Permission to Speculate Wildly

October 2023

An Afrofuturist Turn in the French Antilles

Maryse Condé, in her recent Rajat Neogy Memorial Lecture at Harvard, lovingly delivered by Maboula Soumahoro, paid a heartfelt tribute to women writers and their heroines. In what may have come as a surprise to some, Condé gave her first laurels to Margaret Atwood’s iconic 1985 dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale. Those familiar with the dystopia genre, however, would have likely already recognized the novel’s influence in Condé’s latest work, The Gospel According to the New World.1 Indeed, in the book the hyper-shadowy megacorporation Bon Kaffé, as well as the colony where the novel’s messianic protagonist, Pascal, is momentarily exiled—with its strict hierarchy, its control of the press, and of course its “subalterns,” or young women clad in red cloth, “straight out of a Margaret Atwood novel”2—are nods to the genre and signs that Condé is a well-versed aficionada of dystopias. Furthermore, it is not Condé’s first foray into the vast constellation of speculative fiction tropes: her 2002 youth novella La planète Orbis experimented with both sci-fi and the discomfortable edge of utopia—where it almost veers into dystopian territory.3 As the plot goes, a group of willing Caribbean adolescents are invited to the nearby planet Orbis to be trained to save Earth upon their return. While their intentions are noble, the inhabitants of Orbis live in a heavily controlled society, and they greet the earthlings with a passive xenophobia. Although La planète Orbis is little known, it is symbolic of Condé’s authorial freedom. Her literary trajectory is a master class in upending expectations of how and what a Black Caribbean (woman) author can write. Crucially, her incursions into speculative fiction genres carved out paths that a new generation of French-writing Antillean authors have started to explore, thus joining a broader chorus of anglophone and hispanophone Caribbean futurist writers and creators.4 It is an invigorating time to read and write in and about the French Antilles: the postcréolité era is here, and we have many reasons to be excited about it.


In a two-part series on the legacy of créolité curated for Small Axe, guest editors Martin Munro and Celia Britton observed that literary innovation had slowed down in the French Caribbean. As they put it then, “One senses that . . . the great vitality that fueled the remarkable half century or so of Martinican creativity, the classic movement from négritude to antillanité to créolité, has been considerably dimmed, and that the forward-looking impetus implied in that movement has been halted.” Borrowing David Scott’s notion of “stalled time,” they noted that the present no longer seemed shaped by urgent demands, which resulted in “a certain sense of powerlessness . . . that render[ed] difficult the conception of any new future-oriented political or cultural movement.”5 Meanwhile, créolité’s injunction to excavate buried histories was not immediately concerned with building future worlds, and with a few exceptions, such as Gisèle Pineau in the 1990s and Frankito and Mérine Céco in the 2000s, Martinican and Guadeloupean authors did not focus much on the present either. Still, it would be untrue to say that the Creolists cared only about the past; in fact, their objective was to bring Antillean literature out of its preliterary phase for the next generations.6 Munro saluted the Éloge de la créolité for these utopian aspirations, adding that “in a dystopian world, utopian ideals paradoxically become more real, more urgent, and more necessary.”7 In hindsight, one could argue that créolité achieved its goal: it paved the way for the future by coming to terms with the past. What felt like a nostalgic regression were the necessary steps backward one takes before leaping ahead. Créolité is dead, long live créolité, for it enabled the next generation of writers to turn their gazes toward new worlds and new temporalities and to speculate wildly from a place of self-possession.

Ki Non-a?

If I speak of an Afrofuturist turn in Antillean literature, it is because it is not necessarily a movement-cum-program in the tradition of négritude or créolité. It is more accurate to say that, like Condé, Antillean newcomers such as Nadia Chonville, Michael Roch, and Christophe Gros-Dubois incorporate dystopian or speculative Afrofuturist tropes into their works to various degrees and effects.8 In a recent issue of the Antillean magazine Zist titled “Afrofuturismes Now!” Roch reflected on the many possible names for this turn, ultimately favoring “Afrofuturisme 3.0.” Roch explains that the first Afrofuturism emerged from but also remained tributary to a Western imaginary that ignored Black lives. This exclusion required Afro-descendant authors—here Roch refers specifically to African Americans—to rehearse an “involuntary retraction inward” to urgently constitute a Black identity that could be “projected toward hope and the future.”9 In contrast with this unwittingly essentialist conceptualization of Blackness, Afrofuturisme 3.0 is an Afrofuturism in Relation. Roch explains:

“In Relation,” here, is the literal transcription of “3.0.” This refers to Web 3.0, a web that promotes decentralization, where individuals, persons or objects, are no longer governed by higher authorities but rather can authenticate themselves in a sovereign way and exchange data autonomously. We are describing here, in fine, a web of Relation made up of upsurges of unpredictability, of collisions between the conscious and the unconscious.10

This Afrofuturism 3.0, then, deeply indebted to Édouard Glissant, also recognizes what Christina Sharpe calls the trans*atlantic-ness of the Black experience.11 In addition to its implicit assertion that the Caribbean is in fact modern, this Afrofuturism enables radically new and provocative ways for Antillean authors to write and speculate about time, space, gender, freedom, and love.


Afrofuturism is not solely about future worlds. In fact, the not-so-well-kept secret of Afrofuturist and other speculative fictions is that they often build futures that look a lot like what would happen if the present slipped back into the past. For instance, in a short dystopia titled “Twati an vè-a,” Chonville imagines an ultra-technologized Caribbean island whose poto mitan is housed in a “data center” forbidden to women, allegedly to protect their “sacred matrices” from the electronic waves.12 Sound familiar? However, playing with time is not just a way for Antillean authors to issue warnings about the future; for the descendants of those who were denied historical importance, this time-play is a symbolic reclaiming of the agency to reframe the past, interpret the present, and imagine the future on their own terms. Furthermore, this intrinsic invitation to play with temporalities permits time to be wrested from an imposed Western linearity, since, as Glissant suggested, Antilleans conceive time as a spiral.13 Case in point, in the short story “Barbecue, fille de la mangrove—le cycle des luttes,” Gros-Dubois tells the tale, in reverse, of Barbecue, a Caribbean woman fed up with the masters, their plantations, their SUVs, and their capitalist greed.14 While her rebellion ends at the beginning, the reader understands that she is a link in a chain of past and future revolutionaries. Finally, for those who wonder, as I did, if narratives set in an alternate present rather than a far-off future can still be Afrofuturist, Roch, Chonville, and Laura Nsafou provide a beautiful answer: that “we are the futurist dreams of our ancestors who have survived” the apocalypses that were the Middle Passage, slavery, and colonization.15 Not all works set in an alternate present are Afrofuturist, but all those that conjugate Black survival in the past, present, and future certainly can be.

Espas, Tè, Péyizaj

This Antillean Afrofuturist turn relentlessly chips away at what Suzanne Césaire had described as the “great camouflage”—the manufactured image of the island paradise usurping a reality of hunger and discontent—and actively participates in what Malcom Ferdinand calls a reversal of the touristic perspective.16 Afrofuturist landscapes often bear the marks of technology gone too far, like the data center of Chonville’s story, a glass cube cathedral built atop a morne; or like the Caribbean megalopolis Lanvil (meaning “downtown” in Creole) of Roch’s novel Tè mawon, a tentacular superstructure spanning the entire archipelago and stretching skyward, in which the wealthy live on top and the marginalized below.17 These futuristic disfigurations are reminders that the land is a palimpsest of cruel modernities of which the plantation was the original script. This Afrofuturism is thus invested in a Glissantian “poetics of landscape.” For Glissant, this “is the source of creative energy [and] is not to be directly confused with the physical nature of the country. Landscape retains the memory of time past. Its space is open or closed to its meaning.”18 Tè mawon precisely opposes those who wish to close space to the landscape’s memory and those who seek to open it: a ragtag group of rebels looking for the “Tout-Monde,” a mythical place rumored to be buried under Lanvil. But Afrofuturists’ use of the landscape is never purely metaphorical nor simply nostalgic; it is also galvanized by the urgent need to care for a world compromised by human-made climate change and natural catastrophes compounded by social injustice.19 In this sense, Afrofuturist literature is a fitting companion for Ferdinand’s Decolonial Ecology: “Through the Caribbean’s Creole imaginary of resistance and its experiences of (post)colonial struggles, the Caribbean allows for a conceptualization of the ecological crisis that is embedded within the search for a world free of its slavery, its social violence, and its political injustice: a decolonial ecology.20


This Afrofuturism’s most dramatic departure from créolité is in its treatment of gender and sexuality. In Penser la créolité, published in the wake of Condé’s groundbreaking feminist essay “Order, Disorder, Freedom, and the West Indian Writer,” A. James Arnold reproached the Creolists for perpetuating négritude and antillanité’s tendency to privilege male authors over their female peers.21 Meanwhile, Thomas Spear noted that in many male-authored texts, men appeared as fantastic kokeurs (politely put, “studs”), women were either mothers or whores, and homosexuals were either absent or dangerous.22 These tired tropes are rejected in Afrofuturist works. For instance, in Tè mawon, Roch gives the final word to Man Pitak, an old conteuse (female storyteller). This is significant because in the Creolist canon, it has always been the conteur, or male storyteller, who is the keeper of memories and traditions (which are later relayed by the equally male marqueur de parole, or author). Chonville pushes the envelope further by centering transgender characters in her Afrofuturist works.23 In “Twati en vè-a,” it is a young trans man who brings patriarchy to its knees. Chonville’s work is as bold as it is vital in a society that has traditionally been homophobic and transphobic. Overall, these recent Afrofuturist works build on what Régine Jean-Charles calls a “Black feminist ethic,” in that they are attentive to gender, race, and class. They imagine other worlds, as well as protagonists who, too, dream of other worlds freed from sexist oppression. This utopian imaginary matters because, as Jean-Charles tells us, looking for other worlds “eventually leads to the work of building them.”24

Libèté epi Lanmou

Freedom, if anything, is the mot d’ordre of this Afrofuturist turn. It is especially suited to root out what Patrick Chamoiseau termed “a no-longer-visible domination.”25 Environmental, cultural, and racial oppressions leave marks that are often invisible to the naked eye, but in Afrofuturist narratives these oppressions are taken to the extreme and exposed.26 It is against this raw backdrop that protagonists plot their freedom. “Counter-dystopia,” Roch explains, “is the neologism we use to define stories that seem [to be] or are dystopias from the outset, but in which the characters, through their own acts and resistance, rediscover their agency and manage to get close to or back on the path of their ideal or their happiness.”27 Freedom is also celebrated on the linguistic front. Speculative fictions traditionally abound with neologisms, describing, for instance, technologies yet to come. Antillean Afrofuturist fictions take this linguistic innovation a step further: neologisms often clash and merge with Creole, Spanish, English, and so on. In Chonville’s “Twati en vè-a,” large swaths of Creole remain untranslated. Roch’s Tè mawon bursts with a complex idiosyncratic lexicon—“ayi” designates artificial intelligence; “tetral” means “head”; “my flingue” means “my ride-or-die.” With a pair of sisters who are translators at the heart of the plot, Roch’s novel also offers a poignant reflection on the role of languages and multiculturalism in what Saidiya Hartman calls the “as-yet-incomplete project of freedom.”28 Patson, a young male protagonist in Tè mawon, explains:

My aunties [the translators], they told me: To save the world, you want to make sure that no language dominates the other. Because when one language dominates the other, it takes a hold of it, it makes it disappear. But we only exist if we talk, dig? So there has to be balance. Me, I believe in this whole balance thing. You have to ask yourself at what point, in your head, does your tongue crush the other. When do you forget that you belong to the whole world.29

We see that the project of freedom and justice articulated by this character is rooted in love—not in romantic love, which often plays a disruptive role in dystopias, but in a love for all humans, and perhaps nonhumans too.

In all, there is something worldly about this Afrofuturism: it takes inspiration from classic European dystopias; it incorporates Caribbean, South American, and African magical realism; and it also makes generous use of catharses of Hollywoodian proportions (read: there are explosions!). In this sense, it is the culmination of what Jacques Stephen Alexis had begun to see emerge in the 1950s: “An inevitable encounter of the art of all peoples in terms of aesthetic content: love of reality, of nature and life, love of freedom, of justice and truth, love of the human above all, in a word, new humanism.”30


I am grateful to Gina Stamm for sharing my appreciation for speculative fiction and for putting many of the texts in this corpus on my to-read list. I am also grateful for her generous comments on the first draft of this reflection.

Corine Labridy is a native Guadeloupean and an assistant professor of French and francophone studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She specializes in French Caribbean and continental Black cultures, and her current research focuses on laughter as a counteruniversalist critique.

[1] Maryse Condé, L’évangile du nouveau-monde (Paris: Buchet Chastel, 2021); translated by Richard Philcox as The Gospel According to the New World (New York: New York World Editions, 2023).

[2] Condé, L’évangile du nouveau-monde, 162 (translation mine).

[3] Maryse Condé, La planète Orbis (Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe: Jasor, 2002).

[4] See Diana McCaulay and Nalo Hopkinson, for Jamaica, or Rita Indiana’s La mucama de Omicunlé and the Dominican futurism movement.

[5] Celia Britton and Martin Munro, “Eulogizing Creoleness? Éloge de la créolité and Caribbean Identity, Culture, and Politics,” in “Eulogizing Creoleness? Rereading Éloge de la créolité, Part 1,” special section, Small Axe, no. 52 (March 2017): 168.

[6] See Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphaël Confiant, Éloge de la créolité / In Praise of Creoleness, trans. M. B. Taleb-Khyar, bilingual ed. (Paris: Gallimard, 1993), 14.

[7] Martin Munro, “When the Walls Fall,” in “Eulogizing Creoleness? Rereading Éloge de la créolité, Part 2,” special section, Small Axe, no. 55 (March 2018): 87.

[8] The short space of this reflection does not permit a nuanced discussion of these terms. In brief, Afrofuturism is broadly concerned with resisting the West’s stranglehold on the historicity of Afro-descendants; dystopias traffic in totalitarian forms of biopower; and speculative fiction leans into alternate realities, timelines, or plausible disasters, and so on. These tropes can be combined. For instance, Gros-Dubois’s Paradis année zéro is set in Washington, DC, in 2021. In this busy polyphonic, postapocalyptic narrative, a new machine allows characters to project themselves into movies and thus into different times and spaces. For conciseness, I will use the term Afrofuturism to encompass all of these concerns. See Christophe Gros-Dubois, Paradis année zéro (Montélimar, France: Moutons électriques, 2021).

[9] Michael Roch, “Considérations pour un Afrofuturisme 3.0,” Zist 26, April 2023, 61. All Zist citations are from this issue; all translations are mine.

[10] Ibid., 62 (italics in original).

[11] See Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 30.

[12] Nadia Chonville, “Twati an vè-a,” Zist, 27–44. The Creole title translates to “The Glass Ceiling”; a poto mitan is the literal pillar around which Vodou ceremonies are conducted and the metaphorical pillar that symbolizes Antillean values; the English term “data center” is in the original.

[13] See Édouard Glissant, “Le chaos-monde, l’oral et l’écrit,” in Ludwig Ralph, ed., Écrire la “parole de nuit”: La nouvelle littérature antillaise (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), 123.

[14] Christophe Gros-Dubois, “Barbecue, fille de la mangrove—le cycle des luttes,” Zist, 96–109. My translation of an excerpt of this story appears in this issue of sx salon.

[15] Michael Roch, Nadia Chonville, and Laura Nsafou, in Roch, “Considérations pour un Afrofuturisme 3.0,” Zist, 55.

[16] See Suzanne Césaire, The Great Camouflage: Writings of Dissent (1941–1945), ed. Daniel Maximin, trans. Keith L. Walker (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2012); and Malcom Ferdinand, Decolonial Ecology, Thinking from the Caribbean World, trans. Anthony Paul Smith (Medford, MA: Polity, 2022), 2.

[17] Michael Roch, Tè mawon (Clamart, France: Volte, 2022).

[18] Édouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays, trans. J. Michael Dash (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989), 150 (italics in original).

[19] In both Gros-Dubois’s Paradis année zéro and Roch’s Tè mawon, the world is a wasteland.

[20] Ferdinand, A Decolonial Ecology, 3 (italics in original).

[21] A. James Arnold, “The Gendering of Créolité: The Erotics of Colonialism,” in Maryse Condé and Madeleine Cottenet-Hage, eds., Penser la créolité (Paris: Karthala, 1995), 21. See also Maryse Condé, “Order, Disorder, Freedom, and the West Indian Writer” (1993), Yale French Studies, no. 97 (2000): 151–65.

[22] Thomas C. Spear, “Jouissances carnavalesques: Représentations de la sexualité,” in Condé and Cottenet-Hage, Penser la créolité, 138, 144.

[23] This is also true of her novel Mon coeur bat vite, which is not Afrofuturist. See Chonville, Mon coeur bat vite (Montreal: Mémoire d’encrier, 2023).

[24] Régine Michelle Jean-Charles, Looking for Other Worlds: Black Feminism and Haitian Fiction (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press: 2022), 7.

[25] “Domination-qui-ne-se-voit-plus”; Patrick Chamoiseau, Écrire en pays dominé (Paris: Gallimard, 1997), 22.

[26] It is easy to forget that, below the surface, our lands are steeped with chlordecone, and it is easy to turn the blame inward when France proclaims that color-blindness is just and that any mention of race is racist.

[27] Roch, “Considérations pour un Afrofuturisme 3.0,” 56.

[28] Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe, no. 26 (June 2008): 14.

[29]  Roch, Tè mawon, 104–5 (translation mine).

[30] Jacques Stephen Alexis, “Du réalisme merveilleux des Haïtiens,” Présence Africaine, nos. 8–10 (June–December 1956): 247 (translation mine).

Related Articles