Our April selection for Ackerman’s Community Book Club is the Hugo and Nebula award winning novella “Binti” by Nnedi Okorafor. In her writing, Okorafor explores, among many others, the themes of cross-contextual identity, our relationships to difference, and nurturing expansiveness and possibility from a position of historical and systemic awareness. Her writing challenges our ideas about the assumptions of our lived contexts and encourages dialogue and movement. In her own words, “when there is silence bad things happen… I am all about dialogue.”
Nnedi Okorafor was born in 1974 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Igbo Nigerian parents who had travelled to the U.S. in 1969 for schooling but did not return to Nigeria due to the Nigerian Civil War. Okorafor identifies as Naijamerican to express her relationship with her Nigerian-American identity as a sometimes integrative, sometimes parallel, cross-contextual experience and perspective related to all facets of her sense of self through growing up in the U.S., numerous trips to Nigeria visiting family and community, and the combination of those contexts as she experiences them in all places and creative endeavors. Okorafor is lauded as a prolific and provocative visionary in her field of primarily science fiction and fantasy writing. She has coined terms such as “Africanfuturism” (science fiction subcategory) and “Africanjujusim” (fantasy subcategory) to describe her writing and to re-center her works to African rather than Western narrative and perspective.
I share this book with our community book club to share my relationship with science fiction as a vehicle for accessing perspectives and possibilities beyond dominant and internalized constructions. Not for escapism but as a vehicle for auditing, disrupting, and renovating our own experiences in an immersive and felt manner through literary narrative rather than simply through intellectual discourse.
As therapists, we benefit from developing a range of methods to step outside of dominant social structures and access new and different perspectives about others and about ourselves. Yet science fiction, as with all writing, is created by people: authors who begin their creation/exploration from their own locations even as they attempt to disrupt their default orientations, often traditionally recreating colonialism and xenophobia in the process.
Africanfuturism as a genre offers a re-centering of narrative and perspective away from whiteness and the West while still embracing elements of the Diasporic experience. As I experience it, Okorafor’s writing asks us how we react to difference, what it means to us, and how we handle discoveries of difference and change within ourselves as we move into new contexts and relationships within the world.
Book club selection and description written by Frank Wells, LCSW.
Above Image of Nnedi Okorafor by Colleen Durkin
About Ackerman’s Community Book Club:
Ackerman’s Community Book Club is a monthly series of reading recommendations curated by our family therapy instructors. We invite you to read one book each month that explores diversity, equity, and inclusion and join us on a pathway to curiosity. The books on our list have been selected with the aim of increasing knowledge, empathy, willingness, and skill to confront xenophobia as therapists, educators, and lifelong learners, in the personal and professional spaces we occupy.