A photo collage of all the authors beside the text, "Black Cli-Fi And Ecofiction Authors."

Black Cli-Fi And Ecofiction Authors You Must Read

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Lists of recommended cli-fi or ecofiction books can be pretty…well, White. Search “cli-fi books” on your preferred search engine, and you’re bound to get a slew of book recommendations from authors like Barbara Kingsolver, Kim Stanley Robinson, Nathaniel Rich, Richard Powers, and Margaret Atwood.

Also read: What is Climate Fiction? Cli-Fi and How It Can Help Us Respond to the Climate Crisis

A couple of Black authors appear in these lists as well, but many excellent authors get left out. So, in an effort to spread the good word about Black cli-fi and ecofiction authors, I’ve put together a list of authors and novels to check out. This list is imperfect and incomplete, but I intend for it to be a living document where I can add more Black authors as I learn about them.

Whether you’re celebrating Black History Month or looking for your next great read, be sure to add these authors to your reading list. By the way, if you know of other Black cli-fi or ecofiction authors that should be on this list, please let me know.

Octavia E. Butler

A portrait photo of author Octavia E. Butler.
Image source: https://www.octaviabutler.com/

Recommended book: Parable of the Sower

I’m tempted to say this author needs no introduction, but then again, I hadn’t heard of her until a few years ago. Octavia E. Butler was one of the greatest authors of the 20th century, certainly one of the best science fiction writers ever, and definitely one of the most influential writers in the genre we now call cli-fi.

Listen: “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler

Known for novels like the Patternist series, Kindred, and Bloodchild, she’s seen a recent resurgence in popularity thanks to her novels Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, the two first books from her unfinished Parable series. Parable of the Sower, especially, is an archetype for dystopian ecofiction, and good lord is it prescient! If you want to read cli-fi or ecofiction, you have to read Octavia E. Butler. Period.

N.K. Jemisin

A portrait photo of author N.K. Jemisin.
Photo by Laura Hanifin, © 2015. Image source: https://nkjemisin.com/

Recommended book: The Fifth Season

If there is any living writer worthy of receiving the torch from Octavia E. Butler, it’s N.K. Jemisin. Jemisin is the author of multiple novels and short stories as well as a work of nonfiction and a comic book issue, but she might be best known for The Broken Earth series. Also, if there’s an award for science fiction, she’s probably won it.

Like Butler, Jemisin’s work prominently features ecofeminist themes and deals with issues like race, gender, culture, and oppression, to name a few. Start with The Fifth Season for cli-fi and then check out her new novel, The City We Became. If you don’t already listen to LeVar Burton reads, be sure to check out his reading of her short story “Cuisine des Mémoires.” You are welcome.

Nnedi Okorafor

Portrait photo of author Nnedi Okorafor.
Image source: https://www.goodreads.com/photo/author/588356.Nnedi_Okorafor

Recommended book: Who Fears Death

Nnedi Okorafor, wow. If you don’t know this Nigerian-American author, it’s time you changed that. Nnedi Okorafor is the winner of a Hugo, a World Fantasy Award, a Nebula, and a Locus Award, and she’s written multiple novels, a comic book series set in the world of Wakanda for Marvel, and a screenplay adaptation of Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler for Amazon Prime Video.

Oh, and her book Who Fears Death is being adapted for an HBO series with George R. R. Martin as executive producer. Are you convinced you should read her yet?

Imbolo Mbue

Portrait photo of author Imbolo Mbue.
Image source: http://www.imbolombue.com/

Recommended book: How Beautiful We Were

Okay, so this author’s climate change book is still forthcoming at the time I’m writing, but I see that as no reason to not include her in this list. Imbolo Mbue is a native of Limbe, Cameroon and currently lives in New York, where she graduated from Columbia University. Her first novel, Behold the Dreamers, is critically acclaimed, winning the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and being chosen for Oprah’s Book Club.

How Beautiful We Were will be published on March 9, 2021, and I can already tell it will be an ecofiction classic. The novel tells the story of people from a fictional African village trying to survive in the wake of destruction caused by an American oil company. And while this book is a work of fiction, it sounds eerily similar to some real-life events. See, for example, the documentary Crude about an environmental disaster involving the Chevron Corporation in Ecuador.

Sherri L. Smith

Portrait photo of author Sherri L. Smith.
Image source: https://www.sherrilsmith.com/

Recommended book: Orleans

For YA readers, you’ll want to check out Sherri L. Smith. Smith is an award-winning author of multiple YA and middle school novels, and she’s also written children’s comic books and nonfiction. Besides being a great writer, Smith has a pretty cool resume—she did animation work on a Tim Burton film and worked at Disney TV Animation before writing her first novel.

Flygirl might be her best-known novel, but I recommend reading Orleans (as in New Orleans) for cli-fi. Set in a world that might be anxiety-inducing for residents of the US Gulf Coast, Orleans tells the story of Fen, a young woman who must escape the sinking Delta region by climbing over a massive seawall into the Outer States.

Tochi Onyebuchi

Portrait photo of author Tochi Onyebuchi.
Image source: https://www.tochionyebuchi.com/

Recommended book: War Girls

Native New Englander Tochi Onyebuchi is another rising YA star that should be on your radar. His 2017 YA novel Beasts Made of Night was featured in “The 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time” list from TIME.com alongside some other big names like Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Ken Liu, Kazuo Ishiguro, George R. R. Martin…yeah.

His latest novel, War Girls, was named as a 2020 Locus Awards Finalist, and it follows the story of two Nigerian sisters in a future world wrecked by climate change. Onyebuchi is also working on a comic for Marvel, and his short story “Habibi” was included in the YA short story anthology A Universe of Wishes.

There’s so much more to read

Like I said, this list will likely grow in the months and years to come, and I hope it gives you some good places to start for delving deeper into works of cli-fi and ecofiction from Black authors. There are quite a few books and poems that deal with environmental issues (understatement, I know), so you might also read these articles I came across that feature nonfiction books and poetry from Black writers:

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