Sherri L. Smith's Orleans and Karen Sandler's Tankborn: The Female Leader, the Neo-Slave Narrative, and Twenty-first Century Young Adult Afrofuturism

  • Melanie A. Marotta Morgan State University


The neo-slave narrative allows contemporary writers to reinforce the African American female experience in science fiction. In the Young Adult (YA) Afrofuturistic novel, Orleans (2013), Sherri L. Smith creates a neo-slave narrative and, through it, sends a positive message about the strength of African American females to her readers. Smith's fifteen-year-old female protagonist, Fen de la Guerre, lives in a post-apocalyptic urban space. Hurricanes and plague, Delta Fever, decimate New Orleans; as a result, the government has quarantined the city behind a wall. Whereas in Smith's text, Fen's race is given a cursory mention, Kayla Sandler's Tankborn (2011) centers on the issue of race and its influence on identity (Leonard 2003). In Tankborn, societal prejudice segregates characters, thereby placing them into a caste system. Much like Fen, Sandler's protagonist, Kayla, exists in a society divided into trait-specific groupings. This society, however, is designed to oppress those deemed necessary for physical labor. Kayla's societal placement is determined by her physical appearance and her origins, which categorize her as a genetically-engineered being (GEN), or a human who was engineered in a tank. Significantly, the discrimination that both Fen and Kayla experience during their respective quests for freedom is reminiscent of that portrayed by slaves in African American narratives. The examination for this study is as follows: in order to ensure the survival of the future generations, Smith's Fen and Sandler's Kayla place themselves figuratively in the role of mother, specifically the twenty-first century version of the slave narrative mother - the community leader.

Author Biography

Melanie A. Marotta, Morgan State University
Lecturer and Interim Director of the Writing center, Department of Englilsh and Language Arts