feature of both societies.

You focus on the actor Nichelle Nichols in a chapter of Speculative Blackness. What did you find interesting about her memoir, Beyond Uhura?
Nichols juxtaposes her choice to reprise her role in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and its sequels with her ambivalence toward blaxploitation cinema. I discovered some fascinating resonances between her career and that of Tamara Dobson, who also acted in both genres.

Is fan fiction ‘real’ literature?
To take this question in a slightly different direction: I think that plenty of novelisations derived from television and film productions and plenty of works of commercially published erotica merit consideration as literary texts, notwithstanding the similarities between their content and that of fan fiction. Many of the authors of these works publish other material on an amateur and professional basis, as well, and their readership certainly overlaps. So the question is not only what has literary value, but who, and why does it matter?

What is your current favourite graphic novel or comic?
I really enjoyed the 2014 She-Hulk series by Charles Soule. It was absurd! I’ve admired the cover artist, Kevin Wada, since I saw his high-fashion renditions of superheroines on Tumblr.

What is the last book you gave as a gift, and to whom?
I gave a copy of my book to a friend with whom I’d previously only interacted online. Now that more of my friends are becoming parents, I’ve bought Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, by John Steptoe, for their children.

What books are on your desk waiting to be read?
I bought Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg, which I’m dying to get around to reading. But first I’m going to read The Book of Chameleons by José Eduardo Agulausa so that I can use it in a class. Sometimes the only way I can make time for new books is to assign them to my students.

André M. Carrington is assistant professor of English, Drexel University, Philadelphia, and author of Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction (University of Minnesota Press).

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