Magical Realism

I know that being in Grad School and writing SF/F my stuff will continually be labeled as Magic Realism and it irks me. I’ve always had issues with the genre of magical realism, not because I don’t like the genre or writers but because I think there’s a large tendency in the literary community to lump any People of Color who write Sci-Fiinto Magical Realism. The line between the two genres is more arbitrary and personal I think than anything else. For me it’s where the magic is incorporated into the story and not remarked on as something extraordinary, when the focus of the story is more personal than global and it often revolvesaround family (both of blood and the families you create on your own) but again that’s my personal definition.

But the idea that pisses me off is that if a POC is writing a fantasy at alls then it must be Magical Realism whereas you rarely see white authors treated the same. One example I’ll bring up is Nina Kiriki Hoffman who is one of my favorite authors, her works have many of the hallmarks of magical realism, the subtle magic weaved into an ordinary world but you’ll rarely if ever see her lumped into that category, most of her work is considered urban fantasy. Then you have authors like Nalo Hopkinson – also one of my favorite authors – whose “Brown Girl In The Ring” I see lots of folks terming Magical Realism which I don’t consider it to be because it’s about something that affects a lot of folks in the area and is the hero story of Ti-Jeanne as far as I’m concerned.

Now of course there are pluses and minuses to being considered a Magical Realism writer. The big plus being that you will automatically be given a higher degree of respect and authority within the literary community. The big negative for me is the why POC are automatically Magical Realists. It goes back to the “of the earth” stereotype – that brown folks are somehow closer to the earth and magic than white folks. Which is really a dehumanizing thing because along with this idea is the attitude that magic is something completely disconnected from “civilization” – it’s considered something connected to the primitive and when you look at it that way the fact that any fantastical work by a POC is considered Magical Realism becomes a little insulting because the idea is that if a POC writes about magic they are connecting with some primal force etc…

Magical Realism versus Fantasy is a tricky thing but this goes back to the idea that anything written by an African-American author is automatically shelved in the Af-Am literature section as opposed to its genre. It’s a form of segregation of the books and that’s the same feeling I get when folks divide books that deal with magic into Magical Realism and Fantasy, almost all the POC end up on the MR side and most of the folks on the Fantasy side are white.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not dissing Magical Realism I think it’s an awesome genre and some of my stuff does fit into the category. What I’m angry about is the automatic assumption of any POC who writes SF/F is actually writing Magical Realism. And then of course comes the hand-wringing and wailing over there not being enough POCin SF/F when those who try to break in are often shunted off into Magical Realism.

So yes, that’s my rant for the day.

P.S. – Grad School is totally kicking my ass but I’ve got it all under control…for now.

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3 responses to “Magical Realism

  1. Well, it’s quite simple- we’re not allowed to be authorities anywhere- either in “serious” subjects or even geekdoms. God forbid if a bunch of white kids grow up wanting to be black jedi or anything- they might actually think of POC as people or something.

    Hence, Magical Realism. “Oh your fantasy is really just you talking about black things…” etc.

  2. I saw Nalo Hopkinson when she spoke at MIT, and she said she pretty much thought “magical realism” meant “fantasy for brown people,” which was the first time I’d ever heard of this phenomenon. Pretty insulting, yes. AND PROBABLY NOBODY SHOULD EVER INSULT NALO HOPKINSON. 🙂

  3. bankuei-
    It’s not just that we can’t be authorities we’re not even allowed to inhabit these spheres that “belong to white people” and so when we try they either have to keep talking about how we’re part white and not really POC *cough*Tiger Woods*cough* or create a how new segregation to shuttle us into.

    Nina-
    I hadn’t heard of Nalo’s speaking at MIT or saying that but I’m so glad she did ’cause the way it’s used is exactly that! “fantasy for brown people” and I completely agree no one should ever insult Nalo Hopkinson.

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