Author Q&A with Nisi Shawl

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Stunning cover art by Likhain

Today, I’m excited to welcome SFF writer, reviewer and editor and Mother of Invention contributor Nisi Shawl  to the blog. I got to ask her some questions about her work, the anthology and diversity in SFF, check out the Q&A below! Make sure to follow her on twitter twitter

Mother of Invention is a Twelfth Planet Press anthology edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts. It is a “speculative fiction anthology of diverse, challenging stories about gender and artificial intelligence.” Find out more here. Mother of Invention is out now as print and e-book!


Q & A with Nisi Shawl


WOCreads:  What books did you grow up reading?

Nisi Shawl: I read skiffy from the get-go! I proudly wear my Space Cat t-shirt; Space Cat starred in a series of chapter books about a human astronaut whose pet accompanied him to the Moon, Mars, Venus, etc. Great fun. There were also a bunch more fantasy and sf juveniles I read, including the works of Edward Eager and E. Nesbit, Mary Norton, Eleanor Cameron (The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet), Carol Kendall, Leonard Wibberley, so on, so forth. When I was in fifth grade I convinced the librarians at Kalamazoo’s main library to let me read in the adult section, so I was able to crush out on Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Clifford Simak, J.G. Ballard, and others. My parents had a copy of Thomas Pynchon’s V. in their bed’s headboard bookshelf, so I read that too, around then. Not saying I understood it, though—I kept looking for the dirty parts.

My grandfather had a ton of Tarzan books, and I consumed those quickly and indiscriminately.

Not one writer of color. Thems were the times. I was born in 1955.


WOCreads: Steampunk can be subversive, but often seems to celebrate empire uncritically. In your novel Everfair, you explore an alternate history of Belgium’s colonization of the Congo. What are some other SFF tropes or subgenres you’d like to take on?

Nisi Shawl: I’m really tired of the deal where one special, special person saves the world. I look to take on and diminish the hold of individualism wherever it rears its singular head.


WOCreads: You wrote Writing the Other, co-authored with Cynthia Ward, and also give workshops on how to write marginalized characters outside of one’s own lived experience. How do you find things have progressed in the years since (thinking of sensitivity readers and such)?

Nisi Shawl: Things are progressing nicely! There’s pushback, of course, but I love how writers feel validated in their questions about what they do and the ways their work affects readers. I love how we’re seeking each other’s help in creating a welcoming and inclusive imaginative environment. I love how critical thinking has opened up people’s minds to new possibilities, new procedures. New worlds.


WOCreads: In your contribution “Living Proof,” you explore the concept of motherhood in relation to Artificial Intelligence. What made you want to explore that angle? Do you have a favorite AI?

Nisi Shawl: For years now, we’ve been hearing that AIs are going to create versions of themselves that will supersede human understanding. I wanted to look at that through the lens of human reproduction and mothering. Parenting includes the realization that your offspring are going to outlive you, going to voyage beyond the world you know. It seemed this would have to be true in the case of machine intelligence as well—that they’d have to deal with that same lovely hopeful paradox of initiating their own obsolescence.

My favorite AI is the house in Susan Palwick’s novel Shelter. I have hugely romantic feels for that character. Palwick has told me she modeled it on Mr. Rogers. What’s that say about me?


WOCreads: What are you working on now? Anything in particular we should look out for?

Nisi Shawl: Ah! I answered this recently for someone else, and went on and on and on for maybe half the interview. Because I am in the midst of so much: editing an anthology (New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color), revising a Middle Grade historical fantasy about an African American girl who sees ghosts through her great-aunt’s eyeglasses (Speculation), writing a sequel to Everfair (Kinning)—teaching, giving speeches, appearing on panels–just Google me, and you’re sure to find out about something I’ve forgotten to mention.

WOCreads: That sounds amazing! Thanks so much for answering my questions.


about the author nisi shawl


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