Here we are again, back at the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series. Every once in awhile, Jim Freund lets me take the wheel at NYRSF. Both times, I've invited Phenderson D Clark to come out to play and both times he's stayed up with me past curfew. Last time was with S.A. Chakraborty and Haris Durrani to discuss the changing faces of American speculative fiction and the authors redefining this new space, making monsters of the normative hierarchies that have been a barrier to the genre for decades.
On this particular occasion, we killed two birds with one stone. We got in a reading of his excellent novella "Black God's Drum," which reads like a James Bond novel if you took out the problematic white men, and replaced them with powerful black women possessed by sister goddesses in a post Civil War steam punk New Orleans. But to place this historically dense story in the right light, we first delved into a topic of great interest to me: Africana magic systems as described by Yvonne Chireau, author of "Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition."
I found Yvonne Chireau's book while doing research for my novel. It quickly became my go to resource for its insightful analysis, clear non-jargony writing style, and outstanding bibliography.
She started off the evening with a PowerPoint presentation that traced distinct paths of evolution for the magical practices Africans brought with them across the Atlantic. She then gave context to the magic of New Orleans based voudon of Phenderson's novella that made the reading all the more meaningful.
Part of the dilemma of being Black in the Americas is that one has to work very hard to root your past in the history of the victors. Or tell your story. Or learn your name. While the necessity of the quest has never been a blessing, it would no longer be accurate to call it a curse. There is a profound joy in discovery. There is joy in reimagining. We got to do both.
Watch the Livestream, learn, and enjoy.
Phenderson invited me up on stage to read dialogue as a Marie Laveau and as a pedophile Scotsman in a whorehouse. Nailed it.