Nebula Award-winning science fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor wrote a book in 2007 called The Shadow Speaker. The story followed its protagonist ― a Muslim girl named Ejii, who the author described as “black skinned” ― through Niger in 2070.
So Okorafor was understandably unhappy when her publisher suggested putting a white woman on the book’s cover.
Today, the author shared the anecdote as part of a Twitter conversation about whitewashing in fiction. She tweeted the cover suggested by the publisher and the revised cover, updated to feature the story’s black protagonist, per the author’s request.
“Cover on left was the proposed cover. Cover on the right was the finished cover after I threw a sh*t fit (tapered by my agent),” Okorafor wrote on Twitter.
“POC authors who see readers whitewashing our POC characters... consider how we feel about that. The layers of emotion,” she continued. “We feel erased.”
In 2016, Okorafor’s novella Binti earned both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award; its cover features a close-up image of its black protagonist. She achieved this in spite of the efforts made by a vocal group called the Sad Puppies, which aimed, essentially, to Make Science Fiction Great Again, by boycotting Hugo Award categories in which women writers and writers of color had the possibility of winning.
After her win, Okorafor told The Huffington Post, “the issues swirling around the Hugos are merely manifestations of the growing pains this country is experiencing as a whole. Growing pains are painful, awkward, annoying, sometimes destructive in order to create.”
Readers have responded to Okorafor’s tweet with expressions of disbelief. The author ended her thread with the following statement: