Afro-Surreal and Afro-Futuristic Visual Technologies in Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Colson Whitehead’s Zone One


  • Rochelle Spencer Indiana University of Pennsylvania



The recent explosion of interest in black speculative fiction necessitates study of these new, innovative texts. Afro-Surrealism, a form of black speculative fiction that began in the 1920s (First Wave Afro-Surrealism) and gained popularity in the 1960s (Second Wave Afro-Surrealism), has entered a Third Wave, one that closely mirrors its aesthetic cousin Afro- Futurism in its incorporation of technology into various texts. Both Afro-Surrealism and Afro-Futurism have sparked an outpouring of visual art, music, books, websites, and films, but more importantly, these movements have reinvigorated the novel by incorporating film’s storytelling techniques (jump cuts, montages). These narrative changes, when coupled with the frequent references to film, reveal how some black writers are rethinking technology.  For the Afro-Surrealist, borrowing from film’s visual technologies allows for a more meaningful retelling of history, while for the Afro-Futurist, cinematic writing represents people of color’s ability to work as technological innovators and creators. This paper positions Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as the representative Third Wave Afro-Surrealist text, and Colson Whitehead’s Zone One as the representative Afro-Futurist text. 


Author Biography

Rochelle Spencer, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Rochelle is co-editor of All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color (Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2015), and her work appears or is forthcoming in Poets and Writers, Callaloo, the East Bay Review, the Women's Review of Books, the LA ReviewCrab Creek ReviewMosaic, the Ascentos Review, the African American Review, and other journals. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she is the African American Museum and Library of Oakland's current Writer-in-Residence, a program spearheaded by Museum Project Coordinator Ms. Veda Silva. 


Dery, Mark. Flame Wars: The Discourse of Cyberculture. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1994. Print.

Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: Riverhead, 2007. Print.

Eisenstein, Sergei. Film Forum: Essays in Film Theory. Ed. Jay Leyda. Orlando: Harcourt Brace, 1977.

Eshun, Kodwo. "Further Considerations in Afro-Futurism." The New Centennial Review 3.2 (2003): 287-302. Web.

Kelly, James Patrick, and John Kessel, eds. The Secret History of Science Fiction. San Francisco: Tachyon, 2009. Print.

Lavender, Isiah. Race in American Science Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2011. Print.

Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Visual and Other Pleasures. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1989. Print. 14-26.

Reynaud, Bérénice. "Agnès Varda, Cine-Writer." Walker Dialogue and Retrospective Series. Walker Art, Feb. 2001. Web.

Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1975.

Womack, Ytasha. Afrofuturism. Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 2013. Print.

Whitehead, Colson. Zone One. New York: Random House, 2011.




How to Cite

Spencer, R. (2016). Afro-Surreal and Afro-Futuristic Visual Technologies in Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. Pivot: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies and Thought, 5(1).