From Black Voices — “Why are you reading all them books? White man ain’t gonna let you do anything in them books.”
I heard these words from an older cousin who expressed his opinion that I wasn’t normal.
I read constantly, anything I could get my hands on: comics, spy stories, boys’ adventures. I even “borrowed” from my mother’s bookshelf in the dead of night. And I read lots of science-fiction and fantasy. But at some point I noticed that none of the fantastic events in the stories I loved ever seemed to happen to black people. Nothingcool ever seemed to happen to us.
No, we got threatened with eviction, or punched out at the local “Whites Only” dinner theater. I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ at 9 years old. I was swept away by the wonder of J.R.R. Tolkien’s vision. But, almost shamefully, I would imagine that some of the characters were black; anything just to go along on a grand adventure from which I felt excluded: At that time, the only books by African Americans I’d read were about “the struggle” — heavy,important books that illuminated for a young black mind how dire life must be.
But I wanted to explore haunted houses, visit distant worlds. I wanted to battle evil like millions of other American boys. Soon I was forced to accept the sad reality: Black characters belonged in stories about racism and oppression. My cousin was right. I was suitably depressed.
Then one day I was strolling through my local library and stumbled across the ‘Xenogenesis’ trilogy, by an author named Octavia Butler. ‘Dawn,’ ‘Adulthood Rites‘and ‘Imago‘ were later compiled into a single volume titled ‘Lilith’s Brood,‘ but at that time, which was the late ’80s, I eagerly awaited each installment, craving the adventures of Butler’s protagonist, Lilith Iyapo.