In an age of constant reboots and reimaginings of old media, the new FIYAH Literary Magazine stands out as one of the most promising such projects in recent years. Inspired by the work of Jazz Age black writers and motivated by current events and the ongoing dearth of recognition and opportunities for black writers in SFF, executive editors Justina Ireland and Troy L. Wiggins have created a unique and special space that is as much needed now as ever before. From its stunningly beautiful cover art to the very last page of perfectly curated fiction, Issue One: REBIRTH is a gorgeous celebration of black excellence that every serious fan of speculative fiction should be reading this winter.
My personal favorite story of the issue is the final one, “Chesirah” by L.D. Lewis, which combines fantastical and science fictional elements to great effect. My second favorite, V.H. Galloway’s compelling “Sisi Je Kuisha (We Have Ended)”, introduced me to a bit of central African folklore that I knew nothing about before reading it, which then sent me down a marvelously fascinating and informative rabbit hole of internet research about Bantu languages and Congolese history. Meanwhile, “The Shade Caller” by DaVaun Sanders is a thoughtful exploration of otherness and the power of community. An excerpt from Sanders’ novel, The Seed-Bearing Prince is also included, though I skipped it in favor of just buying a copy (just $0.99 for Kindle) and adding it to my to-read list.
The first three stories of the issue didn’t blow me away the same way the final three did, but I suspect it’s a mix of personal preference and the fact that I’m white. All of the stories in FIYAH are by, about and for black people, or at least not for white people. Reading these stories while white, one gets the distinct impression that you are the outsider here, and I found myself throughout feeling grateful for the gift of these deeper glimpses into an experience that I can only ever understand imperfectly. It’s a feeling that I often have while reading the works of people unlike myself, just seldom ever through half a dozen stories in a row.
And this might be the most refreshing thing about FIYAH and the thing that makes this project so important for the SFF community. Here, black stories by black authors are in a unique context, in conversation with each other and not singled out as token stories in other publications where they’re almost forced to be in conversation with whiteness. There’s a unity and cohesiveness to this collection that is too often reserved for more privileged perspectives that are allowed to drown out the voices of minorities. FIYAH gathers the voices of black writers together in a way that both amplifies their collective impact and highlights the diversity within the group.
The only quibble I have about this first issue is actually a technical one. Sadly, the EPUB format (my preferred file type as a Nook user) is not well-formatted, and I was unable to adjust the font size to read it more easily. It also didn’t have the best document navigation, and if I wanted to jump to a story I had to do it from the table of contents page rather than the little menu thingy in the bottom left corner of the device. It’s not a deal breaker, obviously, but it was inconvenient, and I (vainly) hated the reminder that I might need to get my eyes checked as I approach middle age. Fortunately, when you buy the issue, you have access to EPUB, MOBI, and PDF downloads, so it’s easy enough to find one that will work for you, but I’m hoping that this problem is fixed in future issues.