Ida B. Wells, James Baldwin, and Octavia Butler imagine a new future

Who I'd invite to my writers' dinner party

I would invite Ida B. Wells, James Baldwin, and Octavia Butler to my dinner table and treat them to the best southern feast I could cook. Ida B. Wells was a 19th-century journalist and antilynching crusader who wrote pamphlets like Southern Horrors to expose the racial terror of the South. James Baldwin, a master novelist and essayist, wrote about black queer life, black religious life, and racial politics at the height of the civil rights era. His book The Fire Next Time remains one of my favorites. Octavia Butler, a science fiction writer, wrote about slavery, racial dystopia, and black survival in the late 20th century. Her novel Parable of the Talents is especially relevant in this moment.

Each of these writers cared deeply about the relationship between power, religious ideology, and racism. They also cared about what it would take to shape a different future, one amenable to black lives. None of them minced words about Christian complicity in white supremacy and black suffering. Around the dinner table, I hope they could offer a long view of black possibility, ideas about what it would take to upend damaging theological positions, and arguments for the importance of an expansive imagination in a world of narrowing ideological positions.

Brittney Cooper

Brittney Cooper teaches at Rutgers University. She has written on hip-hop feminism and is the author of Beyond Respectability and Eloquent Rage.

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