Filter House by Nisi Shawl
October is Black Speculative Fiction Month. The speculative fiction genre covers anything that explores a setting that is not “the real world.”
Spec fic is not only science fiction and fantasy, but horror and any writing that imagines a different world. Nisi Shawl is an award-winning speculative writer whose works are mostly Afrofuturist, which means they write about the African diaspora and how our diaspora could be reimagined.
Filter House is an eclectic collection of stories that weave together magical realism, African spirituality, and African American experiences.
From how Shawl injects their personal spiritual practices or represents the unique struggles of living in a post-slavery home, there is a lot to take in from these short stories. The three stories that stood out the most to me are “The Raineses.” “Wallamelon,” and “Shiomah’s Land.”
“The Raineses” follows a young girl who lives with her grandmother, the maid to the Raines family. This is not the typical haunted house story, because the Raines family used to own slaves.
This one stuck with me because of the atmosphere, and the creepy elements that were good even in the short number of pages. Horror is not a genre I like, usually because it takes too long for the author to set up the atmosphere. In this quicker format, we got right to the good stuff.
“Wallamelon” is my favorite story of the whole collection. A group of four children finds watermelons and they believe the ‘Blue Lady’ led them to these magical fruits. The main character, Oneida, takes care of her younger cousin and instructs the other children on taking care of the watermelons.
However, when a white family moves into their neighborhood the watermelons are destroyed in the construction, and the children are split up. Oneida is separated from her cousin and her best friend, but she learns that this figure is actually the goddess Yemaya and her grandmother teaches her about African spirituality.
“Wallamelon” is a coming-of-age story about how losses feel to children, it’s amazing and if you only want to read one story from the collection this should be it.
Shawl plays with morality and reality in “Shiomah’s Land.” A woman throws herself under a god’s carriage and that god goes on to shelter the child, who she renames Shiomah.
Amma, the god, and Shiomah go on to have a very strange relationship, Amma becomes her mentor and mother figure, but also her captor and lover. Shiomah is precocious, and clever, and made so many bold decisions. This was the strangest story; the gods are like nothing I’ve read before and honestly felt like aliens to me.
Shawl is a deft storyteller; each story is unique and shows different sides of Black women and our experiences. The protagonists see ghosts, talk to dragons, and go through loss and grief, but they all feel different from each other.
Sistah Girls if you’ve never read spec fic before Shawl’s collection is a great place to start. The stories vary so wildly yet still have themes of survival and a sense of humor even when the stories are tragic.
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