This Harvard-graduate, NYT Bestselling author of Children of Blood and Bone (part of an ongoing trilogy, Legacy of Orïsha), Ms. Adeyemi recently found herself on the TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential Pioneers of 2020 and Forbes 30 under 30 list. That’s right – she’s only 27. Her most recent installment in the Legacy of Orïsha series, Children of Virtue and Vengeance was a #1 New York Times Bestseller. She started the series after spending some time in a fellowship program in Brazil studying West-African mythology. Studying in-depth what was also part of her own heritage as a Nigerian-American inspired her to write this series about a young black woman who fights for her people so that, as she says, “a little Black girl [could] pick up my book one day and see herself as the star.” Adeyemi describes her novels as, “a love letter to [her] culture.” My good sis also offers creative writing coaching through The Writer’s Roadmap, and she can be found on Instagram @tomiadeyemi. She’s doing it for the culture and doing it so well. Keep an eye on this one guys; she’s just getting started and I can’t wait to see what else she has in store for us. – Alicia Bagley
Whenever someone uses the phrase “ahead of their time,” Octavia Butler always springs to mind. Her most notable works were penned in the 1970s and ’80s but they still hold significant relevance in the present day. Despite her struggles with dyslexia, Butler fell in love with the written word and the sci-fi genre at an early age. She even called it, “potentially the freest genre in existence,” but chibi Octavia soon found herself frustrated with the often uninspired depiction of black characters and by the absence of significant women characters within the genre. So she decided to “write [herself] in,” intentionally infusing her work with the Black-American female experience through novels like The Xenogenesis trilogy, Kindred, and the Parable series. Ms. Butler was recognized often for her pioneering work, including receiving the Hugo and Nebula awards multiple times. Most notably she became the first science fiction writer to secure a MacArthur fellowship in 1995. Her work has been adapted a few times for film and stage, and there have been whispers of a Parable series in the works somewhere in the world (I’m crossing all of my fingers and toes).
Sadly she’s passed on from this life so she is not available to follow on social media, but most of her books are available in whichever book store you frequent. – Alicia Bagley
I first came across Coogler’s work with 2015’s Creed and I was blown away. I mostly watched this movie out of curiosity because I had only seen Rocky IV from the old series the title pulled from, and I’ll just say that movie is what it is. Creed, however, had a very special sauce. Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson had amazing chemistry, and Coogler also seemed to bring out Sylvester Stallone’s best work as a father figure to Jordan’s Adonis character. The movie overall had a style and swagger that left an awesome impression on me of what a modern boxing movie could be.
Then in 2018, Coogler really broke through with Black Panther. It’s one of the most special Marvel movies to me. The hip-hop/tribal fusion soundtrack brought out the swagger and style of Wakanda. The heart of the movie comes through with T’Challa’s relationships with his family and friends, contrasted with Killmonger’s criminal relationships where he’s willing to sacrifice his girlfriend and Ulysses Klaue in order to get back to Wakanda and fight to be king. Again, Coogler was able to draw an amazing performance out of MBJ as he steals the show being the charismatic yet troubled leader of a revolution that ultimately forces T’Challa to change the national policy and help the rest of the world with their technology. In a lesser director’s hand, this could’ve been a generic revenge plot, but instead, Coogler was able to breathe life, depth, and style into the movie, and it really stood out, as it’s still the only MCU movie to receive a best picture nomination.
Coogler is filming Black Panther II this year and is working on a series set in Wakanda for Disney+. Keep an eye out for him and his work in the news, since he doesn’t have social media. – Ryan Eighmey
You’ve probably seen Danai Gurira in the popular series The Walking Dead on AMC as Michonne, or as Okoye, King T’Challa’s right-hand woman and general of his armies in the Marvel movies Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. But what you may not know is that Gurira is also a Tony Award-nominated playwright. In an interview with the Marin Theatre Company, Gurira explains that she started writing plays because she wasn’t seeing African culture represented on stage, and thus she wrote what she wanted to perform. Danai has written several plays since then, including her 2015 play Eclipsed which was nominated in 2016 for Best Play at the Tony Awards, and won the Tony for Best Costume Design in a Play. When Gurira isn’t writing plays or kicking bad guy butt in movies and TV series, she is spending her time as an activist for women’s rights, HIV/AIDS awareness, and supporting continuing arts education in Zimbabwe, where she was raised from early childhood until the time she went off to college. She even founded her own non-profit called Love Our Girls, which seeks to bring attention to issues that women face globally. I admire Gurira’s multi-faceted career, and the advocacy for women and the attention she has brought to Black peoples, and specifically African struggles by depicting them onstage. She inspires me, as a half-Black woman myself, to do more advocacy for women and Black people in the world in whatever way I can. And of course, become a baller superhero who can take on countless menacing enemies without fear. Here’s to celebrating you, Danai, a strong, successful Black woman doing your part to create change in the world any way you can. You can keep up with everything she’s doing on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @DanaiGurira. – Brittany Lofland
When I think of a fantasy story with scope and scale and real-world implications, Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy inevitably comes to mind. I’m really excited to get to discuss the first book, The Fifth Season, on upcoming LTN Book Club podcast episodes. But if you stop with Broken Earth then you’re doing yourself an incredible disservice (even though she won a Hugo Award for each one of those books, which was a double first-time occurrence!). Jemisin is nothing short of prolific, with an incredible array of science fiction and fantasy published in both long and short form, and multiple awards to her name. I would be remiss to not specifically mention her short story collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? which interrogates America’s past and possible futures in its treatment of Black Americans. Follow Jemisin on Twitter @nkjemisin, watch her stream on Twitch, and help support her on Patreon. – Madeline Turnipseed
You may not recognize her name, but you’ve definitely heard her voice. Remember Susie Carmichael from the Rugrats on Nickelodeon? Or Princess Kida from Disney’s Atlantis? How about Freddie from A Different World? Or, my personal favorite, Numbuh Five from Code Name: Kids Next Door on Cartoon Network? Cree Summer (aka “lady of a thousand voices”) has lent her voice acting prowess to countless different projects throughout her career – which spans almost four decades. Her iconic youthful and raspy timbre is everywhere. From The Care Bears to Fallout, to the Animaniacs & Tiny Toon Adventures, Star Wars: Clone Wars, and even the Final Fantasy franchise – I don’t know about you guys, but as someone who was a kid during the ’90s, Ms. Summer has certainly been a significant voice of my childhood, and now my adulthood. Hats off to you, sis!
Dr. Nnedi Okorafor
I picked up the first Binti book not really knowing what to expect besides aliens and some sort of African influence. What I found was a story that continues to challenge me when I feel like I have an important life choice to make. Binti, the character, reconciles who she is, was, and could be in such a powerful way. Look for a series soon on Hulu. Dr. Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon tells an incredible first-contact story set in Lagos, Nigeria. But what I feel Dr. Okorafor will be most remembered for is the term Africanfuturism—used to describe a continent of Africa that is achieving the same future we imagine for Tokyo, New York, Paris, and London in so many stories, but steeped in its own traditions and influences, and (most importantly) benefits itself. Oh, she also writes for Marvel, notably for Shuri and in Marvel Voices: Legacy #1 based on the real-world Lekki massacre last year. Kind of a big deal. Follow her on Twitter @Nnedi. – Madeline Turnipseed
When I read Riot Baby, I wasn’t ready for the righteous anger the book brings with it, but it made my nomination for Good Things about 2020 because it helped change my mind. Tochi Onyebuchi is unapologetic about the things he calls society on the carpet for, and deservedly so. Onyebuchi has also written other science fiction and fantasy, but where he absolutely shines is in his articles examining the intersections between nerdy media, writing, and his life experiences, including civil rights law. In particular, I recommend “Where in your affidavit does it say you’re Black?”: Why Worldbuilding Can’t Neglect Race and I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream: The Duty of the Black Writer During Times of American Unrest. He’s also one of the authors in Marvel Voices: Legacy #1! Catch up on more truth bombs and keep up with all of his wonderful content on Twitter @TochiTrueStory. – Madeline Turnipseed
Khary Payton is a voice actor who has had a huge career showing off his talent over dozens of TV shows, video games and movies. Probably you nerds would recognize his voice best as Cyborg in Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go! With his enthusiastic BooYa, his Cyborg is a masterclass in voice-over that is dynamic and explosive. He really made a name for himself doing live-action work as The King, Ezekiel in The Walking Dead. This role showed his real acting chops with the depth and gravity of Ezekiel. But none of these things are my favorite.
There was a time when Dungeons and Dragons was something we played in secret in our basements. However, with the advent of the explosive rising of Critical Role and similar D&D live shows, D&D has become a place for voice actors to really shine. Near the beginning of Campaign 2 of Critical Role, Khary Payton guest-starred as the mysterious Shakäste. A blind human tempest cleric with a Hummingbird familiar named Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna through whom he is able to see. Shakäste is an old man of great dignity who is something of a local hero, wandering through the valleys righting wrongs, saving folk, and doing it all with a boatload of style. Shakäste fights with a Spiritual Weapon shaped as a giant bust of Queen Nefertiti. Khary, who was new to D&D, fell immediately into the world as naturally as if he’d been playing with my basement crew for 20 years. For a hobby that still needs the voices of diversity to add to the harmony, I am really hoping Khary makes his way back to Critical Role and the Mighty Nein, as Shakäste or even a new character because he is the king of cool. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @kharypayton. – Jake Corn
Xalavier Nelson Jr.
I have a very selfish reason for following Xalavier Nelson Jr.’s career: he makes things that are my kind of weird. I hesitate to call them “weird” because that puts people off, but over the last few years I have come to realize that I am not your average bear, and not everyone gets as … obsessed over the same things that I do.
I first heard of Nelson from an industry friend talking about his work as a journalist for PC Gamer, though he got his start much earlier than that, as he told our Humans of Gaming podcast. He wrote for LTN favorite Hypnospace Outlaw, and is credited on multiple other games, one being Can Androids Pray, which was in my personal running for GOTY 2019. I was fortunate enough to meet him at PAX South 2020 (pour one out for in-person conventions) where he was showcasing his upcoming An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs (what did I tell you) and let me just say how amazing and wonderful of a person that he is. People were playing his game and making dog puns with him and he was furiously writing every good idea that was had—by him or the person playing his game—down in his journal, because no good idea should go unpunished, erm, -rewarded.
Also have you ever wanted to daytrade organs? You should be able to this year with his upcoming Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator. The content you don’t want but you desperately need, amirite?
Nichelle Nichols is an actress best known for her time as Lt. Uhura on Star Trek. After the cancellation of Star Trek, Nichols volunteered her time in a special project with NASA to recruit minority and female personnel for the space agency. Among those recruited were Sally Ride and Colonel Guion Bluford; both pioneers for women and minorities in USA space history. While indirectly impacting history with NASA, Nichelle made television history with William Shatner in season 3 of Star Trek during the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” where she and Shatner shared the first interracial kiss in television history. Interestingly enough Ms. Nichols almost missed her groundbreaking kiss as after season one she had decided to quit Star Trek. A particular Trekkie met her at a NAACP fundraiser and convinced her to stay on the show; that Trekkie was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You can follow Nichelle on Twitter @NichelleIsUhura. – Matt Williams