In 1926 – in the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance – Langston Hughes asked Black novelist and playwright Wallace Thurman to edit the first issue of Fire!!, a literary magazine founded to showcase the works of young Black writers and artists. The periodical shut down after one issue, but 90 years later, it inspired FIYAH – a literary magazine devoted to Black speculative writing.
Founded by author Troy L. Wiggins, FIYAH spotlights short stories, novelettes, book reviews, essays, and poems by and about Black people of the African diaspora. “We came about after Fireside Fiction’s Black speculative fiction report, which found that only 2% of science fiction and fantasy stories published in the year 2014 were written by Black authors in magazines that pay professional rates for short fiction,” Wiggins explains.
This finding inspired him to create FIYAH as an “intersectional, affirming, and a futuristic view of Black people around the world through speculative fiction and speculative media.”
Tone, editorial content of FIYAH
Editors at FIYAH look for stories that blend speculative tropes with cultural elements of a writer’s lived experiences in a new and fascinating way. Editors also look for nonfiction in the form of essays and book reviews. “We publish reviews of science fiction and fantasy novels from the perspective of a person of Black African descent who’s reading the work through the lens of their identity and culture,” Wiggins explains. “Our book reviews are cognizant of the fact that the book was written by a person of African descent, reviewed by a person of African descent. There’s no translation here. [The tone is] ‘this is for me by somebody who comes from my same or similar experience, and I’m going to present this review to you through that lens.’”
Wiggins points to WC Dunlap’s short story “Interstate Africana” as the type of piece he loves to see in FIYAH. It appears in issue #16, the “Joy” issue.
“For that issue, we wanted to specifically call upon Black authors to write joyful things because so much of the zeitgeist around our literature has been that it must contain lots of suffering and lots of ruminating on the human condition,” he explains. “But we are a lot of times the architects of joy, for a lot of folks who are in our proximity, right? And so we wanted authors to speak to that.”
Dunlap’s story begins:
A highway runs across the universe, imperceptible to science and the conscious human mind, but it exists all the same. It is a brilliant neon artery, traversed by a billion African souls.
Wiggins appreciates the joyful, futuristic vision in Dunlap’s story. “It’s a vision that looks at Black people not as a monolith but as a people who deserve to learn and to love and to know more about their place in the universe.”
Malon Edwards has a short story titled “The Pig Pouch and the Biomechanical Heart Engine” in Issue 21. “Edwards is a really awesome speculative fiction writer who has been working in the field since as long as I’ve been working in the field,” Wiggins explains. “This story is very conscious of the Black experience, and he incorporates it into the speculative sections, which really works for us.”
The same issue includes Kirk A. Johnson’s “Needs, Wants, and Dead Things,” a short story that begins:
Ndibi hesitated. Rubbing his sweaty hands on his long shirt, he couldn’t believe he was finally doing this. The mugginess of the hut drenched his back, and the growling mumbles of the bush wizard sent shivers through his shoulders. Here he sat in a bush hut with an actual bush wizard. The only person he could find to relieve him of his grief; to bring back a normalcy to his world.
Advice for potential contributors
FIYAH editors only accept submissions from poets and writers of African descent. Wiggins explains that the process of submitting a piece for potential publication in any literary magazine isn’t mysterious. “You read the things that speak to you, then let those things inspire you,” he notes. “You write your story, you look at the submission guidelines, you tweak your story according to the guidelines, and you submit it to the publication. That’s how we get down. That’s it. So literally read, write, submit.”
He urges people to read back issues of FIYAH for a sense of editors’ individual tastes and to blend speculative elements with a loving view of the Black experience in their work. If it’s clear that a writer paid close attention to the magazine’s submission guidelines, editors will send back a personalized response, explaining what worked and what didn’t work in the piece in terms of technique and theme. In some cases, they may even invite a writer to revise and resubmit.
“We want to see Black writers grow and succeed and thrive in the field,” Wiggins explains. “You can’t do that, especially with regard to the work you create, without somebody telling you in very loving and specific terms, what that work needs to do to shine. And so that’s our response.”
FIYAH at a glance
“A quarterly speculative fiction magazine that features stories by and about Black people of the African Diaspora.”
Reading period: Year-round.
Genres: Fiction, poetry, nonfiction.
Length: Fiction to 15,000 words, poetry to 1,000 words, nonfiction to 1,200 words.
Submission format: Submit through website.
Melissa Hart is the author, most recently, of the humorous middle grade novel Daisy Woodworm Changes the World (Jolly Fish, 2022). melissahart.com