For Love of Wakanda

On Thursday at 9PM, the Diversity in Speculative Fiction & Literature Fandom track hosted a virtual panel consisting of the editor and authors of the Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda anthology. Moderator Kim McMillon welcomed editor and author Jesse J. Holland and authors Linda D. Addison, Temi Oh, and Glenn Parris to chat about the book.

McMillon opened the panel by asking Holland to read the anthology’s dedication, and after noting that Boseman’s portrayal of King T’Challa, the Black Panther changed the world, he obliged. It reads, “This work is lovingly dedicated to our Forever King Chadwick Boseman. Long May He Reign.” The dedication set a fitting note for a panel of authors who all discussed how much the idea of Wakanda meant to them.

The moderator asked each of the authors to discuss the inspiration behind their stories. Holland noted that the background for his story, “Faith,” was the concept that the goddess Bast is the bedrock of Wakanda. She had a daughter, Nefertiti, a pairing Holland described as being in the Marvel tradition that includes Hercules as a son of Zeus and Thor as a son of Odin. Both Hercules and Zeus are demigods with powers. T’Challa, who rules Wakanda, has no such abilities. Why not, Holland asked himself, if Bast is on the Wakandans’ side?

His story answers that question by giving her a daughter, Nefertiti. As a deity thinking in terms of millennia rather than years, she sees the country as hers, and she doesn’t intend for it to belong to the Wakandans forever. She intends for Nefertiti to rule it. The story examines the effect of this intention on T’Challa.

Addison said her contribution, “Shadow Dreams,” features an alternate reality shaped by her longtime interest in physics and alternate dimensions. The central character of the story comes to the golden city to train as Dora Milaje. Through this adolescent girl, she examines what multiple realities can be like and how they would affect people.

In shaping the character, Addison drew on memories of being fourteen and yearning to excel. The character is grounded in that. A shy child, Addison was internally driven to seek excellence. She read the comics and liked the Dora Milaje, who are the warrior class in Wakanda. They protect the king, so they train with a variety of weapons and develop mental and emotional focus on being protective.

Parris’s “The Underside of Darkness” looks beyond Wakanda to its relationship with “the other superpower of the age,” Atlantis. A warrior wins the title Black Panther and finds that part of his job is maintaining the relationship of these two kingdoms. A French scientist stumbles into the situation and may cause a war. The Black Panther must prevent that. The story foreshadows the death of Harriet Tubman, the achievements of Einstein and Curie, and the ramifications of the United States becoming a superpower.

Oh’s story,  “Zoya the Deserter,” looks at what it’s like to leave an ideal place. “What is Wakanda,” she asked, “and why do we care so much about it?” She noted that there are two sides to a place so nearly perfect. One is that few people leave. The other is that those who do go are ostracized because of the need for secrecy. Oh’s family emigrated the United Kingdom from Nigeria, and when she visited Nigeria noted that people there considered them “lost Nigerians,” that leaving carried a weight.

McMillon described the stories in the anthology as “opening a vein of gold” that went back in history. She asked the panel whether the world of Wakanda is “beyond reach.”

Addison replied that she grew up poor but read widely, with imagination never out of reach. Wakanda and Black Panther inspired her, and she now has the life she imagined. Oh said Wakanda was inspirational and a source of pride.

Parris noted that people of the African diaspora contributed to numerous developments but received no credit. They were cut off from their contributions and their history. Wakanda, on the other hand, shows who the people of the diaspora could have been if their lives hadn’t been interrupted, if they could trace their history back twenty generations or more. He said a visit to Senegal, where he blended perfectly among the people there until he spoke in his American accent, gave him a great feeling of belonging among people who could recite their ancestry. “You can’t put a price on that,” he concluded.

Oh wanted to know how Harris decided on the order of the stories within the anthology. He laughed and said it was a secret he was waiting for someone to figure out. Admitting there was a particular order, he declined to explain further.

All the panelists spoke of Wakanda meaning a great deal to them and of their enthusiasm for working on this project. The discussion made McMillon’s “vein of gold” comment seem entirely apt.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.