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BIPOC Authors Transcending the Boundaries of Genre

By Shaniah Shields, Leanne Francis and Jia Wen Ho

This feature is borne out of a discussion on Twitter. @shutupshealea tweeted that if she’d ever start an imprint, it would make space for the many types of stories told by BIPOC authors that don’t quite fit existing genre categories. Drawing from their various cultures, backgrounds and experiences, there is a wide array of authors that fuse genres with Korean drama tropes, wuxia martial arts and African folklore. It is time for all kinds of narratives from BIPOC authors to hit the publishing scene.

K-drama Inspired Fiction – Shaniah

Young adult authors are often known for their innovative and captivating writing styles, plots and well-rounded characters. Recently, YA authors have been transcending the boundaries of the genre by finding inspiration in popular K-dramas, K-pop and Korean culture at large. This has translated into fun, quirky and addictive novels that encapsulate the popular themes and tropes of K-dramas.

Kat Cho is one among many young adult authors to transcend the boundaries of genre and include a variety of new ideas into her work. This stems firstly from her love of writing about her Korean heritage, but also integrating her interest in K-drama and K-pop into her work. This is reflected in her debut novel Wicked Fox (2019), a fantasy-romance set in modern-day Seoul. It features Korean folklore, themes and tropes associated with K-dramas.

If you enjoy K-dramas, look out for Kat Cho’s new book, Once Upon A K-Prom, which is expected to be published in 2022. It is a YA romance and comedy about a Korean American girl who makes a pact to go to prom with her childhood best friend, a friend who has since become one of the biggest K-pop stars in the world!

Another author to fuse together YA novels with K-dramas is Maurene Goo. Her novel, I Believe in a Thing Called Love (2019), transcends the boundaries of contemporary YA fiction as the protagonist finds guidance in the K-dramas which have inspired the plot and characters within this book.

Fantasy Fiction – Leanne

N. K. Jemisin and Reni K. Amayo have been reinvigorating the fantasy genre, fusing the fantasy landscape with conversations about politics, race and climate change. Their books transcend the boundaries of genre, inviting us into worlds structured like ours but grounded in African folklore and torn apart by the supernatural.

N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (2015), the first volume of the Broken Earth series, is a science fantasy novel published by Orbit Books. Jemisin, three-time Hugo award winner, tells the story of a mother who has to find her kidnapped daughter at the end of the world, all whilst hiding her secret power. We are witness to destruction and immense power in this ground-breaking series that combines all things natural, sci-fi and fantasy. It is also due to be adapted into a film series.

Daughters of Nri (2019), by Reni K. Amayo, is a young adult fantasy fiction set in ancient Nigeria. Published by a black-owned indie publisher, Onwe Press, and part of The Return of the Earth Mother series, Daughters of Nri tells the story of Nalaa and Sinai, twin sisters separated at birth. As they embark on a journey to find one another, they discover the ancient powers they harbour as goddesses that were thought to have vanished with the old gods. This series combines mythology and magic with African history, royalty, and bloodlines.

Chinese-drama Inspired Fiction – Jia Wen

Genres that are well-established in Chinese drama and media are making their way into English books. One of them is wuxia, which is based on Daoist beliefs and has themes of seeking honour, justice and martial arts magic. Another is close to historical fiction, drawing from ancient Chinese history and focusing on palace struggles for power with political scheming by morally grey protagonists. Here are two books that don’t fit into the familiar fantasy or historical fiction boxes.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water (2020) by Zen Cho is told from the perspective of a nun, Guet Imm, as she joins a band of bandits who are on a quest to steal a sacred object. Though it draws inspiration from wuxia, it is also unapologetically Malaysian, telling an original story.

The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan (2019) by Sherry Thomas is a retelling of the legend

of Mulan. Taught by her father, Hua Mulan trains her whole life for a duel with the Yuans to win the honour of keeping the two swords Sky Blade and Heart Sea. But when one man from every family is needed to enlist in the military, Hua Mulan is faced with new challenges. Featuring dramatic wuxia martial arts whilst telling a historical story, this book challenges its genre category.

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