N. K. Jemisin is a New York Times bestselling and Hugo Award-winning author, and a recipient of a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship.
N. K. Jemisin is the first author in the genre’s history to win three consecutive Best Novel Hugos, for her Broken Earth trilogy. Her most recent novel is the NYT-bestselling THE CITY WE BECAME. She is a 2020 MacArthur Fellow. She lives and writes in New York City.
N. K. Jemisin is the first author in the genre’s history to win three consecutive Best Novel Hugo Awards, for her Broken Earth trilogy. Her work has won the Nebula and Locus Awards, and she is a 2020 MacArthur Fellow. The first book in her current Great Cities trilogy, THE CITY WE BECAME, is a New York Times bestseller. Her speculative works range from fantasy to science fiction to the undefinable; her themes include resistance to oppression, the inseverability of the liminal, and the coolness of Stuff Blowing Up. She’s been an instructor for Clarion and Clarion West writing workshops. Among other critical work, she was formerly the science fiction and fantasy book reviewer at the New York Times. In her spare time she’s a gamer and gardener, responsible for saving the world from KING OZZYMANDIAS, her dangerously intelligent ginger cat, and his destructive sidekick, the Marvelous Master Magpie.
N. K. Jemisin was raised in Mobile, Alabama and New York City. Uprooted in two places, her childhood anchor was fiction; she spent hours at the local library, and “self published” her own handwritten books with cardboard covers and yarn binding.
Despite writing since childhood, she considered it to be just a hobby until her early thirties. After attending the Viable Paradise writing workshop, she began seeking publication in earnest. Although she acquired an agent in 2005, her first novel (THE KILLING MOON, eventually published in 2012) did not initially sell, as the genre at the time was significantly less welcoming to inclusive fantasy. Instead she rewrote from scratch an old “trunked” novel — which sold at six-figure auction to become THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS (2010) and its sequels. In 2016, her novel THE FIFTH SEASON (2015) won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, making Jemisin the first Black person to have won in this category. In 2017 she won again for THE OBELISK GATE (2016), and then a third time in 2018 for THE STONE SKY, making her the first author in genre history to have won the Best Novel Hugo three consecutive times. In all, her short fiction and novels have won Hugos, a Nebula, and two Locus Awards, and have been translated into more than 20 languages. Her current Great Cities trilogy is ongoing, beginning with the New York Times bestselling THE CITY WE BECAME. She is a 2020 recipient of the MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellowship.
Jemisin’s most frequent themes include resistance to oppression, the inseverability of the liminal, and the coolness of Stuff Blowing Up. She has been an advocate for the long tradition of science fiction and fantasy as political resistance, and previously championed genre as a New York Times Book reviewer. She lives in Brooklyn.
Where do you get your ideas?
They’re delivered in the morning mail. Support the US Postal Service!
So you’re Black! And a woman! In science fiction! What’s that about?
I understand why these questions are important. It is disheartening that people keep asking them, however, or some version of them. At this point, for me, these questions are a reflection the larger problem – that for those of us who are Other, we are constantly called upon to explain our existence. Therefore I ask that interviewers stop doing it, and think of something more interesting to ask.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Always. As a kid I devoured books at the library, and at home I would make my own handwritten books with cardboard covers and yarn binding. It took a while for me to decide to do it professionally, but I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember.
How did you become a writer?
Nobody bought the ones with cardboard covers, so I had to try something new.
Serious answer: I’ve been writing since the age of 8 or so, but only began seriously seeking publication in my late twenties and early thirties. I started with a writing workshop (Viable Paradise), and from there on I joined a writing group and wrote short stories to hone my craft and novels to tell the stories I wanted to tell. I sent the stories to magazines and the books to agents. Once I found the right agent for myself, we then worked together for several years before the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms sold. I kept a folder of rejections as motivation to keep going. I don’t know where that folder is anymore, which feels like as good a measure of success as anything else.
How do I become a writer?
Unfortunately there is no one way to answer this question. You become a writer by writing, and if that in itself makes you happy, you’ve succeeded already. To have a writing career means a lot of small-business management, market research, patience, and perseverance. The good news is that social media and the internet have made it much easier to do this work than it was when I started out. The bad news is, no one can give you the patience or the perseverance except yourself. It can be helpful to form a solid group of fellow writers seeking publication, either as general support or as a dedicated writing group — but in the end, it all comes down to you. Good luck.
How do you keep writing?
By not writing sometimes! Diligence is very important for a writer, especially a writer on contract. However, if that’s all you do, you will absolutely burn out, and recovery time for burnout is not quick. So, in order to keep writing, I travel, read, write “just for fun”/myself, and occasionally play Skyrim.
The New Yorker, 2020
Paris Review, 2018
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