A Phoenix First Must Burn is a collection of sixteen tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic.
Evoking Beyoncé’s Lemonade for a teen audience, these authors who are truly Octavia Butler’s heirs, have woven worlds to create a stunning narrative that centers Black women and gender nonconforming individuals. A Phoenix First Must Burn will take you on a journey from folktales retold to futuristic societies and everything in between. Filled with stories of love and betrayal, strength and resistance, this collection contains an array of complex and true-to-life characters in which you cannot help but see yourself reflected. Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels: the heroines of A Phoenix First Must Burn shine brightly. You will never forget them.
Read an excerpt below!
When I was fourteen, a family friend gifted me a copy of Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed. I still remember that moment. The Black woman on the front cover. The used-paperback smell. The way I held it close like it carried within it the secrets of many universes.
I devoured it and all of her others. I found myself in her words. And I’m not the only one.
It seems only fitting that the title of this anthology comes from Butler’s Parable of the Talents, a novel that is ever relevant.
The full quote is “In order to rise from its own ashes, a phoenix first must burn.”
Storytelling is the backbone of my community. It is in my blood.
My parents raised me on stories of real-life legends like Queen Nzinga of Angola, Harriet Tubman, Phillis Wheatley, and Angela Davis. Growing up in the American South, my world was full of stories, of traditions and superstitions—like eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for luck or “jumping the broom” on your wedding day. Raised on a diet of Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Star Wars, I preferred creating and exploring fictional universes to living in my real one.
But whenever I went to the children’s section of the library to discover more tales, the novels featuring characters who looked like me were, more often than not, rooted in pain set amid slavery, sharecropping, or segregation. Those narratives are important, yes. But because they were the only ones offered, I started to wonder, Where is my fantasy, my future? Why don’t Black people exist in speculative worlds?
Too often media focuses on our suffering. Too often we are portrayed as victims. But in reality, we advocate for and save ourselves long before anyone else does, from heroes my parents taught me of to recent ones like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, the Black women who founded Black Lives Matter.
Malcolm X said, “The most neglected person in America is the Black Woman.” I believe this is even more true for my fellow queer siblings, and especially for those identifying as trans and as gender nonconforming. We are constantly under attack.
And yet still we rise from our own ashes.
We never accept no.
With each rebirth comes a new strength.
Black women are phoenixes.
We are given lemons and make lemonade.
So are the characters featured in this collection of stories.
These sixteen stories highlight Black culture, folktales, strength, beauty, bravery, resistance, magic, and hope. They will take you from a ship carrying teens who are Earth’s final hope for salvation to the rugged wilderness of New Mexico’s frontier. They will introduce you to a revenge-seeking hairstylist, a sorcerer’s apprentice, and a girl whose heart is turning to ash. And they will transport you to a future where all outcomes can be predicted by the newest tech, even matters of the heart.
Though some of these stories contain sorrow, they ultimately are full of hope. Sometimes you have to shed who you were to become who you are.
As my parents used to remind me, Black people have our pain, but our futures are limitless.
Let us, together, embrace our power.
Let us create our own worlds.
Let us thrive.
And so our story begins . . .
LETTING THE RIGHT ONE IN
By Patrice Caldwell
A vampire stands outside my window with a question on her lips.
I peer down at her. Her skin glows blackish-blue in the moonlight. She waits for my answer, hands in her jean pockets. Her backpack is thrown over her left shoulder.
The Prozac bottle I knocked down earlier rolls across the slanted floor of my room. My tattered copy of Dracula is strewn across my bed. More books decorate the floor, all illuminated in the same moonlight that colors the vampire.
My parents’ yells come from downstairs through the too-thin walls of this house that still doesn’t feel like home. I don’t think it ever will.
I glance back to my window to the vampire just outside. The heat from our kiss still lingers on my lips.
What am I going to do?
I met the vampire yesterday at the central library. Technically, it’s Mainville’s only library. I’d been a regular since we moved here nine months ago. In that time, I had read over two hundred books.
The genre didn’t matter, as long as it featured my favorite tortured souls: vampires.
I started with classics like Polidori’s The Vampyre and Stoker’s Dracula and Octavia Butler’s Fledgling. Then I moved to series like The Vampire Diaries and standalone novels like Sunshine, The Silver Kiss, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and Peeps.
I’d been drawn to vampires ever since I saw Blade with my dad years ago. Though some had found families, like Rose’s friendship with Lissa in the Vampire Academy books, they never fully fit in. They were all eternal outcasts. Black sheep.
Loneliness clung to vampires like a too-snug coat—just as it does to me.
Yesterday, the head librarian looked up from her desk at the front just long enough for me to wave. Then I immediately headed downstairs and took a right to where the R’s are. I’d just finished a reread of the Vampire Academy series and was moving on to rereading The Vampire Chronicles. I just needed to grab Interview with the Vampire and then I could be—
But when I turned the corner, I saw her.
A girl. In my section. A section in which I hadn’t seen anyone in the nine months I’d spent there.
Her hair was dyed the coolest shade of pink that perfectly contrasted with her dark-brown skin. She had my book—Interview with the Vampire—in her hands. She was browsing through it. Laughing.
“Are you checking that out?” I asked. My voice came out sharp. Who was I to be so possessive? This was a library, after all.
The girl quickly looked up, snapping the book shut. “You can have it. I’ve read it a few times already.”
Another Black girl who loved vampires!? Who was she? “What were you laughing about?”
“How surprised Louis is when he realizes that his family’s slaves know that he and Lestat are vampires. Oh, Louis.” She laughed again.
“No one listened to Black people. Not then and certainly not now,” I said.
“Exactly.” She cocked her head slightly and stepped toward me. Thick, coarse curls framed her face and stopped just past her shoulders. Even her slightest movements seemed incredibly graceful, like those of a dancer, aware and in control of every muscle in her body. She was maybe a foot taller than me, and her eyes were a dark brown. I lost myself in them.
She cleared her throat.
I blinked, snapping myself away from her gaze, the moment gone.
“I said you can have it.”
She held it out to me. I took a step toward her, but as if my legs lost their footing, I tripped, falling headfirst toward the ground. In a blur, she grabbed my arm. A jolt shot through me. Her skin felt ice cold. Lifeless.
A Phoenix First Must Burn hits shelves March 10! Pre-order your copy here!