Pre-Columbian history meets Indigenous Futurism in a new novel by Rebecca Roanhorse

David Wilson for The Boston Globe

Growing up Rebecca Roanhorse said, “I read all the European-inspired epic fantasies, all the Tolkien-esque stuff, everything in that genre right up to ‘Game of Thrones’ in college.” But as person of Pueblo descent, adopted and raised by white parents, she rarely saw literature that represented her own identity.

And so, inspired by Toni Morrison, who famously said “if there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it,” Roanhorse began to craft her own work. “Black Sun,” her fifth novel, is directly influenced by the work she loved as a kid, but set in an imaginary world centered around the pre-Columbian Americas rather than Europe.


The universe Roanhorse invented for “Black Sun” draws from a number of cultures, she said, from the Mississippi Mound Builders to the Incas. “I’ve been reading in pre-Columbian art and literature and history forever. So it’s not like I had to sit down and start from the scratch, thankfully.” Still, there was research to tackle, including Aztec poetry and prayers, and archaeoastronomy, the art of building vast cities based on celestial movements (work, Roanhorse added, that “leaves Stonehenge in the dust, to be quite frank”).

“Black Sun” fits into the broad category of Indigenous Futurism, a term coined by Grace Dillon, a professor at Portland State University, to describe works that center Indigenous peoples and narratives in genres such as science fiction and fantasy. “One of the things Indigenous Futurism really tries to do is blur the lines between past, present, and future,” Roanhorse said. “We are often erased or stuck only in the past. So it’s very exciting for me personally to see Indigenous people and cultures thriving and being engaged, particularly in the future.”

Although work featuring Indigenous cultures may not be familiar to all readers, Roanhorse is confident they can learn. “In fantasy, we often say if you can learn Elvish and you can learn Klingon then you can learn a little Spanish or you can learn a little Navajo.”


Roanhorse will read at 7 p.m. Monday in an online event with Brookline Booksmith. www.brooklinebooksmith.com

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.