Phoenix: Ouida Book’s New Africanfuturist Imprint
By Alice Fusai, Frankie Harnett, Natalie Klinkenberg and Chloë Marshall
Ouida Books might be a relatively young addition to the Nigerian publishing landscape, yet what it lacks in years, it successfully makes up for in a wide range of reading selections. Counting a total of six imprints, the newest child to the Ouida family is Phoenix. It was conceived by Nnedi Okorafor and Lola Shoneyin, two celebrated authors in African science-fiction and fantasy literature.
Phoenix's vision is dedicated to championing and disseminating cutting-edge works of Africanfuturism and Africanjujuism, genres nestled at the intersection of science-fiction and fantasy. As such, the imprint is the perfect balance between Okorafor and Shoneyin’s expertise and knowledge in the field. The imprint endeavours to provide a global platform for writers of African heritage, nurturing their storytelling voices under the supervision of Managing Editor Omotoke Solarin-Sodara.
Phoenix is being headed up by two prestigious authors, well-established in Africanfuturism and Africanjujusim. Having coined both terms, Nnedi Okorafor is one of the most respected voices in the field, having won the World Fantasy, Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Lodescar Awards for her works. She is best known for her novella trilogy Binti and her vast array of award-winning novels, including Shadow Speaker, Akata Witch and Who Knows Death. Having reached such high acclaim, the rights to her latest book The Africanfuturist were bought by William Morrow Julia Elliot in a staggering seven-figure deal.
The second is the Nigerian poet, author and activist Lola Shoneyin. Her debut novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives made waves in its candid discussion of traditional polygamous families and was awarded the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award and Ken Saro-Wiwa Prose Prize. Her novels, poetry and children's books earned her a spot on the Hay Festival's Africa39 as a Sub-Saharan African writer with the potential to define trends in African literature. Beyond her writing, she is a keen activist for the arts in her homeland, co-founding the popular monthly gathering for music, art and culture, Infusion, and running the annual Aké Arts and Book Festival in Lagos.
Africanfuturism and Africanjujuism
Africanfuturism was coined by Okorafor to describe her texts, defining it on her blog as a subcategory of science-fiction that “is concerned with visions of the future, is interested in technology, leaves the earth, skews optimistic, is centred on and predominantly written by people of African descent (Black people) and it is rooted first and foremost in Africa.” Okorafor defines Africanjujuism as a subcategory of fantasy that blends “African spiritualities and cosmologies with the imaginative.”
While similar to the term Afrofuturism, the main difference is that Africanfuturism is rooted in Africa and its culture before it branches out to everybody in the Black Diaspora. Africanfuturism does not favour the West the way that Afrofuturism does, but is considered a bridge between Africa and any place where Black people of the Diaspora reside.
In an essay by Hope Wabuke for Los Angeles Review of Books, she states that Africanfuturism allows for stories to be read and seen with a lens that is centred around the culture’s viewpoints rather than “the white gaze and the de facto colonial Western mindset.” By centring stories around people of African descent, including women and non-binary LGBTQIA+ identities, it gives the opportunity for audiences to engage with science-fiction stories that discuss African culture, philosophy, thoughts and the oppression of their people in a genre that erases them. By coining Africanfuturism, Okorafor has helped herself and other African authors in sharing stories about African characters and Africa itself.
What is Phoenix Looking For?
As the Phoenix imprint hasn’t officially launched yet, we’re still waiting to see which authors will be selected first in a hopefully long list. Okorafor and Shoneyin are on the lookout for authors whose work champions Africa as the centre – whether these stories take place on the continent itself or in the wider Black Diaspora. Writing Africanfuturism and Africanjujuism means telling stories that are “specifically and more directly rooted in African culture, history, mythology and point-of-view,” to use Okorafor’s own words.
To submit work for consideration by the Phoenix imprint, writers will need to send an email to email@example.com, with the heading “Submission: [title of your work].” There is no deadline to submit work, but as Ouida Books expects to receive a large volume of submissions, they encourage authors to do so sooner rather than later. Works must be submitted in prose as they aren’t currently accepting poetry or play submissions, so longer works such as novellas and novels are preferred. Writers can find the specific submission details here.
The addition of the Phoenix imprint to Ouida Books is evidence of a growing recognition of new genres developed by writers of African heritage, representing the crucial perspectives often overlooked when such texts are grouped into wider categories. Moreover, the creation of Phoenix expresses a desire to see the innovative storytelling of such writers funded and promoted, reflecting the future-oriented approach of its authors-to-be as much as that of Okorafor and Shoneyin. Phoenix is carving out a space in the Nigerian publishing scene for works which, while they acknowledge and grapple with the past, are determined to carry us into the future, starting with “what is” rather than “what could have been.” Much as Okorafor has written of Africanfuturism as that which “skews optimistic,” the inauguration of the Phoenix imprint exemplifies a profound optimism regarding the future of writers of African heritage. Finally, it demonstrates the effort from Ouida Books to generate space – and, fundamentally, funding – for redefinition within the genre of speculative fiction, responding to its constantly evolving nature and recognising the talent of writers of African descent worldwide.