2020 in my rearview as the night falls

*taps mic*

Hello? Is anyone there? It’s ya boy coming to you alive from post-insurrection America! Mind the smoking cars. Make sure you cinch the straps of your bug out bag tightly across your shoulders, and be on the lookout for roving bands of white supremacists. They’re surprisingly nimble.

It’s been 84 years since I last posted to this space. Well, let me be more fair to myself. It’s only been, at last count, a little over two years since I’ve posted, and calling these last two years eventful is an understatement comparable to calling Mount Doom a molehill. I’m back, though, and here to recap my wanderings and output in 2020 for your perusal.

Before we get started, I have a monster of a RIP to acknowledge. Rest in Power to Eric Jerome Dickey, a brilliant black storyteller, writer, curator of human black love stories, and inspiration for one Troy L. Wiggins. Eric Jerome Dickey is a man whose work is quite literally directly responsible for my being a writer. I fell in love with words and began to realize their power as a quiet high schooler sneaking in reads of Milk in My Coffee and Cheaters in my high school library. My first scribbled short stories were teenaged imitations of his loving portrayals of young black people, our families, our communities, and our culture. My cousin collected his books and loaned them to me. My mom read his books. The women I crushed on read his books. I read his books, stole game from the male characters, and spit that stolen game to the women I crushed on. Friends and Lovers is a seminal black romance that I always wanted to portrayed on the screen–here’s hoping that happens, now.

Eric Jerome Dickey hails from Memphis, same as me, and he was one of the first black writers I encountered who snuck references to comic books in their non-speculative work. His first turn at comics for Marvel, 2007’s STORM, is still on my bookshelf. His take on Ororo Munroe’s path to bonding and eventually falling in love with a teenaged T’Challa of Wakanda is one of the finest contemporary takes on either of those characters. As I said on twitter, this one cuts deep. I’m grateful to the universe for giving me a chance to meet him a few years back, but I wish I’d gotten more time to tell him just how impactful his work was to this young, nerdy wordsmith from Memphis. He will be missed.

2020 was a year for a lot of people, ya boy included. Between multiple job losses, several family members contracting COVID-19 or having to keep going to work in spite of it, the seeming erosion of several of my close relationships, and consistent depressive episodes, I’m grateful to have been able to persist and see this new year, to say nothing of creative output. Still, glory be. I wrote this year, had some work published, and appeared in a lot of places. I read less than I normally did, but consumed quite a bit of art and music. I’ll run down my 2020 faves for you, and as always, tell me what dope stuff I missed out on in the comments.

Fiction

Looking back, 2020 was definitely a year of diminished output for my fiction writing. This is in large part owed to my being overwhelmed by meatspace obligations and also my experiencing sort of a creative crisis over the last couple of years. I don’t know, I just felt like every story I sat down to write was bland, derivative, and wrong. To fix that, I changed my consumption a bit, and only engaged with what really moved me. I’ll talk more about that in later sections, though.

I wrote quite a bit for projects that never saw the light of day, which is actually good–those are the stories that I end up revisiting, tweaking, and sending out to find a home. I also wrote about 39,000 words on my novel-length project, which is a lot more than I’d originally given myself credit for. This year, only one new piece of my fiction made it out into the world, but more are coming! 2020’s fiction publications are:

I also have a story in the upcoming Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda anthology. I can’t talk too much about this story, but I’ve very excited about it:

The first mainstream superhero of African descent, the Black Panther has attracted readers of all races and colors who see in the King of Wakanda reflections of themselves. Storytellers from across the African Diaspora—some already literary legends, others who are rising stars—have created for this collection original works inspired by the world of the Panther and its inhabitants. With guest stars including Storm, Monica Rambeau, Namor, and Jericho Drumm, these are stories of yesterday and today, of science and magic, of faith and love.

These are the tales of a king and his country. These are the legends whispered in the jungle, myths of the unconquered men and women and the land they love.

These are the Tales of Wakanda.

Goosebumps, right? The anthology drops February 2nd. You can pre-order at Titan Books.

Nonfiction

My only, and favorite, nonfiction publication this year was featured in the Imaginary Papers magazine, an online magazine published by the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University. I’ve had a pretty great year collaborating with CSI–they’re good eggs over there, so get into their programming.

Like lots of nerdy black men of a certain age, I have a complicated relationship with Barret Wallace, the real hero of Final Fantasy VII. I wrote about that relationship in an essay for Imaginary Papers called Science Fiction Frames.

Barret Wallace is a victim of overreliance on, and mistranslation of, stereotyping at the hands of his original Japanese creators. There’s no ignoring the game’s obvious lazy reliance on standard Western othering of black people as an influence on Barret’s character. He always appears in the original game as the tough Black sidekick who provides comic relief—or sage Negro wisdom—at exactly the right times. But critiques of Barret that focus on the obvious missteps in his characterization, especially those focusing on Remake, miss his complexity in the doing.

Read the rest at Imaginary Papers.

Appearances and Other Stuff

The global pivot to staying in the goddamn house meant that the majority of us spent even more time staring at things on our screens. If you were (un)lucky, you might have seen my face on your screens on or heard my voice coming out of your speakers. Here’s a list of places I showed up in 2020:

  • In the *before times*, when people could still congregate in meatspace, I delivered a talk called “The Future Ain’t Gonna Write Itself” on behalf of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University. In the talk, I discussed black speculative thought in relation to time, space, and imagination. Hit me up if you’d like to see the talk notes.
  • In 2018 I was a panelist, alongside Sheree R. Thomas, Danian Jerry, Memphis Hip Hop Icon James Dukes/IMAKEMADBEATS, and Legendary flautist Nicole Mitchell for the Sonosphere podcast. At the end of 2020, Memphis music writer Jared Boyd covered the episode in the Daily Memphian. Either I was really in my bag that night, or Jared did some sympathetic quote selections.
  • I did an AMA on r/Fantasy.
  • I appeared at the Elm City Lit Fest BlackLIT! Panel with Ron Kavanaugh (!), Brenda Greene (!!), and some other cool folks.
  • I contributed to an article memorializing Black Speculative Fiction titan Charles R. Saunders. Revisit my 2010 post discussing Imaro’s impact.
  • Appeared on my local Fox station to talk about Chadwick Boseman’s impact and legacy:
  • I was a guest on the I Found this Great Book podcast and on the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination’s The Imagination Desk podcast.

Lastly, I also appeared as Guest of Honor at Capclave and as a panelist at FIYAHCON, which, along with Blacktasticon and Mo*Con in 2018 are some of my favorite con experiences.

Hindsight is a mf, eh? So much happened! And that’s not even mentioning all the dope shit that happened with FIYAH and with the inaugural FIYAHCON this year. Check out FIYAH’s award eligibility post for the rundown. And Trouble the Waters is being published as well!

Faves

As I said, I changed up my consumption this year. I felt like I needed to. Between sinking deep into apocalypse dread and engaging, sometimes firsthand, in the ways this pandemic (and the national mishandling of this pandemic) has impacted the real lives of real people, engaging in the normally positive and fulfilling act of pulling ideas out of my brain and setting them down on paper seemed impossible. But the evergreen writing advice I always come back to is that you have to feed your brain well, and I was force-feeding it lots of what could be called the intellectual equivalent of 20-piece Chicken McNugget meals. So I switched it up, made myself engage deeply with media and materials that really spoke to me, not things I felt obligated to participate in and enjoy. For the sake of length, I’m only going to highlight my absolute best experiences for the year, and give a couple more suggestions in honorable mentions.

Best 2020 Book: American Spy by Lauren Wilkerson: Yes, I’m kicking these reflections off with a book that dropped in 2019, but it was new to me in 2020. I am not normally a fan of espionage thrillers or fiction but I couldn’t ignore this premise:

It’s 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s brilliant, but she’s also a young black woman working in an old boys’ club. Her career has stalled out, she’s overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic, revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Yes, even though she secretly admires the work Thomas is doing for his country. Yes, even though she is still grieving over the mysterious death of her sister, whose example led Marie to this career path in the first place. Yes, even though a furious part of her suspects she’s being offered the job because of her appearance and not her talent.

Goodreads

All of the espionage thrillers and mysteries I read when I was younger were from the point of view of white men viewing mostly white locations through their white lens and doing white people shit. This novel, featuring a Black main character and an actual African revolutionary leader, examines, albeit fictionally, the USA’s Cold-War era clandestine meddling in Burkina Faso and, generally, in Africa. Thomas Sankara, a complex figure in real life, is sketched lovingly, and it has some cool spy-ish setpiece moments. I’m a fan of the protagonist’s voice and her general irritation at the false limitations placed upon her and her career by her gender and race. This is the definition of a slow burn read, but it’s still very thrilling and leads you down the rabbit hole of examining the USA’s current operations in African countries.

  • Honorable mentions: The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw, Dark Mirror by Barton Dellman, Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark.

Best 2020 Album: Anime, Trauma and Divorce by Open Mike Eagle: Open Mike Eagle is one of the best indie rappers out there and his albums are always thought provoking and directly in the lane of shit I’m interested in. His most recent album, Anime, Trauma and Divorce comes on the heels of a hellish 2019 for Eagle: his business and creative ventures fell apart, and his marriage ended. This album was the art that came out of that harrowing, and it was pure, undistilled vibes for me. With the exception of my marriage, I suffered similar body shots in 2019 and 2020 with strained relationships, creative stagnation, and business/employment difficulties. Those depressive episodes were (and are) hard earned. But Mike flows it out well, and keeps pushing his very dope anime thesis in his work:

His theory that Black people, inheritors of generational trauma, need anime the most, suggests its fanciful depictions of power and heroism provide an escape from Black America’s grim realities. 

Pitchfork

Standout cuts from Anime, Trauma and Divorce: “Death Parade,” “Headass (Idiot Shinji),” “Bucciarati,” “The Edge of New Clothes,” and “I’m a Joestar (Black Power Fantasy).”

Stream it in all the normal places or grab it on Bandcamp.

  • Honorable mentions: Alfredo – Freddie Gibbs, The Slow Rush – Tame Impala; Ungodly Hour – Chloe x Halle, and The Lo-Fi’s – Steve Lacy.

Best 2020 Movie: Jingle Jangle (Netflix): What can I say? This movie was everything. Stellar cast. Great songs. Perfect sets and costuming. A message that we deserved at the end of 2020: love persists. I don’t know what else to say about it. I tweeted that it ruined my Black holiday film ranking, but it’s really upset my all-time best film list…that’s how good it is. Christmas is past but it’s still a good watch. And the main character is named Jeronicus! I’ve known like three dudes named Jeronicus.

Watch Jingle Jangle on Netflix.

  • Honorable mentions: Lover’s Rock from the Small Axe series, Da 5 Bloods. (Due to spending huge parts of my year watching fighting game videos and RPG lore series on youtube, I haven’t caught up on the recent hitters: Ma Rainey, Tenet and the like. I’m taking suggestions in the comments if you have em.)

Best 2020 TV: Lovecraft Country (HBO): In a year of unrepentant horrors, how wild is it that every black person in my orbit decided to find escape in a black horror TV show? I’m not going to do a mssive recap of this show because it was one of the biggest hits of 2020, but it resonated with me because of how spectacular it was. Again, great casting, costuming, specualtive economy, and themes. It wasn’t perfect, and misstepped in some pretty major and hurtful ways around gender representation and queer antagonism, but it was poignant and delivered one of the most powerful final scenes I’ve ever seen on television.

Expect an “I Got Five On It” post about Lovecraft Country soon. In the meantime, stream it on HBO.

  • Honorable mentions: High Fidelity (Hulu), Insecure (HBO), The Last Dance (ESPN), anything Sohla El-Waylly touched.

Best 2020 Podcast: Black Nerd Power (Kudzukian): I didn’t do a lot of podcast listening this year because, well shit, this was a fantastic year for music. This post is super behind schedule because I didn’t properly estimate how long it would take to execute my album ranking algorithm. That said, I did listen to a few podcasts, and Black Nerd Power on the Kudzukian network was one I found myself not skipping.

Black Nerd Power is a podcast hosted by Markus, Kimber, and Richard. Each week they discuss the worlds of Sci Fi, fantasy, and pop-culture.

But Troy,” I hear you saying. “Isn’t that your wife on this podcast?

Yes it is. And she, along with her co-hosts Markus Seaberry and Richard Douglas-Jones are freaking hilarious, and give a down to earth take on various nerd media and pop culture. It’s worth a listen if you’re even kinda into that stuff, and the way they take on the zeitgeist manages to be both loving and irreverent.

Listen to it on your favorite podcatcher, or download the Kudzukian app. (By the by, Kudzukian is worth checking out–a black owned media network specializing in podcasts. Check out their lineup.

  • Honorable mentions: Waypoint Radio (VICE), Code Switch (NPR), 1980 Lost Notes (KCRW), The Slowdown (American Public Media), Into the Mother Lands

And dassit. My short but sweet overview of what is probably one of the most difficult years in recent history for the majority of people on the planet. 2020 brought into stark relief the failures of the systems that undergird oppressive societies all around the world, and showed the exact sorts of ways people in power–economic, social, political, or otherwise–perpetuate these systems while being all but shielded from their effects.

However, 2020 also brought out of people a realization of their own power and our collective ability to take control of our shared destinies and use our voices, at very least, to make people reckon with their harmful (and sometimes murderous) decisions. I’ll say one thing: I can assure you that no one practicing the speculative arts before our time could have envisioned such a momentous year would turn out to have such a chaotic, devastating, wide-ranging impact. 2020 was truly out of the reach of our wildest speculative fantasies. But there’s only forward to go from here.

Thanks for reading. Holla at me in the comments or on Twitter.

One thought on “2020 in my rearview as the night falls

  1. Hey Troy.

    We shall pretend 2020 never happened and ride 2021 into a productive utopia. (Or something, sorry it’s early).

    American Spy looks great, I’m adding it to the must-buy pile. I also need to watch Lovecraft Country. It’s not available here in Iceland yet, but I hope it will be soon (some regional contract thing means we don’t get HBO or Hulu).

    Here’s to a very wordy 2021!

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