I just finished an interesting and wonderful YA novel—The Shadow Speaker, by Nnedi Okorafor. The novel has a fabulous setting, in all meanings of the word. The events take place in the near future in Niger, West Africa, but the physical reality of the world has changed as a result of nuclear bombs being used during some unnamed war.

After finishing I wanted to know more about the author and started roaming about the Web. I came across a fascinating article she wrote, “Stephen King’s Super-Duper Magical Negroes.” I confess I’d not known the label for this particular trope, but I sure as heck was aware of its use in movies and stories. The main reason I did not like the otherwise admirable Million Dollar Baby was, once again, there was Morgan Freeman being the wise man.

The Magical Negro has its own version in children’s literature, of course: The magical grandparent or eccentric adult neighbor whose presence is essential for the moral lesson. These characters show up less now than they used to, but they are still with us. And yes, I know I’ve embraced the trope in my own writing though I hope I’ve shaken the habit. After reading Okorafor’s article I will be even more vigilant.


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