The other day, Victor LaValle, a Queens-born author who employs the form of the fairy tale as a barbed hook to lure readers into serious treatments of race, parenting, and the internet, ordered dim sum with Marlon James, a Jamaican author of sweeping social epics that delight in challenging all the conventions of narrative. Both have book projects out this week. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is James’s highly anticipated follow-up to the Man Booker Prize–winning A Brief History of Seven Killings. LaValle has co-edited a new speculative anthology, A People’s Future of the United States, prompting 25 of today’s biggest SFF writers to contemplate the future — and dark present — of the country.
The writers first met a decade ago, at a reading in Harlem for James’s second book at the Hue-Man Bookstore (since closed). “That was a great night,” LaValle said. James nodded and added darkly, “Mismanagement killed that store.” They were coming together again just after LaValle had written a Bookforum cover review of Black Leopard. His own speculative-fiction background made him a good match for what James has described as his “African Game of Thrones” — his first foray into high fantasy, an epic quest about a search for a missing boy through a mythical Africa populated by vampires and witches and unreliable narrators. LaValle loved it. “This book might do his ﬁnest job yet of blending the horriﬁc and the exquisite,” he wrote. He also felt the book serves a higher purpose: “Every page reads like a corrective to what’s still too often left unstated about the fantasy genre: If literary ﬁction is quite white, fantasy is even whiter still.” (James, for his part, blurbed LaValle’s last book, The Changeling, calling it “a mesmerizing, monumental work.”)
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