Editor and journalist Jesse J. Holland assembled a team of all-star authors for the recent anthology book Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda. Three of those writers — Tananarive Due, Sheree Renee Thomas and Cadwell Turnbull — came together with Holland to discuss the book, their inspiration and what Black Panther and Wakanda mean to them. It was clear the writers had a great rapport, and Holland asked them all the right questions for an easy-flowing conversation.
What made you decide to be involved with this project?
Thomas opened with a simple statement: “It’s the Black Panther.” As a native of Memphis, Tennessee, the movie in particular made a huge impact on her community and reminded her of how powerful these sorts of stories can be. Turnbull spoke of how much patience and guidance Holland gave for the project. All three writers were thrilled when Black Panther and Wakanda’s greatness went worldwide after the 2018 movie.
What makes Wakanda such an attractive idea to so many people?
Due opened this discussion by stating that “Wakanda is a very powerful idea”; it’s a place with so much joy and connection and community. It encourages ”engaging with the question of how comfortable it is to be African American in the US,” and the dream of somewhere you could go to have agency, accomplishment and strengths without so much struggle.
All three writers agreed that Wakanda is a place of freedom and possibility, a utopian vision that meshes history and culture with the future.
What made you decide to write the story you did?
Thomas wrote “Heart of the Panther” about bringing the panther home. Set in the Mississippi Delta where she’s from, she wanted to explore the possibility of what the world could be like if the Black Panthers had shared some of their power outside of Wakanda. She also admitted how great it would be “to have the Black Panther have to fight some gigantic Vibranium life forms.”
In “Killmonger Rising,” Turnbull chose to explore Erik Killmonger’s life before he became a villain. Seeing the character on the screen for the first time, he empathized with his frustration and anger: in particular, how he as a Black man responds to oppression. Turnbull wanted his story to allow readers to feel both empowered and uncomfortable.
Due’s “Return of the Queen” features a couple Holland said was his favorite relationship in all of comic book-dom: Ororo Munroe and T’Challa. Due responded with a laugh and “Talk about a power couple!” She also admitted to “feeling a little naughty” writing Ororo/T’Challa fanfic, as she came to Marvel through the MCU and this relationship hasn’t played out there.
Due led well into the next question when she said that you can’t do whatever you want in a well-established universe, but you can have important moments and a sense of possibility.
How much do you concern yourself with what has gone on before? Does the connected universe constrain you or are there enough untold stories to work with?
Turnbull said it was incredibly intimidating to enter into the established world of Black Panther. He worked hard to find a gap within the established story, find something interesting and tease it apart. Due admitted there’s a lot of continuity she didn’t know, even after writing the Serial Box exclusive Black Panther: Sins of the King. Both she and Thomas said they bought all the comic books they could find to do these characters justice and create something wonderful for fans.
One review described the anthology as “Afrofuturism disguised as science fiction writing” – is this an accurate description for Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda?
Due defined Afrofuturism as “speculative arts of the African diaspora.” All the arts, all the mediums, all the imaginings. She went on to wonder why the review seemed to see Afrofuturism as an insult, even though she considered it the perfect describer for Black Panther.
Wakanda itself is an alternate history, a place that “hasn’t lost its sense of history and ritual and tradition even while it has this futuristic technology.” Thomas brought up the work of Nnedi Okorafor (who has written Black Panther comics) as work that centers African experiences, culture and ideals that aren’t widely celebrated, read or discussed. Everyone agreed that Afrofuturism and Africanfuturism give context to readers. They also bring the early human impulse to tell stories full circle.
All in all, this was a great panel for what sounds like an incredible book! Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda is out now from Titan Books, and is available for purchase at your local indie bookstore or Bookshop.org.
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