MLA 2022 (LLC Southern Studies): Afrosouthernfuturism and the Black Speculative Arts

Joanna Davis-McElligatt Discussion
Call for Papers
March 15, 2021
United States
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, Ethnic History / Studies, Environmental History / Studies, Race / Ethnic Studies, American History / Studies

Afrosouthernfuturism and the Black Speculative Arts

Recently scholars have begun to explore how black artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers construct blackness, black embodiment, and black experiences in the speculative arts. Indeed, as Isiah Lavender III has argued, “one might argue that chattel slavery is an apocalyptic event that created black experience in the new world as a real science fiction.” In this way, black speculative fiction has long served as a critical response to the trauma and potential of black life, deployed strategically to think in and beyond our current moment, and to make sense of our histories. This is especially important given that, as DeWitt Kilgore argues, “Afrofuturism can be seen as less a marker of black authenticity and more a cultural force, an episteme that betokens a shift in our largely unconscious assumptions about what histories matter and how they may serve as a precondition for any future we may imagine.” To this end, Afrofuturism is, according to Ytasha Womack, “an intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation.” Afrofuturism as an aesthetic movement, then, contends directly with the horrors of black life from slavery into those attending an uncertain future. Anchored not only in technological responses to black suffering, Afrofuturism across genres reshapes and expands upon conceptions of black people as human, nonhuman, and posthuman.

From Charles W. Chestnutt’s 1899 The Conjure Woman and Pauline E. Hopkins’ 1903 Of One Blood to Jesmyn Ward’s 2017 Sing, Unburied, Sing and N.K. Jemisin’s 2018 How Long ‘til Black Future Month?, Afrosouthernfuturism is rooted in imaginings of black futures (and, at times, black pasts) both enmeshed in and envisioned beyond our current planetary time and space—yet always specifically located in a southern space and place. As R. Scott Heath has explained, the “planetary south” is configured as a place where “race, space, time, and newer technologies” are “launched from the south, from a south, or from a southern idea.” Afrosouthernfuturism, then, actively contends with what Saidiya Hartman has described as “the routinized violence of slavery and its aftermath through invocations of the shocking and terrible,” while also shaping worlds within conceptual frameworks of ontological freedom, articulated by Frank Wilderson III as “freedom from the world, freedom from Humanity, freedom from everyone (including one’s Black self).” By imagining blackness beyond and within the boundaries of the human body, the US south, and the planet, Afrosouthernfuturist texts are vital explorations of the (un)certainty of black survival and the promise and potential of black futures.

We invite papers from scholars interested in working toward a critical definition of Afrosouthernfuturism in southern studies, African American studies, critical race and ethnic studies, studies of race and speculative fiction, and/or Anthropocene studies. 

MLA 2022 will be held January 6-9 in Washington, DC. Abstracts of 250 words are due March 15th to

Possible topics include:

  • Genres of Afrosouthernfuturism in literature, art, culture (fantasy, cyberpunk, science fiction, dystopian/utopian, alternate history, horror)
  • Constructions of the human and alien/Other/animal/nonhuman
  • The politics and ethics of worldbuilding 
  • Black affect and the politics of emotion
  • Representations of space-time or other dimensions
  • Black posthumanity and Afro-pessimism
  • Gender and sexuality in Afrosouthernfuturism 
  • Morrison’s Africanist Presence and Afrosouthernfuturism 
Contact Info: 

Joanna Davis-McElligatt 
Assistant Professor of Black Literary and Cultural Studies
University of North Texas