But they are just two examples of a growing number of Black writers who are finding platforms to tell their own stories of the fantastic and the future.
For Raymond, writing is a form of escapism. While the science fiction and fantasy genres can include werewolves and witches in a fantastical setting, they also often grapple with real-world problems like censorship, feminism, racism and climate change.
With undergraduate and graduate degrees in history, Raymond believes in studying the past in order to learn more about the future.
An avid reader from a young age, Raymond published her first story at just 12 years old. But growing up, she didn't notice the race of the books' authors. She was desperate for characters who looked like her, though, and if a character was described as even slightly tan, she imagined they were Black. Her favorite genres of contemporary romance, science fiction and fantasy, were, for the most part, dominated by white authors who often wrote from a white lens.
One of Raymond's favorite authors, Beverly Jenkins, who writes romance and historic novels, included Black characters who weren't just slaves. It was revolutionary for Raymond, who was eager to read romance stories in which Black women were desired, not fetishized.
Now, as a writer herself, Raymond explores topics like infertility and queerness in her works.
"I write about the things Black woman face, but also the simple life aspects of life for Black people," Raymond said. In one of her stories, she describes a Black character rolling her hair into a bonnet before going to sleep at night.
"The reason why I focus on speculative fiction or horror, science fiction and fantasy is because I am always trying to chase the question: How can we envision a future that is more inclusive, more diverse and where Black people can live their fullest lives?"
It's not easy navigating the publishing world as a Black woman, though, Raymond said.
It often feels like an uphill climb.
"The publishing industry can sometimes exploit your Blackness, and you feel like you have to just to get your foot in the door," she said.
That's why she founded Aurelio Leo.As a small press, publishing five to 10 books a year, Raymond said she feels under-estimated and is inundated with assumptions that her press is inferior, that the works she publishes are lesser quality.
"You often hear black writers say there's not much room for blackness in publishing," said Ekpeki Oghenechovwe, a Nigerian writer and co-editor of the Dominion Anthology with Raymond. "It's worse for Africans writing from continents away ... Normally black voices are side-lined, unrelatable. African voices even more."
Raymond solicited Oghenechovwe for his work after publishing one of his essays in Aurelio Leo's literary magazine. Since then, the flood-gates have opened with requests for more writing, Oghenechovwe said. And it matters that Aurelio Leo is Black-owned, the Nigerian writer added, because Raymond cares and values his work.
From an ocean away, Raymond is empowering writers, and forming a bridge between African and African American writers who want to write about the Black experience.
"It feels liberating," Oghenechovwe said. "I don't have to wait to not be rejected by a foreign magazine that may think our prose and phrases are awkward. Or our names are strange. (Aurelio Leo) is a safe space that cocoons blackness and Africans and allows it to shine its brightest amongst other worlds of its own kind and be appreciated to the fullest."
Though production manpower is limited at Aurelio Leo, which Raymond operates out of her Louisville home, with visibility, the publishing house could grow.
And that requires people to be more open-minded, and to diversify their bookshelves, the Nigerian writer said.
"Be open to purchasing and reading outside your comfort zone. Buy black, read black. Nominate black literature and art for awards too," Oghenechovwe said. "That way, you can (understand) more and rid the world of a hopelessly lopsided way of looking at issues that doesn't solve many problems."
Story by Savannah Eadens
Savannah Eadens is a Culture & Diversity reporter for The Courier Journal. Reach Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org, 502-381-9498 or on Twitter at @savannaheadens. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/subscribe.
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