ORLANDO, Fla. – On June 19, 2019, Central Florida author Agnes Gomillion was relaxing in her hotel room after her book release party for ‘The Record Keeper.‘ When she logged onto Twitter, she had a private message.
“I said out loud, ‘oh great, Wayne Brady likes my book.' And my husband said, ‘Wait, Wayne Brady, Wayne Brady?' And so I enlarged his Twitter picture and I saw that it was in fact the guy I’d been watching on television is ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’ since high school. As a black man, as a father, as a human, he deeply appreciated my book. So that was literally seven or eight hours within the book coming out so he read it really quickly and apparently just loved it.”
News 6 Anchor Julie Broughton chatted with Brady over Zoom about why he felt compelled to reach out to Gomillion, hours after ‘The Record Keeper’ was released.
“As a black kid growing up in Tangelo Park in the ’70s and ’80s, we weren’t taught to dream that certain things, even in sci-fi could be our spaces as well. Those are thought of traditionally as white spaces. Being able to read a book written by someone who looks like me, who comes from a place like me, who thinks like me, and creates this world and shows that yes, in a post-apocalyptic future, guess what? There can be black people. There can be a protagonist of color. It touched me so much because it’s not only good for me, that little kid reading books he wasn’t represented in, but for my daughter and my grand kids,” Brady said.
After that initial Twitter exchange, Brady and Gomillion developed a close friendship, eventually meeting in person when Brady performed in Orlando last year.
“There was a sense of connection there that I just can’t describe. When you find a like mind, a kindred spirit, you immediately know and that was a great night,” Brady said.
Now Brady says the two plan to partner to bring ‘The Record Keeper’ to the screen, either in the form of a movie or a series.
“The plan is still to come up with a world where we can tell certain stories and that’s the part I’m very excited about,” Brady said.
The Record Keeper follows a young woman named Arika, who Gomillion says appeared to her in a dream.
“I do not mean Arika the character, but Arika the soul. The unsung soul, the ancestor,” Gomillion said.
Gomillion originally began the story as a period piece.
“I knew she was a slave, so I thought it was going to be an antebellum story. Her voice, her fierceness, her strength, her simmering anger forced me to create a world for her,” Gomillion explained.
And that led Gomillion to Afro-futurism, which she describes as a multi-disciplinary artistic movement, mixing the black aesthetic with any manner of unreality. The Record Keeper is set after World War III.
“It’s about a young woman who frees her people from slavery in the post-apocalyptic South, and African American people are once again in the deep south. Only instead of physical bondage, the Kongos, they are enslaved mentally. Arika’s task is to free her people, but first, she has to convince them that they’re even enslaved,” Gomillion added.
Gomillion says throughout the book, she layers the past with the present.
“Part of the awesomeness of Afro-futurism is it doesn’t pull the punch of history. It allows you to read and see some of the dark stuff, but it does it in a way that’s palatable,” Gomillion said.
Through Arika’s journey to free her people, she’s forced to confront what she’s been taught about her nation’s history, something Brady says is relevant to our world today.
“If we don’t know about Black Wall Street in Tulsa. If we don’t know about Rosewood. If we don’t know about the amazing works of certain black authors and inventors,” Brady said “If you know, you are empowered. If you are empowered you can make moves. You are not left in a place of ignorance idle.”
Brady describes The Record Keeper as “empathy through fiction.”
“Also, getting a chance to look at a world where they talk about racism and they talk about the remaining country that’s structured where the black people are doing this work, and Latin people are doing this work,” Brady said. “Sometimes it’s easier for people to learn about social constructs through fiction instead of having it pushed in their face in the news. So I think it’s very important to read this just as a work of art but also as a work of art that basically teaches you how things were slash are, but through such a great world-building tool”
Gomillion says she views Afro-futurism as a tool of emancipation.
“It uses science fiction to express history. It uses science fiction to express interesting ideas,” Gomillion said. “We have yet to fully mine the gems of black history and incorporate them into our society. I see Afro-futurism in the slave songs, the work songs they used to sing to get through their day. These songs that talked about freedom and escaping and they would do that while they worked so that they could live. So that they could be there the next day for their children.”
The sequel to ‘The Record Keeper’ comes out on June 19, 2021.
Gomillion is also working on a children’s book. To learn more about The Record Keeper, you can visit Gomillion’s website here or connect with her on Facebook.