Irenosen Okojie, the award-winning, Nigerian-born writer of short stories and novels, is launching Black to the Future, an Afro-futurist festival aimed at Black creatives in partnership with The British Library and the Royal Society of Literature.
Known widely for her debut novel Butterfly Fish, Irenosen developed an interest in broadening the alternative scene for Black people. With a passion for creating a platform for emerging black talent, Irenosen has worked closely with Sara Veal as well as Elliott Jack, event promoter producer, and curator of Book Slam, a literary cabaret featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Adele, to co-curate this upcoming event. GUAP sat down with Irenosen.
GUAP: What is ‘Black to the Future’ all about?
Irenosen: Black to the Future is an Afro-futurist festival celebrating outstanding black artists across different mediums. For example literature, film, music, theatre, and performance. For me, the main purpose is really to show the breadth and scope of black artistry. A vast majority of festivals in the UK are very specifically focused it is very unlikely that you would find a multidisciplinary festival that centers the black diasporic experience in the way that we’re trying to do.
GUAP: What inspired you to create this festival?
Irenosen: I’ve been following Afrofuturism for a while and my first taste of it was reading people like Octavia Butler, and Samuel R. Delaney, who just wrote about the black experience like they wrote firstly in sci-fi, science fiction and, you don’t see a lot of like black writers doing that. So I remember just being quite blown away by Octavia Butler And she’s a real inspiration for me in terms of my writing as well.
Afrofuturism is such a fluid term to me, so I’m looking at it in terms of anchoring diasporic stories, both the past the present, and the future, and how all of that intersects and how all of that shapes each other. You can’t think about your future without looking to the past. There would be no Afrofuturism without Octavia Butler, without Sun Ra. It’s all connected and I think it’s really important for young black people and people of colour to see themselves and to have spaces that if they’re creatively inclined.
GUAP: What changes are you keen to make amongst Black artists?
Irenosen: Open people’s minds in terms of what they can do creatively how they can respond to the space that they’re in, and how they can feel much more enriched in their lives, that’s the intention really I want black artistry to keep thriving, especially UK black artistry. We’ve got some amazing artists involved you know, we’ve got some amazing names involved Adjoa Andoh, who’s the actress from Bridgerton is doing an event for us in December. Carla Singleton who’s the first black female, sci-fi editor in the UK, they’re going to be in conversation just talking about process and what that looks like coming from different mediums. So I think it’s meeting its aims in terms of like the sense of excitement and programming across different mediums, but also celebrating voices at different stages.
GUAP: What can we expect from future events?
Irenosen: We’ve got some really exciting things coming up. We’ve got more big names coming up in February. So we’ve got NK Jemison and Victor LaValle whose book, The Changeling just got made into a series for Apple TV, starring Oscar-nominated actor LaKeith Stanfield. It’s going to be more of the same just programming, really dynamic, exciting stuff, like across different mediums because it’s a multidisciplinary festival I’m always going to be looking at cross-pollination and trying to bring different audiences together.
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