Challenging normative ideas

This interview was originally published at News & Press from The Future Fire.

Chinelo Onwualu is a writer, editor and journalist living in Abuja, Nigeria. She is a graduate of the 2014 Clarion West Writers Workshop, which she attended as the recipient of the Octavia E. Butler Scholarship. She is editor and co-founder of Omenana, a magazine of African speculative fiction. Her writing has appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including Strange Horizons, Brittle Paper, Ideomancer, AfroSF: African Science Fiction by African Writers, and Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond. Follow her on Twitter or check out her website. She spoke to Rivqa Rafael about her writing and editing, and about African speculative fiction.

RR: (As far as I’m aware) you’re the editor of two ambitious speculative fiction magazines. First, I’ll ask about the more established one, Omenana. I love your two-pronged mission here, showcasing African speculative fiction and challenging “normative ideas” – not to mention the gorgeous art and stories. What can you tell us about the magazine and its growth over the years?
CO: Well, the magazine was actually the brainchild of my co-founder Mazi Nwonwu. He’d been thinking of creating a platform for the kinds of speculative fiction that he and a lot of people he knew were writing, but which just weren’t getting any attention from the arbiters of mainstream “African” fiction, a lot of whom are in the US or the UK. I’d expressed an interest in starting some sort of platform as well, so he reached out to me.

It’s been so much fun working on Omenana. I’ve read so much more African sci-fi, fantasy and horror in the past two years and I don’t think I’d have had the opportunity otherwise. The first couple of issues we had to solicit for stories, but by the end of the first year we were getting quite a number of submissions. This last issue we received nearly 50! I had no idea that so many writers were doing such amazing things with the genre.

Every month it’s a bit of a scramble, especially around our art. Plus, we became a paying platform last year – just when the Nigerian economy went into recession and our currency lost more than twice its value – and that hasn’t been easy either because we run it out of our pockets. We’ll be crowdfunding later this year to raise money to keep the whole thing going – so look out for that.

Despite it all, the African speculative fiction continues to grow – even beyond the magazine. Last year, a bunch of us writers, artists and filmmakers formally organised the African Speculative Fiction Society. We’ll be awarding our first prize for novels and short fiction, the Nommos, this year. Members are currently in the nominating process.

As for the magazine, we’re looking to expand our online presence and create more of a hub for African speculative fiction, with news, podcasts, and forums for discussion. Mainstream African stories have always had a speculative element to them, but to see how the boundaries of what is speculative are being pushed has been such an honour to witness, you know? Continue reading

Ends and beginnings, 2016 edition

Author with awardIn the spirit of recounting the good things that happened to me in this global annus horribilis, here’s my year in review. In (mostly) chronological order…

My writing year kicked off in earnest (I’m sure I wrote stuff before then, but I can’t be sure) in March, when I attended Contact. Held in Brisbane over the Easter long weekend, this was the 55th Australian National Science Fiction Convention and I enjoyed it heartily.

It featured the first Aurealis Awards that I was involved with (as judge for SF short story category) and much live-tweeting by me. I also won a Ditmar Award for Best New Talent, which was surprising and inspiring to my work since. (Except for the part where I dropped my pin on the floor of the stage, but I am at peace with my clumsiness.) To the Australian speculative fiction community, thank you for welcoming me and honouring me.

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The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2016: Nick Tchan

Nick TchanNick Tchan (writing as Nick T. Chan) is an Australian  writer. He’s sold stories to Lightspeed, Aliterate, 2nd and Starlight, Writers of the Future, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Galaxy’s Edge. In addition to random and malicious acts of authoring, Nick works as an instructional designer. Because he does not own a cat, he has long doubted his legitimacy as a speculative fiction writer.

Your most recent publication was in Lightspeed’s People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction special issue. Can you tell us a bit about the story, and the magazine it’s published in?

My story, “Salto Mortal”, probably operates on two levels. The first level is a fairly simple tale about a wife who flees for her life from her abusive husband. Instead of successfully making it to the woman’s refuge, though, she encounters a nagual, one of the aliens who took over Mexico a number of years ago and turned it into a mysterious, uninhabitable realm.

The second level is about identity and disguises and the interplay between them. It is very much a story concerned with self-identity, cultural identity and the forces that seek to erase them. It deals with masks, lucha libre, domestic violence and shapeshifting aliens.

I play with the themes of identity in disguise throughout the story. The main character has both her identity and her culture stolen from her, there are aliens attempting to imitate human beings and luchadores use masks and personas in the ring.

Issue 73 of Lightspeed was called the People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! and was 100% written and edited by people of colo(u)r. It was led by guest editors Nalo Hopkinson and Kristine Ong Muslim and had writers like Steven Barnes, Octavia Butler, Sofia Samatar, Malka Older and Samuel Delaney. The idea was to bring together a team of writers and editors from around the globe to present science fiction that explores the nuances of culture, race, and history.

It’s not very apparent from photos, but I’m half-Chinese. It was a difficult question whether I fit into the magazine, but after discussions with my writing group (which is a pretty diverse group), I gave it a go. The story itself is a clear representation of how culture and look can be erased by a dominant culture and part of the story’s genesis arose from thinking about race in my own context. My struggles are different to someone who looks ‘”obviously” Asian. At the same time, I’ve had my own struggles with both overt and covert racial prejudice. (I’m also capable of tremendous clumsiness when it comes to matters of race and identity.)

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The Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2016: Janeen Webb

Janeen WebbJaneen Webb is a multiple award-winning author, editor and critic who has written or edited ten books and over a hundred essays and stories. Janeen is a recipient of a World Fantasy Award, a Peter McNamara Achievement Award, an Aurealis Award, and a Ditmar Award. She holds a PhD in Literature from the University of Newcastle, and divides her time between Melbourne and a small farm overlooking the sea near Wilson’s Promontory.

I thoroughly enjoyed your 2014 collection, Death at the Blue Elephant, which was published by Ticonderoga and was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award. Two years on, how has the book been received?

Thanks for your kind words about Death at the Blue Elephant. I’m happy to say that the collection has been very well received: shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award, and also recommended in the Locus Best of the Year list. One of the stories, “The Lady of the Swamp”, was reprinted in The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror (edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene). Readers have responded generously to the stories, and I understand the book has been selling well. I am, of course, working on a new collection, with new stories slowly making their way into print.

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