Pen’s Pals: Writing Sci-Fi in South Africa

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Anwar Bey in Eswatini/ aka Swaziland.
Anwar Bey in Eswatini/ aka Swaziland. (Dumani Khuzwayo)

After growing up in Southern California, Anwar Bey spent his formative young adult years in San Francisco. He moved to the Bay Area to live out his dream of creating video games. Then in 2021, after spending a decade in Northern California, he moved to Johannesburg, South Africa. That’s where he’s found the clarity to write about the future.

Bey is the author of a series of sci-fi stories titled The Book of Woldu. It’s an exploration of love, family and intergalactic time travel from the perspective of an East African family.

An image of Anwar Bey's personal Black superhero, SpaceBEY
An illustration of Anwar Bey’s personal Black superhero, SpaceBEY (Sean Usyk)

Bey says his time spent traveling the continent, talking to people and experiencing life from a new perspective has allowed him to pen these stories and further develop his multimedia platform, PLASMAWorlds. 

When asked why it’s important to tell stories about Black futures, he jokingly responds, “Because we’re out here.” He follows up by saying, “… we’re going to exist in the future just as powerfully as we exist in the present and so that’s why I’m creating this work to inspire.”

Reflecting on what he’d tell someone about what he’s learned from his travels, Bey says, “There’s love out there, and it’s just waiting for you to come and receive it.”

Anwar Bey sitting in the lotus position with his arms up while posing in front of a waterfall in South Africa.
Anwar Bey sitting in front of a waterfall in South Africa. (Dumani Khuzwayo)



Read the transcript

Below are lightly edited excerpts from my conversation with Anwar Bey

HARSHAW: What inspired your trip?

BEY: I came out to South Africa in 2016. My friend Zim used to run this company that she founded called Travel Noire. It was an on-site travel group experience and I signed up. 

I went to Cape Town and I had a good time with the group, but when I came to Johannesburg, that’s when it really hit me that like, oh, there’s like magic here in the form of just seeing and being within an endless sea of African people that are artists, that are entrepreneurs, that are celebrating success and struggle and just evolving. It was very welcoming and I never felt as connected to any place. That trip just really solidified that the continent of Africa, as a whole, is really a place that was for me. 

HARSHAW: How do you even go about creating these worlds and scenarios? How do you even make that up? 

 BEY: I’ve been working as a professional video game developer, focused on creating 3D characters for games and animation for the past like 15 plus years, so I’m just really deep into this kind of entertainment, science fiction stories, cinematic visuals. I think it’s a mix of that and my travels. Through my travels I see the breadth of humanity. I see humanity’s highs and I see humanity’s lows, and I see the in-betweens. 

HARSHAW: If you were to send a letter to back home, what message would you share with people?

 BEY: I think that for the people that are considered Black and struggle, it’s because home is on the continent. It’s the place where you will be surrounded by people that look to you in the form of interest and intrigue, with care and love and with gentle touch. I would really invite you to come and visit. Load your mental with the understanding that there’s a safe space for you in this world and you should go.

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