A Phoenix First Must Burn
- Pages: 368 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: Penguin Books
- ISBN: 9781984835673
An Excerpt From
A Phoenix First Must Burn
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 . . .
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