Science fiction and fantasy author N.K. Jemisin has been busy lately.

Since releasing her best-selling, Hugo-winning “The Stone Sky” in 2017, she has edited “The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018” and released the short story collection “How Long ‘til Black Future Month?

That collection revisits many of the themes Jemisin has explored over the course of her more than 20-year career — and does so in a format that’s important to her: She began writing short stories as a way to tap into her creativity back when publishers didn’t know what to do with books like hers about black characters.

“The industry hasn’t changed that fast or that much,” Jemisin told The Washington Post. “This is one of the reasons, I guess, to be glad for the attention ... maybe my success can open more doors.”


She went on to say that her success was never what she “expected out of my writing career. I really just wanted to be able to pay the rent. And I would have been content to be able to pay the rent.”

Below, some other highlights from Jemisin’s interview with The Post:

On why she writes science fiction and fantasy: “Science fiction and fantasy has always had the potential to do a lot more than it has been doing.

The industry is still, on some level, catering to that core audience of fantasy readers in particular who don’t want to have the limits of their imagination pressed. They want comfort fiction. It’s going to reassure them endlessly that they are important, that they are the heroes ... everybody else wants that too, though. This is the thing that I’ve been trying to show people with the success of my work. Everybody else wants to be the hero, everybody else wants to be reassured that they are important, that their decisions matter, that their culture matters. It’s a giant untapped market.

Because when you are a genre that caters to a single demographic group on whom racism and sexism pivot — when you are giving people the power fantasies that they crave but their power fantasies depend on other people’s subjugation? No, it’s not going to be a good thing.”

On the cathartic elements of these stories: “At the end of the day I’m really just trying to tell a story that is entertaining. It’s just that what is entertaining these days is some dark [stuff]. I was not expecting [‘The Stone Sky’] to do as well as it did, partly because we are in the darkest timeline.

I remember the day after the presidential election everybody was just kind of sitting around numb. My Twitter feed sort of lit up with people who were like: Yeah, reading about the apocalypse is actually making you feel better right now. There’s a cathartic element to reading about people who’ve got it worse or people who are fighting back against things that seem overwhelming.”

On being a black writer: “Mostly what I’m trying to do is just get a particular story across. It’s just that I do default to making every single one of my characters a person of color. Because that’s what I want to see.

As a black writer I have a responsibility to try and create more space for black characters. I don’t always do so. I also want to retain the space to write whatever I want to write because there is always the danger of black authors being forced to write black characters and that literally has happened in some genres. And I refuse to allow that to happen to me.”

On writing with race in mind: “One thing that I find a little awkward is inserting descriptions of white people, because we’re all so used to white as the unmarked default — even I am used to that.

I don’t like using food metaphors [for people] because, as an activist (whose name I can’t remember) pointed out to me many years ago, many of the food metaphors are derived from the stuff that we were enslaved to ship and take care of. So she had coffee brown skin and brown sugar and all this other stuff. People died for that. [For white people] there is “peaches and cream” complexion and that’s about it. There’s not this subtle attempt to associate certain kinds of people with certain kinds of activities. White people’s range of activity is so wide that there is no set of words that naturally adheres to their descriptions.”


By N.K. Jemisin

Orbit. 416 pp. $26.

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