Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

African American Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers

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George Samuel Schuyler

George Samuel Schuyler, c. 1930. Photo courtesy of the Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

George Samuel Schuyler (1895–1977), conservative journalist and cultural critic, was perhaps an unlikely figure in the world of science fiction writing. His contributions to the genre are relatively minimal, but he remains an important figure in literary history thanks to Black No More (1931), generally considered to be the first African American science fiction novel. The novel, which at the time of its release was classified as satire, depicts a world in which African Americans in Harlem are able to lighten their skin to the extent that they appear lighter than actual Caucasians. Whites respond to this phenomenon by darkening their complexions to such a degree that visible racial distinctions are maintained. The novel, in its most biting scenes, also spoofs the leading figures of the contemporary African American community, including Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois. Schuyler's legacy was somewhat tarnished later in his life (he died an outspoken critic of the civil rights movement), but his detour into the world of speculative fiction provides a classic example of the genre's singular ability to shed light on cultural assumptions and widespread prejudice.

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