Tochi Onyebuchi on Writing the Newest Chapter of Captain America
This Week on the Book Dreams Podcast
Is it possible for one person to write both award-winning literary speculative fiction and Marvel’s newest “Captain America” series and also be a former civil rights lawyer, a film school graduate, and be less than 35 years old? If the person in question is author Tochi Onyebuchi, the answer is yes.
In this episode, Book Dreams cohosts Julie and Eve talk with Tochi about his new novel, Goliath, a sweeping science fiction epic set in a post-apocalyptic America only 30 years from today. They also talk about Tochi’s other new big project: in April, Marvel Comics is debuting a new “Captain America” series, written by Tochi, that stars Sam Wilson as the first Black Captain America. In this wide ranging interview, Julie, Eve, and Tochi discuss everything from how he interwove themes of race, class, gentrification, climate change, and allyship in Goliath to what it was like for Tochi to go from being a Marvel fan to a Marvel author. Tochi describes, too, the array of themes that he is exploring with this new “Captain America” series: “If Captain America is a mimesis or even a synecdoche of America, then… what is it gonna look like if Captain America, as embodied in Sam Wilson, is enlisted in an effort at regime change? … What is that going to mean for Captain America, as is the subtitle of the book, ‘a symbol of truth’?”
From the episode:
Tochi Oynebuchi: I think one of the most exciting aspects of writing Sam Wilson as Captain America is that we have barely touched the surface of him interacting in this capacity with the rest of the Marvel Universe. We have no idea what his relations with other heroes, or at least who have traditionally been heroes, might be. We don’t know what his relationship with other villains, or who we traditionally thought of as villains, might be. We haven’t seen Sam interact as leader of the Avengers, like in so many of these situations. And that to me means that it’s so, so, so ripe for storytelling potential.
You know, in college I was a poli sci major with a focus on international relations, and so I was always fascinated by the world outside the borders of the United States. And it never left. So, I watch a lot of foreign films, I watch a lot of foreign TV shows, and I’m just really fascinated by America’s interaction with the world outside of America.
And if Captain America is in some ways like a mimesis or even like a synecdoche of America, or a representation of America, then what does it mean to represent America in these foreign places? Especially when America’s foreign policy has been, in the past and historically, characterized as subversive, has been characterized as destructive? What is it gonna look like if Captain America, as embodied in Sam Wilson, is enlisted in an effort at regime change? What is that gonna mean for Sam? How is he going to react to that? What is that going to mean for Captain America, as is the subtitle of the book, a symbol of truth?
I’m just so excited to dig into that, and it’s to Marvel’s extraordinary credit that they have basically let me operate with no guardrails whatsoever.
Tochi Onyebuchi is the author of the new novel Goliath, which is a New York Times Editor’s Choice pick and the most anticipated pick for USA Today, Bustle, Buzzfeed, Goodreads, and Nerdist. He is also the author of the “Beasts Made of Night” series, “The War Girls” series, Marvel’s “Black Panther Legends” limited series, and Marvel’s upcoming “Captain America: Symbol of Truth” series. His first novel for adults, Riot Baby, was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and NAACP Image awards, and winner of the New England Book Award for Fiction, the Ignite Award for Best Novella, and the World Fantasy Award.
Book Dreams is a podcast for everyone who loves books and misses English class. Co-hosted by Julie Sternberg and Eve Yohalem, Book Dreams releases new episodes every Thursday. Each episode explores book-related topics you can’t stop thinking about—whether you know it yet or not.