In a 2020 interview focused on Afrofuturism and the Covid 19 pandemic, scholar Alondra Nelson said, “I think it’s important to remember that the Afrofuturist tradition in arts and letters and music is really writing with and up against the possibility of black annihilation — the sort of possibility that the world could end, but that there were always sort of spaces of possibility. And so I would want us to remember that the most marginalized and the most vulnerable communities, time and time again, over generations, over hundreds of years, have created beauty and resilience in life again and again. That’s a gift that black culture has brought to the world again and again, that I think certainly should be appreciated and embraced in this moment and done in such a way that people, many people who are the essential workers, who are African Americans should not be left to suffer.” As we enter into a third year of this pandemic, we should remember that Black culture is adept at making a way out of no way. My undergraduate literature professor Leon Forrest frequently lectured about the blues aesthetic apparent in Black peoples’ cultures. He said reinvention, the ability to take fragments of cultures, cosmologies, and circumstances and turn those seemingly disconnected and discarded scraps into art or meaning, is the superpower [my word] of Black people. It’s how we get ovah.
We have always speculated a future in which we were liberated and self actualized. Our resilience is integrally connected to our creative and imaginative spirits. At the same time, we recognize the toll of generational suffering in our communities, families, and bodies. Poet-scholar Margaret Walker reminds us “We have been believers yielding substance for the world/…Our song has filled the twilight and our hope has her-/alded the dawn.” Hope
In February 2021, Maurita Poole, Ph.D., director of the Clark Atlanta University Art Museum, and Guirdex Masse, assistant professor of English at Augusta University, coordinated a conversation between Mississippi authors Jesmyn Ward and Kiese Laymon. The event aligned with the New Mississippi(s) project for which Dr. Poole is an organizer.
Laymon and Ward compared and contrasted Northern, Central, and Coastal Mississippi regions and acknowledged the topographies influence on Black culture and identity. The natural world, while featured more prominently in Ward’s fiction, is a character that must be described or animated, Laymon said. Both authors discussed the forest as setting and character and tied this point to their deep connection to Mississippi as a homeplace.
Although this conversation was not structured to focus on the magically or mythically real, the topic punctuated the authors’ engagement with storytelling, surviving racism and poverty, and navigating real and imagined spaces. Laymon described Black people’s power and art as magic. Ward talked about time slowing down as she writes about the dead and the living world around the dead. She described her preference for stories that transport people, and Laymon reiterated Ward’s observation that time collapses. Afrofuturism permeates the ways in which these authors discuss their craft and worldviews. Laymon and Ward remind us that the homeplace is a valid source of knowledge, and it is in Mississippi that each finds the source of their magic and creative voice.
Beyoncé‘s recently released visual album Black Is King embraces Africa- past, present, and future. The film is liberatory, cajoling the audience to move through time and place in search of an authentic self. Beyoncé rejects the double consciousness DuBois described in The Souls of Black Folk, and, instead, invents a world in which Black people see themselves, not through the eyes of their oppressors, but through the lives, actions, and perspectives of other Black people. The spirits are present. The elders are present. What is not present is the white gaze. This film is for Black people as is evidenced by the film’s resistance to explain or contextualize Black experiences and ways of knowing.
The film connects Black people to the universe and the galaxies beyond the Milky Way. In doing so, the film constructs Black people and their culture as timeless and infinite. Never have they not existed, and never shall they not exist. Black people are simultaneously fully embodied and ethereal. The locales are familiar and otherworldly. The fast-paced editing keeps the audience disconcerted, forcing the viewer to choose feeling over thinking. The film happens, and you receive it.
For those who have seen Janelle Monae’s visual album Dirty Computer, you will find little similarity. Monae’s “emotion picture” has a more defined narrative structure and accompanying character development. Beyoncé‘s film, informed by the plot of The Lion King, is more fractured and disjointed than Monae’s. However, both films intend to liberate viewers. (I must admit that I was a bit disappointed that Beyoncé‘s film did little to push back on patriarchal and consumerist systems of oppression. Heteronormativity and American capitalism are on full display.)
The visual album as an art form can be transformative. By the end of Black Is King, what I appreciated most was the unmitigated joy of the performers. Beyoncé is good at capturing Black joy, and I realized that I needed to see that joy more than I needed a progressive and historically accurate (Black is King is neither) representation of Africa and its descendents in the Diaspora.
Building a new journal is complicated. I certainly paused when Myrtle Jones pitched the idea to me. However, I recognized early in the process that we had a tremendous opportunity to curate Black intellectual and creative expressions and to create a digital hub for those working in and across Afrofuturism and the Black Fantastic. Third Stone is a labor of love, and the editorial board and staff ask you to stay with us as we retool and make changes to move the journal forward into its next phases.
We are intensifying our efforts to build a living annotated bibliography of Black Fantastic artifacts. We want you to write short notes about Afrofuturisitic visual art, music, literature, websites, film, apps, technology, and more. We aspire to capture well and lesser known cultural artifacts. Our bibliography will contribute to the conversations creators, scholars, and fans of Afrofuturism are having in the midst of COVID-19 and social unrest. Third Stone is partnering with the 2021 Afrofuturism conference co-sponsored by the University of Central Florida and the Zora Festival. Participating scholars will contribute bibliography entries on Afrofuturism and Black Sound Studies.
Before joining Third Stone, I did not describe my work as Afrofuturist or Black Fantastic adjacent. However, through conversations with Dr. Maryemma Graham, Dr. Julian Chambliss, Mr. Bill Campbell, and Prof. Rochelle Spencer, I understand that much of what I do is, in fact, Afrofuturism. When I wrote my dissertation about magic and mythic realism in African Diaspora texts, I was engaging with Afrofuturism. My book chapter on Zakes Mda’s novel Cion is Afrofuturist in its rethinking of American slavery. My essay “‘Neptune is truly the ruler of the Negro Race’: Margaret Walker, Horoscopes, and a Black Future” engages directly with Afrofuturism and repositions Walker as an Afrofuturist. My foray into digital humanities is certainly an Afrofuturist act. One of the goals of the Third Stone project is to define what is meant by Black futuristic thinking and to expand the work- past, present, and future- included in this genre and aesthetic mode.
The editors of Third Stone envision this multimedia and multimodal journal as a space where practitioners, scholars, and enthusiasts curate creative and critical content informed by the philosophical intersection of the African Diaspora and technology. Third Stone serves as a hub for the Black Fantastic, and, as such, we will work to identify cultural artifacts forgotten or yet to be discovered.