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“In order to rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix first must burn” – Octavia Butler
This quote was the inspiration for the title of the anthology “A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope” edited by Patrice Caldwell. The stories in the anthology are written by Elizabeth Acevedo, Amerie, Patrice Caldwell, Dhonielle Clayton, J. Marcelle Corrie, Somaiya Daud, Charlotte Nicole Davis, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Danny Lore, L. L. McKinney, Danielle Paige, Rebecca Roanhorse, Karen Strong, Ashley Woodfolk, and Ibi Zoboi. The stories all center on the black experience through the lens of fantasy, science fiction, alternative history, magic, and afrofuturism. As a black girl myself, I was absolutley thrilled when I found out this anthology existed. I’ve always preferred genres that strayed from the real world, but it was hard to find stories that focused on people of color, specifically girls of color. I just wanted to be seen, but it was only until I got to college that I heard of Octavia Butler or Nnedi Okorafor, both black female authors that have run wild in the genre of speculative fiction. I suppose the reason why I prefer these genres is because I’m tired of black people’s harsh reality and the retellings of it. Now don’t get me wrong, narratives like “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker or the movie Precious are necessary narratives, but dang it’s depressing and I’m honestly not watching those uglycry fests over and over. I wondered what would happen if black girls could shape their own worlds and speak their own realities into existence. That’s the reason why I started writing my fantasy “Guardians of Masks and Memory” years ago (which is now in the editing phase and will be published next year).
As I poured through the stories of the different authors I felt seen and intrigued in so many different ways. I saw a story that referenced the boohag, which is a southern horror legend about a woman that can peel off her skin and fly around in the night to steal souls. (Sounds charming right?) In Elizabeth Acavedo’s “Gilded” she talked about a slave uprising, in which the enslaved people used magic to free themselves of their oppresors, which sounded so liberating. It was like the happy ending that you get, but honestly thought would never come. Even beyond the ideas that were obviously centered on blackness, I saw humanity and things that most of deal with at some point. There were characters that were dealing with heartbreak from a breakup or the loneliness of your friends abandoning you in an already small town. However, in the midst of these circumstances, the protagonists always managed to find a way to gain their happy ending or at least get to a better place.
In essence, this anthology helped show me what the world can look like through a black lens, whether the circumstances be realistic, science fiction, fantastical, or speculative. If you’d like to have a taste of the literary form of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, I would encourage you to grab a copy of the book and to buy the audiobook as well!