The Call of Sauúti

What exactly is the Sauútiverse? Eugen Bacon—an African writer based in Australia, and an active member of the SFWA, HWA, SFPA, BSFA, and BFS—tells us more about the amazing Afrocentric storytelling collective that’s fast-emerging.

Illustrated by Akintoba Kalejaye

During the pandemic, I wrote an essay published in the anthology Bridging Worlds: Global Conversations on Creating Pan-African Speculative Fiction in the Pandemic Period, edited by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, in a call for submissions that said: 

It’s been a landmark year in the lives of speculative fiction writers trying to both survive and create in the 2020 pandemic year. It’s been especially difficult for black people, both Africans in the continent and the diaspora. So we are asking for contributions… It is an anthology of speculative non-fiction aimed at documenting the experiences we had as speculative fiction creators during the 2020 year…

That was November 2020. I wrote about ‘Saving My Shadows’, how three things happened in 2020 that I most cared about: 

  1. The world abruptly and increasingly knew with dawning dismay about the Covid-19 pandemic and its global devastating effects. 
  2. Events surrounding Black Lives Matter escalated significantly with the slayings of Ahmaud Arbery, who went out for a jog in Brunswick, Georgia, and was hunted like a deer and shot in broad daylight; Breonna Taylor, who was also shot and killed by police officers in Louisville, Kentucky—she was an emergency medical technician, only 26 when they killed her—and George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who said his dying words, ‘I can’t breathe,’ as a police officer, hand in the pocket, held his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck.  
  3. The US presidential election happened, and the whole world watched what was once a world power become a satire on the global stage, with much hyperbole and many fourth walls—have you seen the emperor’s new clothes?    

I had ‘sauti’, the voice, the sound—the urgent need to speak

I wrote in my essay about how, as the world shattered around me, I started crafting pieces of dark speculative micro-fictions, a within-without response, an inner-outer gasp that brought sanity to my world. My book Saving Shadowsby NewCon Press was an illustrated collection of fiction that recollected the dystopian nature of the world we lived in. I worked with an Italian artist, Elena Betti; her sheer brilliance can be seen in the images below.

It was a cathartic collection, shortlisted in the BSFA Awards for Best Artwork. Catharsis—that’s the good my writing did. The pandemic took forever easing, and we’re still suffering the complexities, the politics, the divisions and all the aftermaths of it. Black Lives Matter—nothing much’s changed, perhaps some semblance of justice here and there, but only because a cell phone captured what really happened. Another US presidential election is happening soon, and we’re yet again stuck with the rubbish that will leak into the rest of the world, pollute us all. More garbage on the dark web about conspiracy theories, and whatnot—who was the second coming. 

The writer as agent of change

But we can’t take away from the role of the writer as an agent of change. Little did I know, back then in 2020, that I was about to embark on a spectacular adventure with fellow creatives in a collaborative Afrocentric world.

The Sauútiverse materialised back in November 2021 when Wole Talabi, one of the founding members of the Sauútiverse, reached out to African writers for expressions of interest in becoming part of a collective, to create a shared world using the Syllble platform. A bout of brainstorming sessions followed, in which we determined our vision as holding the key tenets of collaboration, support, creativity, and Afrocentric-based storytelling. 

The Sauúti Collective, as we named the founding members, comprised ten African writers and creators from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and the diaspora—Haiti—together created a new world, the Sauútiverse, an Africa-inspired secondary world with humanoid and non-humanoid creatures in a five-planet, binary star system and a shared history, and the power of sound magic. 

The name Sauúti is inspired by the Swahili word ‘sauti’ which means voice or sound. 

Image: Illustrated by Akintoba Kalejaye and Stephen Embleton

The five main planets, each named to mean ‘song’ in an African language, comprised: 

  • Zezépfeni—from the Amharic word ‘zefeni’ meaning song
  • Wiimb-ó—from the Swahili word ‘wimbo’ meaning song
  • Órino-Rin—from the Yoruba word ‘orin’ meaning song
  • Ekwukwe—from the Igbo word ‘ukwe’ meaning song or anthem
  • Mahwé (before its destruction)— from the Kirundi word ‘mawe’ meaning mother
  • There is also an inhabited moon, Pinaa, from the Setswana word ‘pina’ meaning song.

The genre-bending world is the perfect setting for black speculative fiction stories. 

We have since published our inaugural anthology, Mothersound: The Sauútiverse Anthology, edited by Wole Talabi, who did a darn good job on it.

The anthology was a BSFA Award finalist, with short stories and artwork in the longlist. It was also listed in the Locus Recommended Reading List, and received a Publishers Weekly starred review

(Cover image by Akintoba Kalejaye)

We celebrate our successes, and invite other Afrocentric writers to create in our distinctive universe. Work is underway on our second anthology, Sauúti Terrors—I’m editing it together with Cheryl Ntumy and Stephen Embleton, fellow members of the Sauúti family. It has a phenomenal cast, and we can’t wait to share it with the world when it’s ready! 

Writing black speculative fiction is important to me. It helps me focus on things keeping me awake at night. It helps me be passionate about things that matter to me as a mother, as a woman, as a subversive activist who pays attention to the climate, to social justice, to stories of culture, to tradition… The more I write myself in, casting Black people stories, the more I ‘become’. Embracing my past, my present, my future. 

This is why the call of Sauúti echoes within.

   Main image: by Alvin Balemesa on Unsplash


Meet the guest poster

Image for Eugen Bacon

Eugen Bacon is an African Australian author of several novels and collections. She’s a British Fantasy Award winner, a Foreword Indies Award winner, a twice World Fantasy Award finalist, and a finalist in other awards. Eugen was announced in the honor list of the Otherwise Fellowships for ‘doing exciting work in gender and speculative fiction’. Danged Black Thing made the Otherwise Award Honor List as a ‘sharp collection of Afro-Surrealist work’, and was a 2024 Philip K Dick Award nominee. Eugen’s creative work has appeared worldwide, including in Apex Magazine, Award Winning Australian WritingFantasyFantasy & Science Fiction, and Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction. Visit her at eugenbacon.com.

Read Eugen’s BFS member profile here.

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