Nnedi Okorafor was never supposed to be paralyzed. A college track star and budding entomologist, Nnedi’s lifelong battle with scoliosis was just a bump in her plan - something a simple surgery would easily correct.
But when Nnedi wakes from the surgery to find she can’t move her legs, her entire sense of who she is begins to waver. Confined to a hospital bed for months, unusual things begin to happen. Psychedelic bugs crawl her hospital walls; strange dreams visit her nightly. She begins to feel as if she’s turning into a cyborg. Unsure if she’ll ever walk again, Nnedi begins to put these experiences into writing, conjuring up strange, fantastical stories.
What Nnedi discovers during her confinement would prove to be the key to her life as a successful science fiction writer: In science fiction, when something breaks, something greater often emerges from the cracks. While she may be bedridden, instead of stopping her journey Nnedi’s paralysis opens up new windows in her mind, kindles her creativity and ultimately leads her to become more alive than she ever could have imagined.
Nnedi takes the reader on a journey from her hospital bed deep into her memories, from her painful first experiences with racism as a child in Chicago to her powerful visits to her parents’ hometown in Nigeria, where she got her first inkling that science fiction has roots beyond the West. This was not the Africa that Nnedi knew from Western literature - an Africa that she always read was a place left behind. The role of technology in Nigeria opened her eyes to future-looking Africa: cable TV and cell phones in the village, 419 scammers occupying the cybercafés, the small generator connected to her cousin’s desktop computer, everyone quickly adapting to portable tech devices due to unreliable power sources. Nnedi could see that Africa was far from broken, as she’d been taught, and her experience there planted the early seeds of sci-fi - a genre that speculates about technologies, societies, and social issues - from an entirely new lens.
In Broken Places & Outer Spaces, Nnedi uses her own experience as a jumping off point to follow the phenomenon of creativity born from hardship. From Frida Kahlo to Mary Shelly, she examines great artists and writers who have pushed through their limitations, using hardship to fuel their work. Through these compelling stories and her own, Nnedi reveals a universal truth: What we perceive as limitations have the potential to become our greatest strengths - far greater than when we were unbroken.
Novelist Okorafor (Akata Witch) explains in this eloquent memoir how a harrowing medical experience caused her to reevaluate her potential, realize new goals, and begin writing science fiction. Okorafor has always suffered from scoliosis and decided while in college to have surgery to repair parts of her spine. The risky procedure left her paralyzed from the waist down. She explores how, lying in her hospital bed, her dreams of running with siblings something she wouldn't do again and hallucinations of insects (induced by her morphine IV) kick-started her conception of the fantastical worlds she would eventually put to page. Filling her work with affecting, rich descriptions, she explains both her realization of what has happened and her process of moving forward: "Battling through my paralysis ignited my passion for storytelling and the transformative power of the imagination." While recovering, Okorafor, on a whim during an arts-and-crafts class, makes a clay figurine that becomes the inspiration for her first novel. Also included is Okorafor's wonderful analysis of how personal tragedy affected the careers of Frida Kahlo and Mary Shelley. Okorafor's gripping account of her recovery will inspire any reader.