Working name of US academic and author Nnedimma Okorafor-Mbachu (1974- ), whose Igbo parents had emigrated to America in 1969 but from her early childhood often returned with her to Nigeria, a complex upbringing reflected throughout her writing career; she began to publish work of genre interest with "The Palm Tree Bandit", in Strange Horizons for 11 December 2000. From the first, her work has interwoven traditional sf topoi with African story-modes, in what might be described as a series of explorations in lateral Equipoise, where genres do not mate within a culture, but across borders. Her various presentations of dichotomies between the impersonal Technologies that have driven the Industrial Revolutions of the West, and a (here perhaps somewhat mysticated) organic rapport between Homo sapiens and the sentient world characteristic of non-Western cultural narratives, have been vigorously laid down. Her first novel, Zahrah the Windseeker (2005) as Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachua, sets a Young Adult coming of age tale on an almost unbearably fecund colony planet (see Colonization of Other Worlds), where hard-edged technologies clash but must in the end collaborate with a constantly morphing biosphere; the young protagonist inhabits both worlds, as signalled by the animate dreadlocks she was born with, which allow her to levitate, a power which is soon, however, assimilated into the sf toolkit (see Psi Powers). Her second novel, The Shadow Speaker (2007) as Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachua, though set in the same background universe, focuses on the Near Future threat of a terminal World War Three, though a Great Change has made possible the use of quasi-magical tools to thwart it (see Magic). The acute registering of relations between organic life and technical praxis in these tales creates a sense of that the world is increasingly embrangled in a complex marriage of modes, a story neither sf nor mythopoeisis can tell alone. This sense is intensified in the Akata sequence comprising Akata Witch (2011) and Akata Warrior (2017), which expands upon the Young Adult coming-of-age remit, thoroughly explored in the first volume, into much more expansive tale. The young albino protagonist Sunny Nwazue is treated as an akator or outsider in Lagos, having moved as a child from America; in Nigeria – along with a set of companions and the ambivalent help of a Trickster mentor [for Seven Samurai and Trickster see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] – she must attempt simultaneously to understand the world and save it. Akata Warrior won a Locus Award as best young adult novel, and also the new young adult novel award associated with the Hugos – whose official name, the Lodestar Award, had not been ratified in time for its first presentation in 2018.
Okorafor's next singleton, Who Fears Death (2010), is set in Near Future Africa, and is – perhaps consequently – markedly grimmer than its predecessors; it may best be thought of a book for readers, including many from her previous target audience, a sense strengthened by its prequel, The Book of Phoenix (2015), whose Genetically Engineered Superhero protagonist, raised in a prison Keep in Manhattan (see New York), forges her way to Africa, the world changing in her wake. The female protagonist witnesses and experiences extreme violence in the tale, much of it focused on women (see Feminism; Sex; Women in SF), and difficult to tolerate even vicariously: even though it contains hints of livable outcomes achieved by complex leaps into faith. Who Fears Death won the World Fantasy Award. Lagoon (2014) focuses to some degree on the personal dilemmas faced by its chief protagonist, a fully grown woman scientist whose husband's growing submission to Christian fundamentalism (and his attendant spasms of congested rage at the world in general and women in particular) splinters their family; this focus causes the tale occasionally to digress from its central Novum: First Contact with an Alien civilization whose emissaries have landed in order to trigger fundamental changes in the human governance of a planet we have tortured too long. The tale, which is substantial, is set mostly in Lagos, a City itself fecund with marriages between old and new, wise and foolish, technologies and gods within the soil; and which becomes the central arena for the birthing of a new world. The ending, in which a message of hope for the planet is presented essentially as a fait accompli, may seem at points didactic, as Okorafor never fails to impart, in something closely resembling her own voice, an ongoing commentary on the meaning of the stories she tells; but the lessons imparted are pressing, and the narrative voice of Lagoon is revealed to be that of the Great Spider god of Story in her caverns under Lagos, so that is all right.
The Young Adult Binti sequence beginning with Binti (2015 chap) follows the hegira (and learning curve) of a teenaged African woman escaping from her authoritarian family in high-Technology Near Future Namibia to attend an off-world university; on the Starship, she encounters extreme danger from Aliens with a serious grievance, and solves a vicious internecine conflict through her Mathematical genius at "harmonizing" dissident data; Binti won a Hugo and a Nebula as best novella. In the sequels, Binti Home (2017) and Binti: The Night Masquerade (2018), she returns to Namibia with burdens and culture-changing gifts, as befits a Hero, and with the help of a growing network of companions averts a resumption of war.
Her four-part sf Comics miniseries LaGuardia (4 issues; graph 2019), with Tana Ford as artist and James Devlin as colorist, won a 2020 Hugo for best graphic work. [JC]
Nnedimma Nkemdili Okorafor-Mbachu
born Cincinnati, Ohio: 8 April 1974
Who Fears Death?
- Akata Witch (New York: Viking, 2011) [Akata: hb/Jillian Tamaki]
- Akata Warrior (New York: Viking, 2017) [Akata: hb/Greg Ruth]
- Zahrah the Windseeker (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005) as Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu [hb/Amanda Hall]
- The Shadow Speaker (New York: Hyperion Books for Children/Jump at the Sun, 2007) as Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu [hb/uncredited]
- Lagoon (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2014) [pb/Joey Hi-Fi]
- Ikenga (New York: Viking Books for Younger Readers, 2020) [hb/]
- LaGuardia (New York: Dark Horse/Berger Books, 2019) with Tana Ford (artist) and James Devlin (colorist) [graph: pb/Tana Ford]
collections and stories
- Long Juju Man (London: Macmillan, 2009) [chap: illus/pb/Marjorie van Heerden]
- Hello, Moto (New York: Tor.com, 2011) [story: ebook: na/Jillian Tamaki]
- Kabu-Kabu (Rockville, Maryland: Prime Books, 2013) [coll of linked stories: pb/Johnathan Sung]
works as editor
- Without a Map (Seattle, Washington: Aqueduct Press, 2010) with Mary Anne Mohanraj [anth: pb/Lynne Jensen Lampe]
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