Janelle Monáe has never been one to stray from pushing the envelope. Her music often explores Afro-futurism, Black power and empowerment. Her newest venture is no different.

On April 19th, Monáe, in conjunction with co-authors Alaya Dawn Johnson, Danny Lore, Eve L. Ewing, Yohanca Delgado, and Sheree Renée Thomas, is releasing an anthology book—The Memory Librarian: and Other Stories of Dirty Computer—that crafts a universe that challenges the constraints of censorship, history and access to individualist thought.

EBONY sat down with the "Electric Lady" to discuss her new tome as well as discuss how we can curate a more inclusive future through our memories.

EBONY: You have become so well known for merging concepts of Afro-Futurism and a sense of consciousness into your music, various art forms and style. How did you come up with The Memory Librarian?

Janelle Monáe: The Memory Librarian is from the same soil as [my 2018 album] Dirty Computer. I always knew I had more to say and I knew that there were more characters to develop from the project. I also knew that we were going to be in the fight for censorship for a while. Look at what's going on in Florida and in Texas. They're trying to take out Critical Race Theory and not wanting to talk about being LGBTQ+ in schools, and really stripping people of their identities and knowledge of the past. Additionally, the pandemic was a huge part of me being able to have the mental space to do these sorts of thought experiments through storytelling. What if there was a woman who was in this kind of totalitarian world where they're trying to censor people's memories but she holds everybody's memories as a memory keeper? What is her life like? If she wants to fall in love, how can she do so when she knows everybody secrets? I then had another thought experiment where I was thinking further about the world of Dirty Computer. What if there was a room you found in your apartment that you didn't know existed and time stopped upon entering? How would you spend your time if it froze and you could do anything you wanted to do? Would you catch up on rest?

So, I knew I wanted to do something more innovative in the literary space. Because Dirty Computer was so much about community, it was important that I collaborated with artists and writers in the literary world. To be able to collaborate with these Black and Brown writers was such a dream because we were just sharpening each other swords during this entire process.

In The Memory Librarian, there is a layered concept of time standing still. As Black folks, our collective memory is fragmented due to different atrocities that our communities have faced over time, causing erasure. Can you share how a project like this speaks to rediscovering one's history by repairing those pieces of fragmented time, especially as we move forward in this digital landscape?

I think that our memories determine the quality of our life. It also helps us to imagine greater visions for ourselves. Our ancestors were often unable to recall memories of the past due to them being ripped away from their heritage. When history is erased, we don't get an opportunity to be better in the present and we don't get an opportunity to be better in the future. So it is truly through our memories that we are essentially judging the quality of our lives. My hope is that we can continue to have conversations that allow us to talk about the type of new memories we want to make. That's what I love about being a storyteller, a writer—being able to talk about Afro-futurism to Black people. That's what the concept is. We get to determine what our futures look like. So my hope is that it'll spark more conversations around how we can thrive in new ways.

The Memory Librarian: and Other Stories of Dirty Computer, $24, amazon.com. Image: courtesy of Harper Collins Publishing.

There's a huge push by certain government officials and certain factions of the population toward the censorship of thoughts and ideas. While embarking on this project, was there a sense of fear or apprehension to tell these stories while knowing that there's a movement of chaotic oppression happening in the world?

I think that whenever writers are using their imagination, speaking their truth and drawing from reality, it's a powerful thing. There's fantasy in this book along with fiction and sci-fi, but there's some substance of it that's super meta. The Memory Librarian stories ultimately center Black and Brown people in the midst of others trying to oppress and stop them from speaking truth to power. I hope this book serves as a reminder that throughout history, marginalized folks have always risen up. Because of that, I'm never afraid to piss off the bully or anybody who is seeking to strip us of our of our truth.

As we move to an increasingly more digital societal landscape with Web 3.0, NFTs, and the metaverse, what are your thoughts are about folks of color finding their place within this new digital experience?

Well, you know, I'm the Android so I understand all of this. When I came out with my alter-ego Cindi Mayweather and Metropolis, for my albums ArchAndroid and Electric Lady, respectively, I really understood elements of time travel, living in the future, virtual reality—all of that. I think that things are still being revealed in this space; however, people are moving with the digital landscape at an exponential rate now and it's a beautiful thing to watch. It can also be a very, uncomfortable thing to watch because you don't know the full scope of the internet or what our threshold is. What's the evil side of it? The beautiful side of it is that communities are forming and wanting to be involved and have visibility in this space. So, I'm still forming my thoughts about it. But just understand that I have always thought outside of Earth and always thought about world building and bringing communities into different portals of communication and the world.