Networking is Maurice Broaddus’ superpower.
The author of sci-fi and fantasy novels is a frequent guest of honor at fan conventions throughout the United States. In his hometown of Indianapolis, Broaddus hosts an annual gathering known as Mo*Con—named for himself and designed to bring artists of national stature to meet local artists in an informal setting.
The 2023 edition of Mo*Con is scheduled for May 5-6 at the AMP food hall at 16 Tech Innovation District, 1220 Waterway Blvd. Editors from Fiyah Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction will travel to Indianapolis to participate. Admission is free with advance registration.
Broaddus describes the event as a way to “pay forward” connections he’s made since he collected an honorable mention Isaac Asimov Award in a 1996 short story contest sponsored by Dell Magazines.
“Building social capital in these places is like stockpiling money,” he said. “What good is it going to do me? But sharing it with my friends and bringing it back here to the community, that’s joy for me.”
This year’s Mo*Con attendees are sure to discuss the latest career news for Broaddus, who was hired by Marvel Comics and publisher Smart Pop to write “Black Panther: T’Challa Declassified.”
The book, scheduled to publish in January, is part of a series in which the backstories of fictional superheroes are told in new formats. The first book in the series, “Iron Man: Tony Stark Declassified,” will arrive in stores in November.
Broaddus said his depiction of T’Challa, king of Wakanda, is based on examples of “found media” he’s written in the form of newspaper articles, interview transcripts and declassified reports of espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D.
As the collector of 20,000 comic books, many purchased at bygone west-side locations of Comic Carnival and Comics Unlimited, Broaddus is familiar with T’Challa lore dating to the mid-1960s.
“I live and breathe this stuff,” he said.
The Black Panther assignment is a high-profile addition to the author’s resume, which includes an Indiana Authors Award for 2019 novel “Pimp My Airship” and AMC Networks purchasing adaptation rights for 2020 novella “Sorcerers.”
But Broaddus said he didn’t get there by himself.
“Any amount of success I’ve had has always been because of relationships I have or people that I’ve networked with,” he said.
During the pandemic days of social distancing, Broaddus tweeted that his front porch would serve as his new coffee shop. The idea, he said, was, “Here’s where I’m going to do my writing. My neighbors will be my regulars.”
He didn’t necessarily expect a follow-up text from poet and spoken-word artist Manon Voice.
“She asks, ‘Is the coffee shop open?’ ‘Yeah, come through.’ We hang out,” Broaddus said. “[Poet] Januarie York reaches out, ‘Is the coffee shop open? I’d like to hang out.’”
Voice, a recent recipient of an Indy Arts Council Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship, said she initially met Broaddus when he attended an Art & Soul performance in which she appeared on a program organized by classical pianist Joshua Thompson.
Broaddus “said he was inspired by the piece,” Voice said. “Then he wrote an essay about it.”
The resulting essay, “The Migration Suite: A Study in C Sharp Minor,” was published in a 2019 issue of Uncanny magazine.
Regarding the pandemic-era visit to the author’s front porch, Voice said she and Broaddus “talked about work and talked about what it meant to be a creative in this city.”
Voice said she appreciates Broaddus’ willingness to be a mentor.
“He’s a community builder,” she said. “He is someone who creates connections, who is very interested in collaboration and seeing how people can work together. He embodies the value that we are stronger together.”
Broaddus, a Northwest High School and IUPUI graduate, recalled one more unconventional practice from the era of pandemic lockdown. He participated in online videoconferences with fellow writers, but conversations weren’t an objective.
“I would have Zooms with other writers,” he said. “It was, ‘Hey, we’re going to sit in this Zoom space. We don’t even have to talk to each other. Let’s just do our writing together, to support one another during this time.’ Writing can be solitary, but it doesn’t have to be solitary.”
Community activist and photographer Keith “Wildstyle” Paschall said Broaddus makes it a point to elevate the work of others.
Paschall said his first paid gig as a journalist was thanks to a Broaddus recommendation to nonpartisan think tank New America. Paschall’s 2020 report, “Indiana Avenue: The Ethnic Cleansing of Black Indianapolis,” was published at New America’s website.
“I would guess there’s a lot of artists and creatives, especially writers and poets, who can say great things happened for them in their careers because Maurice opened his mouth and plugged them for something,” Paschall said.
The AMP at 16 Tech setting for Mo*Con is a favorite spot for Broaddus, who celebrated the publication of his 2022 novel “Sweep of Stars” at the food hall.
Paschall described the event as the opposite of a “normal, boring book launch.”
With creative direction by poet York, the “Sweep of Stars” rollout featured music, visual art and a fashion show.
Planning the event led to a comedic exchange between Broaddus and the book’s publisher, Tor Books.
“I asked, ‘How many models and dancers are typically at a book launch party?’ They replied, ‘Maurice, what are you doing over there?’ ‘Never mind, we’ll figure it out.’”
“Sweep of Stars,” the first book in a futuristic trilogy that takes place on Earth, Mars and Saturn’s Titan moon, was inspired by work Broaddus does as a consultant at the Kheprw Institute, an Indianapolis not-for-profit that mentors youth while focusing on social and economic equity.
A formal networking structure at Kheprw (pronounced “kepra” and inspired by letters associated with the depiction of scarab beetles in Egyptian hieroglyphics) is Cafe Creative, a weekly gathering of artists.
Broaddus said the idea for the exuberant book launch originated when he asked fellow Cafe Creative attendees for ideas for doing something more than sitting at a table with a stack of books.
“Something good doesn’t truly happen to me unless I’ve been able to share it with my people,” he said.
A city dreaming
Since the Kheprw Institute acquired 17 acres of land near the intersection of South Meridian Street and East Troy Avenue last fall, Cafe Creative meetings have convened at the venue known as Octavia’s Visionary Campus. The name pays tribute to iconic sci-fi author Octavia Butler.
Imhotep Adisa, who co-founded Kheprw with Paulette Fair and Pambana Uishi, said Broaddus is skilled at weaving true-life situations into his fictional stories.
“One of the things Maurice does well is to take what is and create possibilities,” Adisa said. “He has an ability to study and observe what’s taking place in the Kheprw space and then craft stories to share with others about possibilities.”
In his official role as Afrofuturist at Kheprw, Broaddus works to envision a better tomorrow.
“I think the challenge that Black people in general are impacted by is white supremacy,” Adisa said. “Too often, our stories are reactions to our experiences under the white supremacy rubric. Maurice has attempted to take that experience and step into, ‘What is possible to create that’s not grounded in a reaction to our experiences related to white supremacy?’”
Following “Sweep of Stars,” a novel titled “Breath of Oblivion” is scheduled for release in 2024. The final book in the trilogy will be “A City Dreaming.” All three titles are borrowed from lines in a 1921 Langston Hughes poem titled “Stars.”
The trilogy is billed as “Astra Black,” a riff on a 1973 album titled “Astro Black” by experimental musician Sun Ra.
Broaddus said “Breath of Oblivion” will focus on life in a utopian culture and what happens when characters leave that setting.
In day-to-day life, the author said, it’s a challenge to be optimistic.
“But I have to live in a space of optimism,” Broaddus said. “I tell people, ‘I live in the space of future hope.’ That’s what helps me get up in the morning. ‘Can I leave the world a better place? Can we work toward a more egalitarian future?’”
Adisa, 65, is more than a decade older than 52-year-old Broaddus.
“Maurice is like a younger brother to me,” Adisa said. “Our job as older folks in his community is to say, ‘Look, man, this place you find yourself isn’t new. It’s important. Do what you need to do.’ Our job is to keep him balanced in the midst of this celebrity status he finds himself [in] at the moment.”
Broaddus said he remains grounded by making sure his work revolves around his family.
His wife, Sally, has the role of business manager. His sons, 21-year-old Reese and 20-year-old Malcolm, serve as personal assistants when Broaddus travels to fan conventions.
“I just alternate which son goes out with me,” he said.
Broaddus said his convention contracts include a personal assistant provision to cover his sons.
“It’s great father-son time,” he said. “They are in charge of my schedule.”
Beyond sci-fi, fantasy and superhero writing, Broaddus branched out to teen fiction by writing the 2019 book “The Usual Suspects” and 2022’s “Unfadeable.” Published by HarperCollins, the books feature adolescents solving mysteries and uncovering corruption.
Broaddus said “The Usual Suspects” and “Unfadeable” combine to be one of three things that impress students at The Oaks Academy Middle School, 1301 E. 16th St., where he works as an educator.
The other two: his work as a consultant on 2016 video game “Watch Dogs 2” and his contribution to a past Black Panther project. Broaddus wrote an essay for the 2021 anthology “Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda,” placing him in the company of authors such as Nikki Giovanni and Sheree Renee Thomas.
When entering Broaddus’ workspace dominated by Black Panther collectibles and student-made tributes to T’Challa, Oaks Academy youngsters have been known to say, “Well, we’re going to Wakanda now.”
Considering Broaddus and his affection for community, it’s not surprising to learn that his Black Panther “Declassified” book won’t be a one-man show.
“T’Challa is mysterious,” Broaddus said. “He’s mostly a myth. What does that look like for the lives around him? What does that myth leave in its wake? That’s what I wanted to examine.”•