Nnedi Okorafor

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Binti Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Nnedi Okorafor's Binti. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor’s parents immigrated to the U.S. both for their education and to escape the Nigerian Civil War. They took Okorafor to visit Nigeria often throughout her childhood and teenage years, though Okorafor was considered “too American” in Nigeria and “too black” at home in the US. She spent her teenage years as a track and tennis star and also loved math and science, but a scoliosis diagnosis put her involvement in sports to an end. She underwent surgery for her scoliosis at age 19, became briefly paralyzed from the waist down, and began writing short stories during her time in the hospital. Throughout her time as a student, during which she earned a master’s in journalism and English and a PhD in English, Okorafor’s professors discouraged her from writing science fiction—but eventually, she began writing anyway. She began winning awards for her short stories in 2001, and since then, her stories and novels have won various science-fiction awards including Nebulas, Hugos, and the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. Okorafor is inspired to write science fiction in part because of the lack of diversity she sees in the genre. Binti was inspired in part by Okorafor’s experience of leaving a close-knit Nigerian community in Chicago to teach at the University of Buffalo, New York, a decision that she feared she’d regret, as well as a trip to the United Arab Emirates where Okorafor saw a blue jellyfish. Okorafor currently lives in Illinois with her family.
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Historical Context of Binti

Though many of the events and technologies in Binti are entirely fictional, Okorafor portrays the real-world Himba people of Namibia and Angola in the novella. As Binti explains, the Himba cover their bodies and hair in otjize (a clay mixture), and most live off the land as subsistence farmers. A Himba person’s particular hairstyle denotes a variety of things about them, including whether they’re married and whether a woman has had a child. Okorafor has said that the Khoush, meanwhile, were inspired by Arab people and culture, specifically the ultra-modern cities Okorafor visited in the United Arab Emirates. The theft of the chief Meduse’s stinger, meanwhile, draws on the long and bloody history of Westerners seizing the bodies, artifacts, and artwork of native populations around the world in the name of research. In the last few decades, countries and tribes have begun to ask for museums to return their artifacts, with varying degrees of success. More broadly, it’s possible to trace the success of Okorafor’s work and other black science-fiction writers to increasing demand for science fiction that’s increasingly diverse—and that demand spills over into other art disciplines as well. Many cite the 2018 Black Panther film as proof that Afrofuturism is going mainstream. It’s possible to identify Afrofuturist styling and elements in the music, costume choices, and music videos of artists like Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Janelle Monáe.

Other Books Related to Binti

Binti is the first in a trilogy of novellas. It’s followed by Binti: Home and Binti: The Night Masquerade, which continue Binti’s journey as she returns home from Oomza Uni and learns more about the war between the Meduse and the Khoush. Though many consider Okorafor’s work to be Afrofuturism, Okorafor is adamant about labeling her work as “Africanfuturist” instead. The difference, she explains, is that Africanfuturist works center on Africa, African cultures, and black characters, both in Africa and in the diaspora; while in her estimation, Afrofuturist works tend to center the Western world despite being about black characters. Other novels that fit Okorafor’s definition of Africanfuturism (though most are still considered Afrofuturist) include Tade Thompson’s Rosewater and Nigerians in Space by Deji Olukotun. Okorafor has written several issues for the Marvel comic Black Panther, including a spinoff series that focuses on Shuri, the Black Panther’s little sister. She took over writing Black Panther from journalist and author Ta-Nehesi Coates (Between the World and Me; The Water Dancer). She is open about her love for graphic novels, especially Craig Thompson’s Blankets and Habibi. As a young person, Okorafor turned to novels like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein instead of classic sci-fi novels because of the whiteness of many classic works of science fiction. However, in recent years, black authors have won many prominent science-fiction awards, including N. K. Jemison (The Stone Sky; The Obelisk Gate) and P. Djèlí Clark (The Black God’s Drums).
Key Facts about Binti
  • Full Title: Binti
  • When Written: 2014
  • Where Written: Buffalo, New York
  • When Published: 2015
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Science Fiction; Space Opera
  • Setting: Namibia; a spaceship; Oomza University
  • Climax: Binti brokers an agreement between the Meduse and the department heads of Oomza University.
  • Antagonist: The Meduse initially seem to be antagonists, but Binti discovers that some researchers at Oomza University are actually at fault.
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Binti

Call on Your Daughter. Okorafor is open about the fact that when she gets stuck writing, she often enlists her young daughter for help.

African Roots. Okorafor draws from various African languages and cultures as she comes up with names for characters and objects in her writing. Okwu means “word” in Igbo, while an edan is a mystical Yoruba object. Binti, meanwhile, means “girl” in Kiswahili.