The aesthetic explored in Afrofuturism, said author and filmmaker Ytasha Womack, has existed throughout the Black Diaspora. Writers such as Octavia E. Butler and W.E.B. Du Bois were writing about black identity years ago, said Womack. People are just rediscovering these works.

“Afrofuturism is a great opportunity to explore storytelling and boundless creativity,” said Womack during a Skype interview. 

In this age of rediscovery there is also an emerging group creating their own work that is confronting, exploring and reshaping ideas surrounding blackness.

Womack, with works such as Afrofuturism: The World of Black SciFi and Fantasy Culture, Post Black: How a New Generation is Redefining African American Identity, and Beats, Rhymes and Life: What We Love & Hate About Hip-Hop, can be counted as one of the genre’s leading voices.

Her interest in science fiction began at an early age with an introduction to superheroes and comic books. Over time, she became more interested in the relationship between science and history, the foundation of her writing.

As a black woman who grew up on Chicago’s South Side and attended university in the South at Clark Atlanta University, there was a certain kind of story Womack perceived people expected her to tell, one that perhaps involved an urban or Southern context.

“I didn’t want to be limited by those lanes,” she said.

Rayla, the main character in Womack’s newest novel RAYLA 2212, which launched in April at the Chicago Comic Con, is one of her favorite characters because she transcends norms. The character is a war strategist on Planet Hope, a former colony of Earth that has claimed its independence and is on a mission to save a group of New Age Astronauts called “The Missing.”

While the protagonist in Womack’s tale is complex, even vulnerable, and the work as a whole is distinguishable because of its Afrofuturism aesthetic, it also addresses a universal theme: love.

“The story ties reincarnation, space travel, virtual worlds and love as Rayla seeks to make her world a better place,” wrote Womack on the novel’s website.

Critically assessing culture through the lens of Afrofuturism may seem divisive, but it can create common ground.

“Afrofuturism connects black culture to other topics,” said Womack. “It is a great platform for starting discussions and community building.” 

Womack will be discussing her work, along with author Bill Campbell, at the Oak Park Public Library on Thursday, July 10 at 6:30 p.m. She will also be signing copies of her books RAYLA 2212 and Afrofuturism at the DuSable Museum’s 40th Annual Arts & Crafts Festival, July 12-13.

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