Africans were the first Science Fiction creators: An interview with Ivor Hartmann

Ivor W. Hartmann is a Zimbabwean writer, editor, publisher, and visual artist. Awarded The Golden Baobab Prize (2009), finalist for the Yvonne Vera Award (2011), selected for The 20 in Twenty: The Best Short Stories of South Africa’s Democracy (2014), and awarded third place in the Jalada Prize for Literature (2015). His works have appeared in many publications. He runs the StoryTime micro-press, publisher of the African Roar and AfroSF series of anthologies, and is on the advisory board of Writers International Network Zimbabwe.


Can you tell us about yourself?


Ivor:    I am a Zimbabwean writer, editor, publisher, and visual artist.


What inspired you to specialize in writing Speculative fiction?


Ivor:    I don’t specialise in writing SpecFic really, just happens I enjoy the freedom I have given myself to write whatever I like. So, inevitably, some of my stories end up under the very large SpecFic umbrella. I don’t set out to write in any genre, I write stories that when done can be said to fit in this or that genre, but to me, these definitions and categories are way too limiting to think about when in the process of creation.

Some readers are of the opinion that Africa is not ripe for Science Fiction. What is your take on that?


Ivor:    I don’t know how they arrived at that opinion considering Africans have been creating SF stories for at the very least the last 10,000 years already. So one can say without any hesitation Africans were of course the first SF creators and have kept old stories and created new stories ever since then. We may be relatively new to the modern written form of published SF, but it really is a case of being written out of SF history by the  blind ignorance of institutionalised racism, something we are now addressing by writing our way back in by force.


Do you think African Speculative fiction differs significantly from Speculative Fictions of other regions and continents?


Ivor:    Yes, in so much as one’s culture and its mythology always forms a writer, no matter what they are writing this is their bedrock, so of course African SF is vastly different to any other SF. This is what excites me about African SF the most, we have such rich, incredibly diverse and deep, mythologies and cultures, that in SpecFic they get to come to the fore-front of a story rather than a subtler underpinning as evident in much of our contemporary fiction.
Some scholars surmise that Speculative Fiction from Africa is chiefly characterised by Magical Realism and elements of folklore. Do you agree?


Ivor:    What is magical realism and folklore anyway but the use of mythological and cultural understanding, which means all speculative fiction by its nature uses these elements no matter how subtly. Even the hardest of Hard SF is built upon a cultural, mythological, and personal, understanding and imagination.


Does Africa have a viable market for Speculative Literature?


Ivor:    Definitely, there has always been a great hunger for great stories, one that has for the most part been only been partly slaked by the domination of western literature on our library and bookshop shelves. Many writers I know got started just because we were tired of not seeing ourselves portrayed in any realistic manner we could identify with in what we have been reading since we could read. So that hunger is there for this, of that there can be no doubt.


Aside writing, what other things do you engage yourself in?


Ivor:    I run the StoryTime micro-press which publishes the serial anthologies AfroSF and African Roar. I’m involved in a few organisations that seek to aid and promote African writing like Writers International Network Zimbabwe and others.


What is your next major project in the pipeline?


Ivor:    Next up publishing-wise is The Best of African Roar a compilation anthology of the best works published in the African Roar anthologies. After that comes the AfroSFv3 anthology, which will feature short stories with a focus on Space. Apart from that is my own writing in which I have a few things cooking, and a few other exciting projects in the works I can’t talk about yet.


Where would we see Ivor Hartmann in the next ten years?


Ivor:    No idea, and if you know please don’t tell me :).

Thank you for your time Ivor.


This interview was conducted and reported by Bizuum Yadok (Writer, Journalist and Content developer for COAL)


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