Hello! Here’s an awesome utopian reading list.

It’s my inaugural blog post! I thought I would start by sharing my current utopia-themed reading list with you. As you will see, it’s a list of Afrofuturist, African Sci-Fi and Black Utopias. This is where I’m at right now. In this post I’ll tell you how I got to this amazing place and why I think these books are must-reads.

This list is designed to be collaborative so it was published in the Bristol Utopian Book Collective Facebook group. If you have problems accessing it let me know.

Image by John Jennings

Utopia and colonialism

Utopia has an uneasy relationship with colonialism. I say uneasy, but that’s my feeling about it. It would probably be more accurate to say it has a too easy relationship with colonialism. Take this quote from Thomas More’s Utopia of 1516, the foundational text of the genre, about how the original Utopia came to be:

Utopus, that conquered it (whose name it still carries, for Abraxa was its first name), brought the rude and uncivilized inhabitants into such good government, and to that measure of politeness, that they now far excel all the rest of mankind.

Thomas More, Utopia (London: Verso, 2016) pp72-73

I’ve written elsewhere about how the Black Lives Matter protests in Bristol in June 2020 brought the colonialist logic within utopia to the forefront of my mind. To address this I could have re-read the old utopias through an anti-colonial lens, and I might still do this one day. But what I really wanted to do was seek out Black, Indigenous and African utopias and start reading those instead.

The first thing I read was N.K. Jemisin’s How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? Since then I’ve read Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, and I’m currently reading Paradise by Toni Morrison. If you know of any others that should be on my list, please add them to the collaborative doc, post in the comments below or contact me.

Other things I’m currently reading…

Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer

Spike Island in Bristol are currently hosting a Braiding Sweetgrass reading group, meeting monthly (online) to discuss extracts from the book. While this is far from sci-fi, I’m interested because Kimmerer explores other ways of being and relating to nature than the prevailing consumer capitalist status quo, with its insistence on defining the more-than-human world as ‘natural resources’.

Underland, Robert MacFarlane

This I’m reading for another book group. I actually suggested it myself, despite subscribing to Kathleen Jamie‘s view of the author as ‘A Lone, Enraptured Male‘, peddling an exclusive and over-privileged idea of nature. But everyone goes on about how brilliant this book is, so I’m going to give it a try.