While pursuing her Ph.D. in American studies, Stephanie Andrea Allen wrote her dissertation on how work by lesbians and black authors found its way into print. While there had been some progress in getting such work closer to the mainstream, “There were actually very few opportunities for certain types of writing,” she discovered.
In response to this shortage, Allen founded North Carolina-based BLF Press (the acronym stands for black lesbian feminist). The need for representation also led to the decision to put together an anthology of speculative fiction by black women. The book, Black From the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing has been hailed as an “outstanding anthology” by Publisher’s Weekly.
As part of its literary series, Asheville’s Flatiron Writer’s Room will host the editors of that anthology during a Saturday, Sept. 14, event.
Allen now teaches gender studies at Indiana University Bloomington. Her philosophy, she says, is: “If you can make space for black women writers, you should do that.” Accordingly, working with editor and graphic designer Lauren Cherelle (who will also attend the Flatiron Writers Room event and whose story “Go Green” appears in the anthology), BLF “designed a beautiful cover, put out a call for submissions and got some amazing poems and short stories.”
The writings run the gamut of speculative fiction genres, from science fiction and fantasy to horror and magical realism. In one story, two girls fall in love, even though one of them is a vampire being smuggled north on an underground railroad. In another, a woman must give up her hair — and the past she has clung to — to buy salt for a memorial meal.
Black From the Future also includes a story by Allen herself: Inspired by a tweet in which Cherelle speculated that her cellphone kept watch on her at night, Allen wrote “Luna 6000,” a technological thriller that is also a fable about modern motherhood.
“For me,” Allen says, “the story is about our current climate where women don’t feel ownership of their own bodies, as well as my own experience as a mom when I had an emergency C-section.”
According to Allen, speculative fiction allows the writer to approach experiences from previously unexplored perspectives — and it opens up a space for the voices of those whose feelings and bodies are erased by mainstream literature. In short, Allen says, the lure of speculative fiction “is what we can do with our imagination in a time when black experiences are passed over and ignored.”
The Sept. 14 event, which will include readings by Cherelle and Allen and time for questions, will reach an audience eager to learn about speculative fiction, according to Heather Newton, one of the authors behind the Flatiron Writers Room.
“Speculative fiction is a huge thing in Asheville,” she says, and many area writers work in those genres. Last year, the Flatiron Writers Room brought in a group of literary agents for local writers to pitch to. “One of the pieces of feedback we got afterward was, ‘For next time, you really need to get in an agent who handles that sort of genre fiction,’” Newton remembers.
“I’d been following BLF Press for a while,” Newton says, “ever since they published a short story collection by Krystal Smith”—a black woman writer of speculative fiction from Western North Carolina. “The writers who run the Flatiron Writers Room want to do everything we can to support small presses.”
Allen hopes that attendees will also take the next step and seek out work by authors and voices they might not usually be drawn to. “If you see a new book by a black woman? Read it,” she says. “Think outside the box. We enrich our lives by doing more, by thinking about stories by folks and about folks. All of us would do well to read things outside of our comfort zone.”
WHAT: Stephanie Andrea Allen and Lauren Cherelle present Black From the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing
WHERE: Flatiron Writers Room, 5 Covington St.
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 14, 6 p.m. Free; RSVP at avl.mx/6hb