Black Victorians: African Americans in Steampunk and Historical Fiction
African Americans in victorian era America were a fascinating group. So fascinating, in fact, that Shawnelle and I have spent the better half of a year researching the people and period. Their stories and images reveal stoicism, impeccable style and a determination to move beyond the atrocities of their parents' generation and build a better world for their children.
Young Black Victorians in late 19th Century America were optimistic, and hungry for culture and education. Manners ruled the day (and manners ruled with an iron fist). It was an era where ladies were ladies, men were gentlemen and corsets were worn tight.
The Gilded Age of the 19th Century remains one of the greatest ages of invention, romanticism and excess, a period in America that has since been romanticized by the art, literature and fashion of steampunk. Though African Americans played a prominent and important role in 19th century American history, our place in the speculative fiction world of steampunk and historical fiction still has many stories yet to be told.
(The most recognized black figure in steampunk is inarguably Will Smith's 'James West' from the 1999 Warner Brothers film Wild Wild West over a decade ago.)
Since 1999, there have been a growing number of steampunk works about African Americans (including Balogun's The Chronicles of Harriet and the amazing Afro-Steampunk fashion of Yinka Shonibare) and there remains many stories to be written. The exploitations of Barack Obama the time traveller, for instance, may be a tale worth investigating for yours two-ly. During our research, we discovered this photo, circa 1900, of a man who bares a striking resemblance to the 44th president of the United States. Take a look and see if you agree:
But before "Barack Obama: Rockstar Time Traveller!," ever sees the light of day, we are excited to share "The Invention of E. J. Whitaker," a story that has waited over a century to be told. Inspired by the women and men who defined the generation: Booker T Washington; the love story of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore; the countless educators and inventors of the era; and those dashingly fashionable figures in miscellaneous photos and cabinet cards who's names we will never know.
(star-crossed literary lovers Paul Laurence Dunbar and Alice Ruth Moore)
"The Invention of E. J Whitaker" is our love letter to the era. Led by Ada, our female heroine, and featuring a cast of characters inspired by the pages of history and our boundless imaginations, we're looking forward to sharing images from this mini graphic novel adventure (with gorgeous illustrations by Chul Kim) in the coming weeks.
With historical fiction experiencing a revitalization in popular culture with films such as Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and lavish period pieces like HBO's Game of Thrones, we believe the story of E. J. Whitaker, one of fantasy, romance and enterprise during America's greatest age of Invention is timely and a tale long overdue.
Stay tuned! Shawnee'