Black Steel, From Fringe to Center: A Critical Ethnography of Afrofuturist Literacy Practices on the Rust Belt
Stephanie Toliver

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Primary Discipline

Literacy and/or English/Language Education
For more than half a century, researchers, policy makers, and practitioners have dedicated extensive time and resources to addressing Black literacy failure in the United States. Still, as educational stakeholders attempt to address the literacy needs of Black youth, they often fail to consider that Black students are not failures; instead, institutions of education are failing the literacies of Black students. This project aims to challenge deficit views that have thus far positioned Black literacies as failing by exploring the assets of Black literacy practice. Explicitly, utilizing critical ethnographic methods undergirded by a theoretical framework comprised of Community Cultural Wealth and Afrofuturism, this project aims to (1) identify and classify the Afrofuturist literacy practices in which Black people engage; (2) explore how Black people use Afrofuturist literacies to build community and challenge antiblackness; and (3)investigate how Black people's Afrofuturist literacies align with or differ from the literacy practices often honored in schools. As a one-size-fits-all approach has historically failed to address Black youth?s literacy needs, this research offers educational stakeholders additional ways to challenge antiblack literacy policies and practices, uplift the community cultural wealth Black youth bring to school, and reject the positioning of Black youth as literacy failures.
About Stephanie Toliver
Stephanie R. Toliver is an incoming Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Informed by her love of science fiction and fantasy texts as well as her experience as a 9th and 10th grade English teacher, Toliver?s scholarship centers the freedom dreams of Black youth and honors the historical legacy that Black imaginations have had and will have on activism and social change. Specifically, her research centers three, interrelated areas: (1) the examination of how Black youth engage in the reading and writing of speculative fiction to discuss and challenge their experiences with social injustice; (2) the consideration of how intersecting oppressions infiltrate the field of education and how educators must use their imaginations to dream of ways to challenge injustice in schools; and (3) the demonstration of how Black people use speculative storytelling to metaphorically describe modern and historical antiblackness and to dream of worlds and futures in which Black people are free from the burdens of societal injustice. She is the author of Recovering Black Storytelling in Qualitative Research: Endarkened Storywork, and her academic work has been published in several journals, including Equity, Excellence, & Education; Journal of Literacy Research; and Research in the Teaching of English. Her public scholarship has been featured on LitHub, Huffpost, and the Horn Book.

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