Cal State LA graduate student explores Afrofuturism, follows footsteps of Octavia Butler
She will begin a Ph.D. program at Howard University in the fall.
By Jillian Beck | Cal State LA News Service
Cal State LA graduate student Kymberli Corprue loved science fiction stories growing up—getting lost in the tales of powerful superheroes, distant worlds and far-off futures.
But she started noticing the lack of representation in the genre’s mainstream works, which explored issues of alienation, enslavement and oppression.
“They used elements of the Black experience in America, but they were being told on the screen and in books while erasing Black people from the story,” Corprue says.
With films like Black Panther and numerous science fiction works by Black authors, Corprue says, times are changing. But there’s still work to be done, and she hopes to be part of it.
Corprue, a 28-year-old Gardena resident, graduated on May 20 with a Master of Arts in English from the College of Arts and Letters. She will begin a Ph.D. program in English at Howard University in the fall.
Corprue’s focus is on Afrofuturism, a philosophy and genre that infuses elements of African and Black cultures and experiences into science fiction and fantasy.
Her master’s thesis included a critical exploration of Black science fiction and Afrofuturism and a creative work of her own in the genre titled, “Organic Energy.”
The work is set in a far-off future, where a corrupt corporation begins kidnapping young Black people, using the melanin in their skin to solve the country’s energy crisis. She hopes to one day expand the piece into a novel or series.
Corprue’s story, like other works in Afrofuturism and science fiction, can communicate powerful social and political messages to readers in an entertaining way.
“The backdrop and the glitz and glam of science fiction pull people in and they get the message along with it,” Corprue says. “I had a lot of key educators in my life who really stressed the importance of Black art and the written word, its role in moving people forward in society and using it to change views, inform and educate people.”
Corprue didn’t always know she’d be a writer. Growing up, she wanted to be a doctor. But teachers early on told her parents they saw a knack for writing.
With time, Corprue recognized her calling in writing. She switched from pre-med coursework while at Pitzer College in Claremont, and earned a bachelor’s degree in English. She became hooked on Afrofuturism after taking a course.
Corprue almost enrolled in a psychology graduate program but found out about Cal State LA’s English master’s program and changed course. The program’s hybrid focus on critical theory, literature and composition, and creative writing made it a unique fit for Corprue, who wanted to study writing and literary works, but also practice her craft.
Corprue credits many Cal State LA faculty members, including English Professors Melvin Donalson, Andrew Knighton, Lauri Scheyer, Atef Laouyene and Michael Calabrese, and Pan-African Studies Professor Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbaar, for pushing her academically and encouraging her to strive for the Ph.D. program.
Corprue honed her writing skills through reading countless works, paying close attention to how other writers approach their stories. She drew inspiration from pioneers in the field of Afrofuturism, like Octavia E. Butler, a Cal State LA alumna and the first African American woman to gain widespread recognition in science fiction, and Nalo Hopkinson, the acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writer who received Cal State LA’s 2018 Eagle-Con Octavia E. Butler Memorial Award.
“Every time I open up a book of [Butler’s] I think, ‘Oh wow, can I write a book like this?’”
Corprue pored over Sacramento State alumnus Ryan Coogler’s screenplay for the blockbuster Black Panther film. She was captivated by how he took the existing comic book content about the superhero, which originally emerged in the 1960s, and connected it with the present day experience of Black people in the U.S.
While at Cal State LA, Corprue developed her own independent study of Afrofuturism and also took courses in Korean, receiving the Sarah Kim Memorial Scholarship from the university for her study of the language and culture. Corprue was also awarded the Department of English’s Barry Munitz Scholarship in Creative Writing. She graduated with a 3.7 GPA.
In Howard’s Ph.D. program, Corprue will continue her study and writing in Afrofuturism, working with professors such as Gregory J. Hampton, who is credited with writing the first in-depth literary criticism on Butler’s complete body of fiction.
“I am excited to be surrounded by people skilled in this area to help me dig deeper into the genre and hone my own work,” Corprue says.
The next chapter of her journey may not have been what she or her parents originally expected those years ago, but Corprue is ready and excited for the future.
“I always tell my mother, I’ll still be a doctor, just not a medical one,” she says, laughing.