We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
What planet is Bill Campbell on? Not this one.
As the editor of Mothership: Tales From Afrofuturism and Beyond, a new short story compilation featuring prominent writers such as Junot Díaz and Victor LaValle, Campbell says his favorite literature exists in an undeveloped, not-yet-embraced frontier where African Americans can prosper: outer space.
“With the birth of science fiction, you have space as an influential idea where black folks can find freedom,” says Campbell, attempting to condense Afrofuturism into a simple definition. “Because all of those other things didn’t really work, like going to Liberia or going to San Francisco or going north. Then there’s this idea of space. This is where where we can be human, defy all these earthly definitions of what blackness is.”
Campbell became inspired to organize Mothership, which was released on Oct. 18, during the press tour for his last book Koontown Killing Kaper. While attending predominantly white science-fiction conventions, the Prince George’s County resident perceived a general disregard for black authors writing speculative fiction. “I would mention these people’s names and people would just be like ‘who?'” Campbell says. “Either I could complain that these people aren’t known or I could do something about it.”
Hoping to spotlight unrecognized writers, Campbell began work on Mothership, first asking Edward Austin Hall to be his co-editor and then reaching out to every author he could think of. The criteria for submissions were few but stringent: Either the writer had to be of color, or white authors’ protagonists had to be of color. No exceptions.
Campbell refers to the pieces in Mothership as “story donations”—-he couldn’t afford to commission his writers. He started his own publishing company specifically for the book. Yet Campbell says he received an outpouring of submissions, many of which he had to turn down. Once Diaz, LaValle, and Lauren Beukes agreed to contribute, his project seemed to fully blossom.
“This was totally perseverance and getting lucky that a lot of people wanted to be involved with it,” Campbell says. “We made it 40 stories, but we couldn’t make it as big as it really could have been.”
Though Mothership‘s racial narrative makes it somewhat more provocative and postmodern than mainstream science fiction, Campbell is confident that the book will be well-received because it is open-ended and ripe for interpretation.
There’s also the list of best-selling and award-winning authors.
“A lot of people bring their own little things to reading,” says Campbell. “So far things have been pretty optimistic. By the roster that we have, you almost can’t [dislike it].”