When N. K. Jemisin’s writings started getting nominated for Hugo and Nebula Awards circa 2010, she became one of the historically underrepresented black female speculative fiction authors singled out for verbal attack by a small cadre of World Science Fiction Society voters nostalgic for the days when only white male nominees were winning those prizes. Alleging a conspiracy to confer awards based on “affirmative action,” some disappointed alt-right prize-seekers tried for five years running to stack the Hugo ballot in favor of the militaristic space-opera style that they preferred. Their efforts backfired spectacularly, with “No Award” beating their nominees in nearly all categories; and the most overtly racist and misogynistic of their leaders had his WSFS membership revoked after calling Jemisin an “ignorant half-savage” on social media.
Jemisin’s revenge at the hands of more forward-thinking science fiction authors and editors must have been sweet: The Fifth Season, the first volume of her epic-scale Broken Earth trilogy, won the Best Novel Hugo in 2016. The second volume, The Obelisk Gate, took the award in 2017, as did the third volume, The Stone Sky, in 2018. It was the first and only time that an author has won the Best Novel award three years in a row, or for all the installments of a series. And those votes weren’t simply payback to some toxic reactionaries. The Stone Sky also copped a Nebula Award, widely regarded as the more “literary” annual high-profile science fiction prize (as opposed to the Hugos being seen as a popularity contest). Jemisin’s work is lauded by her peers at least as much for its elegant writing and powerful worldbuilding as for its thought-provoking treatment of politically and sociologically relevant issues such as genocide and climate change.
In her acceptance speech for her third Hugo, Jemisin said of the “naysayers” who “suggest that I do not belong on this stage, that people like me cannot possibly have earned such an honor, that when they win it it’s meritocracy but when we win it it’s ‘identity politics’ – I get to smile at those people, and lift a massive, shining, rocket-shaped middle finger [the Hugo trophy] in their direction.” But she also cited “the little voice inside me that constantly, still, whispers that I should just keep my head down and shut up and let the real writers talk.” That nagging symptom of “impostor syndrome” is an affliction shared by another multi-Hugo-winning author, Neil Gaiman, who will welcome Jemisin to the stage of the Sosnoff Theater in the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on the Bard College campus on Saturday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m.
This event marks a welcome resumption of the always-stimulating “In Conversation With” series that Gaiman began hosting when he joined the Bard arts faculty in 2014. For a while there was one each spring and fall semester, featuring such eminent artist guests as Laurie Anderson, Art Spiegelman, Armistead Maupin and Audrey Niffenegger and drawing attendees from far and wide. But sadly, for the past couple of years, the Conversations have been on hiatus. Gaiman has been spending most of his time in his native England, performing the all-consuming duties of showrunner on the Amazon Prime Video dramatization of Good Omens, the novel he and the late Terry Pratchett co-wrote in 1990 about a demon and an angel who join forces to avert the impending Apocalypse because they’ve grown fond of living among humans.
Good Omens is done now; it was well-received on both sides of the Pond, with the chemistry between David Tennant and Michael Sheen in the lead roles drawing especial praise. At this writing, Gaiman is in Australia where his wife, singer/songwriter/musician Amanda Palmer, is wrapping up a concert tour. He’ll soon be back at his home base in Woodstock, resuming his teaching responsibilities at Bard, and the Conversations are back on. Between the affable host and his stellar choice of guest, this live event promises fans of speculative fiction a most enjoyable evening of freewheeling talk. Jemisin has a brand-new novel, The City We Became, coming out in March, but she’ll be available to sign other works in the lobby following the program, courtesy of Oblong Books.
Tickets to “Neil Gaiman in Conversation with N. K. Jemisin” cost $25 general admission, $5 for Bard undergrads and can be obtained by calling the Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900 or visiting http://fishercenter.bard.edu. May 2 may seem a long way off, but this show should sell out quickly, so act now.
Neil Gaiman/N. K. Jemisin
Saturday, May 2, 7:30 p.m., $25/$5
Fisher Center for the Performing Arts
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson
(845) 758-7900, http://fishercenter.bard.edu