Nnedi Okorafor Tells the Story of How Publishers Once Tried to Whitewash Her Book Cover

The Shadow Speaker is a 2007 novel by award-winning science fiction writer, Dr. Nnedi Okorafor—who we recently honored on OkayAfrica’s 100 Women list.

The book is set in  Niger and its protagonist is a black, Muslim girl named Eji. Depite this description of the book’s main character, Okorafor’s publisher, at the time, thought it made sense to put an image of a white character on the book’s cover.

Okorafor shared this story, yesterday, during a discussion on Twitter about racism in the literary world. She posted a photo, comparing the suggested cover image with the one that she ended up using.

“I described Ejii as “black skinned” and subsaharan African,” she wrote. “Story set in NIGER and that left cover was proposed to me. WTF.”

But it’s not only the publishing companies who contribute to the whitewashing of narratives in science fiction, it’s readers too, says Okorafor. In 2016, the author won the Hugo Award for her book Binti. Her win was heavily contested by an anti-progressive group aptly called the Sad Puppies, who basically exist to make sure that women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community remain underrepresented in science fiction. To combat this, Okorafor says that change needs to come from readers.

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