Excerpt featured at The Nervous Breakdown Literary Site


I was pleased to collaborate with literary site The Nervous Breakdown, which has featured an excerpt from Nigerians in Space–one of my favorites–about the reluctant abalone smuggler Thursday Malaysius. You can read it here. They’ll be posting a really fun interview soon in which I interview myself from both my Nigerian and American identities. Check out the site–there are some creative interviews from great poets and authors.

Fascinating thoughts on how the web and HTML5 reflect our culture

The New Yorker has a great piece by Paul Ford on the emergence of HTML5 and standard-setting bodies for the web. You don’t have to understand the technical details, but these discussions will affect our experience of the internet in the decades to come:

A standard is a skewed mirror of culture, and HTML5 is no different. Here is what it tells us we care about: words, headlines, video, and audio. We like to organize things into lists, and we like to look at pictures. And we want everything to be capable of animation and interaction—every letter, every tag, every structural element. Every bit of HTML5 is open to interpretation by code, available to be twisted, rotated, and manipulated by its users.


Nigerians in Space nominated for National Book Critics Circle Award

I was thrilled to learn (by Twitter!) that Nigerians in Space has been nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award:

I also picked Olukotun’s novel as one of my favorite works of speculative fiction in 2014. In mid-90’s Houston, Dr. Wale Olufunmi is tasked with stealing a piece of the moon from the United States and returning it to Nigeria.

You can get the book here.

Celebration of Black Scientists: my visit to Austin’s George Washington Carver museum

About the Museum and Cultural Center

I travel to Austin at least once per year to visit with family. This time, besides scarfing down world-class barbecue and Tex-Mex food, I wanted to learn more about the African-American community. I had a radio interview with Kazi.fm to discuss by book Nigerians in Space and the gracious host of the show, Hopeton Hay, recommended that I visit the George Washington Carver museum.

Carver Display

This display of George Washington Carver was located in the main atrium. A text panel explained his achievements: scientist, professor, and inventor. Carver was born into slavery in 1864 in Missouri. After slavery was abolished, his perseverance in the face of racism and poverty enabled him to become a professor at Iowa State before leaving his post to work under Booker T. Washington (no relation) at the renowned Tuskegee Institute, a university devoted to uplifting blacks. The display case held some instruments from his lab—many of them custom made because he had little funding—as well a "pet corn snake" preserved in formaldehyde, which apparently slithered around his lab.
Even though there is scant information about Carver throughout the museum, you can sense his immense intellect and devotion to mentoring others. Among other achievements, he completely revamped the cotton industry by recommending that farmers replenish the soil with other plants, such as peanuts. And when they expressed doubts about the value of peanuts, he developed several hundred innovative uses for the plant, many of which are in use today.

Mae Jemison

The most interesting part of the museum was actually a gallery meant for children. But since there were no children in the museum, I wandered in. (More on this later.) This graphic explained the achievements of Mae Jemison, a medical doctor who became the first African-American woman in space. She entered Stanford at the young age of 16 and graduated with dual degrees in chemical engineering and African-American history.
A NASA photo of Jemison while she was in space on a joint research mission with Japan.

Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan was an extraordinary inventor who invented traffic signals—later developed into the stoplight—and the modern day gas mask. Interestingly, Morgan demonstrated the effectiveness of his gas mask by rescuing workers trapped underground after a tunnel explosion under Lake Erie.

Why the Museum Matters

I learned a lot from my visit to the George Washington Carver museum. In reality, it seems to be used more as a cultural center than as a museum—there is an auditorium and several modular spaces. But I can't stress the importance of learning about these African-American scientists enough. Some people are pioneers, but many are not and like to see what others have achieved before striking out. I think I'm probably in the latter category—I like to learn from the other choices that people have made. This means that I rarely experience the elation of true discovery like a pioneer, but I do get to try out some really cool things while avoiding pitfalls.

I won't sugar coat this—the museum definitely could use your support. The displays were not all working properly and it was not even possible to buy anything from the gift shop. The best thing to do is probably just visit the museum itself. But if you can give more, then you should. It could create the next George Washington Carver or Mae Jemison, or just instill a young mind with extraordinary belief.