Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from ships because they knew Death was better than bondage. Erik Killmonger (The Black Panther)
Jesse J. Holland’s life plays out unlike the stories of Afrofuturism and fantasy he continues to pen. This brilliant, creative mind was nurtured and academically developed by loving parents and a supportive extended family, especially his very wise, determined, and hard-working paternal grandfather. His sister and he spent the summers (when not sneaking out somewhere else on campus) in the library at Ole Miss in Oxford from 8 to 12 while their mother attended her master’s degree classes. The degree was required if she was going to continue teaching. After sharing their brown paper bag lunches, the siblings would head for the outdoor swimming pool for their daily lessons.
The future novelist was just a little first grader when he sat in a movie theater mesmerized by what he was watching on the screen. It was the original “Star Wars” (1977), Episode 4 of the Luke Skywalker (hero) saga, A New Hope. The galaxy (America) is being ruled by a tyrant, Gallactic Empire (Trump), and opposed by the Rebel Alliance (freedom and democracy warriors). Forty-five years later and we barely escaped the second invasion of the Nazis led by a modern-day despot. Take me to Wakanda if nothing but in a dream!
As Holland grows through adolescence and into manhood, he discovers his destiny had probably taken a definitive turn sitting in his mother’s English classes away from tilling the soil for crops while driving a tractor on the family farm. He has been forever grateful for being able to have a choice. Almost 50 years after little man Holland met Skywalker and the Jedi, the award-winning author and journalist takes great pride in his numerous academic and literary achievements, one having taken a Black comic book hero and a blockbuster movie, and written two fantasy and science fiction novels where there is a Black hero, the powerful characters, colorful and rich costumes, stunning beauty of Black people, and the wealth and extraordinary technological intellect puts an unprecedented spin to the story.
In 2018, Marvel and Disney Studios produced, and distributed the movie “Black Panther” based on the Mavel comic superhero of the same name. Directors and co-writers Ryan Coogler and Joe Coleman. “Up until recently, Black characters have always been in the background; a sidekick or a white hero’s assistant. That was certainly not the case in the Panther script. The plot thickens: Thousands of years had passed when five African tribes went to war over a meteorite containing the metal vibranium. One warrior ingests a “Heart-shaped herb” affected by the metal and gains superhuman abilities becoming the first Black Panther. He unites all but the Jabari Tribe to form the nation of Wakanda. The nation advances technology with the use of vibranium and isolates themselves posing as a Third World country. T’Challa, magnificently played by the late Chadwick Boseman, is crowned king of Wakanda following his father’s death, but he is challenged by Killmonger who plans to abandon the country’s isolationist policies and begin a global revolution.
Black America had never seen anything like it. Many went back to see the media phenomenon a second time. Today, they cherish their personal CD of the movie that inspired and made them so very proud. Approximate box office revenue grossed $1.3 billion with a budget of only $200 million. The question as to whether whites and foreigners would pay to see a victorious black superhero and an all-star black cast in a science fiction tale of fantasy was quickly answered.”
In his first novel featuring Marvel’s comic book character, “Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?”, Holland retells the classic origin of T’Challa, the original Black Panther and updates it for a new generation, giving new fans and long-time die-hard aficionados a good platform and some inside information for the “Black Panther” movie from Marvel Studios. It was the third title in the Titan Books Marvel fiction reissue program featuring the superhero. The novel was recognized with a NAACP Image Award nomination for best fiction in 2019.
Holland’s second novel, “Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda” is a collection of short stories from highly acclaimed African American authors including L.L. McKinney, Sheree Renee Thomas, Tananayrive Due, and Christopher Chambers. Poet Nikki Giovanni’s “Immaculate Conception, a What If” is a coming-of-age reality plot which follows T’Challa (T.C.)’s journey. There are the American experiences he has before he finds out he is Wakandan royalty and the aspirations he has away from the throne. The novel is not solely built on the foundation of the 2018 film as it is written in prose and not in comics. There are no constraints of illustrations in a box. The authors have distinct writing styles based on their respective disciplines such as young adult fiction, poetry, blogging, and neuroscience embracing such themes as ancestry, family, and faith. The collection is dedicated to the late Chadwick Boseman who played Black Panther/King T’Challa. He died of colon cancer in 2020.
“There are so many great stories of Black Americans and their ancestry that have not been told,” Holland said. There’s never been access to the pipeline giving more truth and in depth meaning written by people who have lived what they write; story tellers who get a chance to disclose realities never told before from their perspective.”
The award-winning author and journalist now shares his love of journalism and writing through public speaking and teaching having served as the visiting Distinguished Professor of Ethics in journalism at the University of Arkansas in 2016. In addition, he also teaches journalism ethics at The School of Continuing Studies at Georgetown University and New York University in Washington, D.C. as well as creative non-fiction in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative non-fiction program at Goucher college in Towson, Maryland.
He is also host of the weekend edition of C-Span Washington Journal and was co-host of BBC World Service Radio’s ‘A Home for Black history, the 2016 audio documentary about the conception, constructure, and opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Holland graduated with a liberal arts degree from the University of Mississippi (Oxford), an emphasis in journalism and English. He would acknowledge the Klan mentality at the University when in 1962 James Meredith, the first African American admitted to the racially segregated academic institution, required federal intervention for the event to take place. Even after being shot by a white protestor, it was Meredith’s determination to put pressure on the then Kennedy administration to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Move forward 50 plus years and Congress has just taken a recess until after Labor Day. A stall tactic to keep from addressing the imperative passage of the John Robert Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2021. The late Georgia Congressman would have been so sad, and like so many of us simply wonder why??
As an accomplished novelist having also been trusted by Lucasfilm to chronicle the history of their newest black hero in ‘The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slavery in the White House’. The book was named the 2017 silver medal award winner in U.S. History for the Independent Publisher Book Awards and one of the top history books of 2016 by Smithonian.com. His first book was the now-classic ‘Black Men Built the Capitol: Discovering African American History In and Around Washington, D.C.’ He is currently serving as Distinguished Visiting scholar in Residence at the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress. He is a former Race and Ethnicity Writer for the Associated Press having been recognized as one of the few reporters to be credentialed to cover all three branches of American government during his career: the White House; the Supreme Court, and Congress.
The Holland family cotton farm in Holly Springs, Mississippi, has been a homestead since their first ancestor was freed from slavery. Jesse was born there but actually grew up in Orange Mound, near Memphis, Tennessee. The farm is still tended by his grandfather and his father who was also an educator. The land and the mind. Such treasures. He will be attending a Mississippi Book Festival in September, one of the few public appearances he will be making this year. What Holland often thinks about is how many inventions; millionaires; innovations; scientific breakthroughs America has denied itself due to fear, greed, and a malice evil of oppression even white America has no explanation for.
As the host of “Conversations with Al McFarlane” brings the show to a close, he would ask of his outstanding guest, “As a member of the generation of Black Afro Futurism, I wonder how what we do today will be a source or conduit from which we derive? Will our thoughts and genius be imprinted in that future? Black America is still marginalized, and I find that century old reality unacceptable. Your thinking and writing is encouraging. Thank you.”