I’m reading these writers to reclaim an imagination stolen from me and find a vision that acknowledges Black people in the future.

-A.D. Boynton, II

by A.D. Boynton, II

I hated summer reading lists growing up — hate is a strong word, but it’s honest. Part of me figured I did enough work during the school year that the summer should be mine to do with it what I please. That could be reading what I want, going to a fancy summer camp my family couldn’t afford and that I didn’t know existed, or sleep all day. The summer was supposed to be mine and the mandatory reading was consistently underwhelming.

I was a hardworking student who loved to read, but I don’t remember connecting with the assigned books. It has been over a decade since my first high school summer reading was forced upon me and I can still remember many of the novels that made up the annual lists, if only because on the first day of school we were always tested on the material. Science and dystopian fiction populated these lists most. It was the perfect genre for young adult audiences ready to question the powers that be, right?

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I recall being a teenager reading George Orwell’s novel, 1984— a novel I now teach any given semester in my college English courses. When I first read it, I was overwhelmed by my lack of connection to the setting, Oceania. I couldn’t locate it on a map. I had never even heard of it. Winston, the novel’s protagonist, did not represent me or my growing values at all. The corrupt government and Big Brother in the novel were intriguing to me, but I couldn’t recognize who Winston was erasing from history or hiding from. I recognized his toxic (albeit socially-conditioned) relationship with women and sex, but couldn’t identify with it, or him, at all. I liked the novel. The tension that exists throughout the novel, and the high stakes, made it worth the read.

Orwell’s novel, or any assigned book, could not match the beauty I found and still find in books like Alice Walker’s, The Color Purple, that I read in undergrad. I read it on my own, online, because I was thirsty for writing that spoke to my experiences and my formal education did not. My high school summer reading lists did not see a Southern black boy with a huge imagination, curious about everything.

Why weren’t my summer reading lists Blacker?

It was not an accident that I was not introduced to any Black authors through these lists, and very few throughout high school. I had to go searching on my own for Audre Lorde, for bell hooks, for Angela Davis.

I am grateful that I live in an age where technology and the Internet afforded me, and so many millennials who are scholars and writers now, the opportunity to read, write, and connect with folk across the nation and world, across time and space.

There’s something bittersweet about this though: I went searching online for what I could not see represented in my everyday life. I had sworn off dystopian fiction, and science fiction, altogether as something for white audiences. Until I was introduced to Octavia Estelle Butler.

I did not hear of Octavia E. Butler until I was a graduate student . I was taking an African American Intellectual History course and Afrofuturism was a section for two weeks. I had only heard about Afrofuturism in passing from social media and the blogosphere, but hadn’t considered it a field of study. Butler’s most famous novel, Kindred, was assigned along with Ytasha Womack’s seminal text, Afrofuturism: the World of Black Sci-fi and Fantasy Culture. These books changed my scholarship and how I thought about myself entirely. I haven’t turned back since.

Related: Black dreams and storytelling have long been a part of the push towards Black liberation

In the spirit of science fiction, a spirit of experimentation and rebellion, I’ve been using my last two summers to read speculative fiction written by Black people.

I’m reading these writers to reclaim an imagination stolen from me and find a vision that acknowledges Black people in the future.

For there exists a white supremacist logic that we don’t belong in the future.

If I could go back in time I would whisper these names, and more, in my younger self’s ear: Octavia Butler. Samuel Delany. Sheree Thomas. George Schuyler. Nalo Hopkinson. Just a whisper would’ve comforted me. It would’ve awakened something deep within me. I would’ve seen myself in ways I had not at all in my very-white high school.

To pay it forward, my current summer reading list is below. I hope it is shared, out loud, to Black folk across the nation, with children and otherwise. It is time to seize back our imagination; it is time to imagine and create a world where we have joy, and live full lives. In the words of Sun Ra, “Space is the place.”

Summer Reading List

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Electric Arches by Eve Ewing

A.D. Boynton, II is a scholar-blerd who writes creatively and critically about popular culture, race, gender, nightmares, dreams, and the future. You can follow him on Twitter at @ADBoyntonII.