This New Sci-Fi & Fantasy Anthology Puts The Spotlight On Black Girls & GNC Teens

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A new anthology focusing on Black girls and gender nonconforming teens is coming next year. Edited by former Bustle "Lit List" honoree Patrice Caldwell, A Phoenix First Must Burn brings 16 original stories by beloved YA writers together in one unique volume. The book is out on March 10, 2020, but Bustle has an exclusive first look at the cover, and a peek at Caldwell's introduction below.

According to its subtitle, A Phoenix First Must Burn collects "16 stories of Black Girl Magic, resistance, and hope." The book is a first for editor Caldwell, who joins 15 other prominent authors of color in the collection. The pool of contributors includes previously published and award-winning authors, as well as writers making their print debuts. A Phoenix First Must Burn is composed by:

  • Elizabeth Acevedo, National Book Award-winning author of The Poet X
  • Amerie
  • Patrice Caldwell
  • Dhonielle Clayton, author of The Belles
  • Jalissa Corrie
  • Somaiya Daud, author of Mirage
  • Charlotte Nicole Davis, author of The Good Luck Girls
  • Alaya Dawn Johnson, author of The Summer Prince
  • Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation
  • Danny Lore, author of Queen of Bad Dreams
  • L.L. McKinney, author of A Blade So Black
  • Danielle Paige, author of Dorothy Must Die
  • Rebecca Roanhorse, author of Trail of Lightning
  • Karen Strong, author of Just South of Home
  • Ashley Woodfolk, author of The Beauty That Remains
  • Ibi Zoboi, author of Pride

A Phoenix First Must Burn is out on Mar. 10, and is available for pre-order today. You can check out the stunning cover and read Caldwell's introduction below.


Patrice Caldwell

When I was fourteen, I received a copy of Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed as a gift. I still remember that moment. The Black woman on the front cover. The used-paperback smell. The way I held it close like it carried within it the secrets of many universes.

I devoured it and all of her others. I found myself in her words. And I’m not the only one.

It seems only fitting that the title of this anthology comes from Butler’s Parable of the Talents, a novel that is ever relevant.

The full quote is “In order to rise from its own ashes, a phoenix first must burn.”

Storytelling is the backbone of my community. It is in my blood.

Raised on a diet of Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Star Wars, I preferred to create and explore fictional universes than live in my real one.

My parents raised me on stories of real-life legends like Queen Nzinga of Angola, Harriet Tubman, Phillis Wheatley, and Angela Davis. Growing up in the American South, my world was full of stories, of traditions and superstitions — like eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for luck or “jumping the broom” on your wedding day. Raised on a diet of Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Star Wars, I preferred to create and explore fictional universes than live in my real one.

But whenever I went to the children’s section of the library to discover more tales, the novels featuring characters who looked like me were rooted in pain set amid slavery, sharecropping, or segregation. Those narratives are important, yes. But because they were the only ones offered, I started to wonder, Where is my fantasy, my future? Why don’t Black people exist in speculative worlds?

Too often media focuses on our suffering. Too often we are portrayed as victims. But in reality, we advocate for and save ourselves long before anyone else does, from heroes my parents taught me of to recent ones like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, the Black women who founded Black Lives Matter.

Malcolm X said, “The most neglected person in America is the Black Woman.” I believe this is even more true for my fellow queer siblings, and especially for those identifying as trans and as gender nonconforming. Their bodies — and our existence — are constantly under attack.

And yet still we rise from our own ashes.

We never accept no.

With each rebirth comes a new strength.

Black women are phoenixes.

We are given lemons and make lemonade.

So are the characters featured in this collection of stories.

Though some of these stories contain deep sorrow, they ultimately are full of hope.

These sixteen stories highlight Black culture, folktales, strength, beauty, bravery, resistance, magic, and hope. They will take you from a ship carrying teens who are Earth’s final hope for salvation to the rugged wilderness of New Mexico’s frontier. They will introduce you to a revenge-seeking hairstylist, a sorcerer’s apprentice, and a girl whose heart is turning to ash. And they will transport you to a future where all outcomes can be predicted by the newest tech, even matters of the heart.

Though some of these stories contain deep sorrow, they ultimately are full of hope. Sometimes you have to shed who you were to become who you are.

As my parents used to remind me, Black people have our pain, but our futures are limitless.

Let us, together, embrace our power.

Let us create our own worlds.

Let us thrive.

And so our story begins . . .

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