Bridging Worlds: Global Conversations on Creating Pan-African Speculative Literature in a Pandemic by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Nikhil Singh, Zelda Knight
Jembefola Press, ebook, free through Jembefola Press
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Just the numbers 2020 take me back to a difficult place, as I’m sure it does for all people. My creativity and motivation dried up completely, my focus lasted as long as it took my kids to do their school work, and I volunteered at a food bank because it gave me an excuse to get out when everyone else was staying at home. But the food bank left me emotional and drained afterwards because while I was escaping the house, I couldn’t escape why I needed to get out. And then, when I returned, there was always the concern I was bringing Covid into the house and putting my family at risk.
I hadn’t intended to start this review with my story, especially as mine comes from a place of privilege. Here in the UK, we had it much better than other people in the world, and the passage of time distracts us from what did happen, which is why Bridging Worlds: Global Conversations on Creating Pan-African Speculative Literature in a Pandemic is so important.
The work comprises accounts of Black authors and editors about the work they did or didn’t do during the pandemic and uncompromising reactions to the high profile deaths of Black people at the hands of the police and the Black Lives Matter movement. The reading is hard going but essential, particularly in a world where our opinions are based on news that could be faked or gone through rigorous gatekeeping before consuming it. This comes directly from real people.
Zelda Knight discusses how Dominion was born, the works that had inspired her, the events that prompted a re-examination of her priorities, and the difficulties of indie publishing Black voices in an industry that doesn’t change very quickly. I have read Dominion, so I found the story of its creation fascinating.
A Quarter in the Abyss: One Writer’s Jaunt Through The Bowels of Lockdown by Tobi Ogundiran is an account of being a foreign student in Russia, catching Covid and the struggle of watching other governments bringing their students home while the Nigerian government didn’t. But this lonely account is lifted by hope because, despite everything Tobi faced, he was able to find an agent.
There are accounts of anger and helplessness as the news reports on the death of George Floyd Jr and worldwide responses to the atrocity. And there is frustration, as racism is a part of their daily life and Black people need action, not words, to make real and lasting change in culture coming from the top down. There is fear for the contributors’ families in Nigeria and other parts of the world where healthcare isn’t as good as elsewhere, or the lockdowns are so extreme getting essentials is difficult.
But there is hope in each of the stories because these people are determined to make a difference through writing, whether organising online writing camps for Black sci-fi and fantasy writers or compiling anthologies and online magazines or getting an agent.
Bridging Worlds is everything you would want from a book. It has emotional highs and lows, with some moving accounts of struggle during the pandemic and fury at how prevalent racism is. My author watchlist has a few new names on it too. It is thought-provoking and awe-inspiring how determined the contributors were then. And is an important historical document, so when students look back at how we handled the pandemic, they will know that not everyone binge ate, -watched and -Amazoned. Some people found opportunity in the bleakness. All of this is for free. What else can you get for that?