Black to the Future Presents: Imaginary Cities

Date: 6/2/24
Speakers: N.K. Jemisin, Victor LaValle, Irenosen Okojie

Only RSL Members can book this online-only event for free, live streamed on the British Library platform at 7pm on Tuesday 6 February.
Tickets may be booked either to watch either live or within 48 hours on catch up. Viewing links will be sent out shortly before the event. The conversation will begin at

Can imaginary cities change the world? Explore the power of place in fantasy.

In N.K. Jemisin’s Great Cities series, each borough of New York is magically embodied in a human avatar – a fate that awaits all cities in this alternate universe. In The Changeling and The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle’s New York teems with ancient magic and horrors, veiled thinly by modern civilisation and technological distractions.

Join Jemisin, LaValle and RSL vice-chair Irenosen Okojie as they discuss what makes cities great and how both imagined and real urban settings in fiction can provoke and lead to social change and activism in the real world.

Beyond great cities, we will voyage to The Stillness, the massive continent in Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy and the American West in LaValle’s Lone Women. We will visit far and near futures, dive beneath the ocean and launch into space, navigating cosmic horrors and subversions of Lovecraft in Jemisin and LaValle’s works.

IMAGINARY CITIES examines fantasy settings and destinations, and how centering marginalised perspectives in fantasy narratives allows for more expansive explorations of the genre, empowering readers to change the world they live in for the better.

This event is in partnership with Black To The Future, an Afro-Futurist celebration of outstanding Black artists and a space for visionary imaginings to thrive. Black To The Future is founded and directed by Irenosen Okojie MBE FRSL in collaboration with the Royal Society of Literature and the British Library, with a focus on invigorating dialogues and genres within which Black literature and art is flourishing.

N.K. Jemisin is an American science fiction and fantasy writer whose fiction includes a wide range of themes, notably cultural conflict and oppression. Her Broken Earth Trilogy was the first to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel in three consecutive years, as well as the first to win for all three novels in a trilogy. She won a fourth Hugo, for Best Novelette in 2020 for Emergency Skin, and a fifth in 2022 for Best Graphic Story for her work on DC’s ‘Far Sector’. Jemisin was a recipient of the MacArthur Fellows Program Grant in 2020.

Victor LaValle is an American author. He has published two graphic novels and eight works of fiction including the short-story collection, Slapboxing with Jesus the novels, The Ecstatic, Big Machine, The Devil in Silver, The Changeling, and Lone Women and the fantasy-horror novella The Ballad of Black Tom. He has been the recipient of numerous awards including the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award, two Bram Stoker Awards, a Shirley Jackson Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Key to Southeast Queens. His novel, The Changeling, is now streaming on Apple TV+, he serves as Executive Producer and plays the Narrator in the series (voice only). He teaches writing at Columbia University.

Irenosen Okojie is a Nigerian British writer. Appointed to the Royal Society of Literature as a Fellow in 2018, her short stories have been published in the US, Africa and the UK. Her debut novel, Butterfly Fish, was published in 2015, for which she was a recipient of a 2016 Betty Trask Award. Her short story collection, Speak Gigantular, was published in 2016. It was shortlisted for the 2016 inaugural Jhalak Prize and the 2017 Edge Hill Short Story Prize. A collection of short stories, Nudibranch, was published in 2019. It was longlisted for the Jhalak Prize 2020. The story ‘Grace Jones’ won the 2020 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing. In 2021 she was awarded an MBE For Services To Literature. A novel, Curandera, is forthcoming in 2024.

Supported by the U.S. Embassy, London and the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

This event accompanies the British Library exhibition Fantasy: Realms of Imagination (27 October – 25 February) supported by Wayland Games and Unwin Charitable Trust.

Image of N.K. Jemisin by Laura Hanifin. Image of Victor LaValle by Teddy Wolff.

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