A true utopia: An interview with N. K. Jemisin
(From the Paris Review. Link to the complete interview is given below)
N. K. Jemisin is the author of nine books—a duology, two trilogies, and a short story collection. The last of those, How Long ‘til Black Future Month?, is her most recent. Not only is she the only writer to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel, one of the highest awards in science fiction and fantasy, three years in a row (for all three groundbreaking books of the Broken Earth series), but she is also the first black person to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel ever. Speculative fiction is about imagining futures, but those futures are only as revolutionary as the minds of those who create them. We are lucky to have Jemisin’s revolutionary imagination to expand our own.
How Long ‘til Black Future Month? is a collection of twenty-two stories written over the course of fifteen years. Each story contains a world that you never want to leave, whether it’s to stay close to Franca while she cooks meals in the kitchen of an inn or to walk alongside Jessaline while she undertakes a covert mission to save her people. Jemisin’s characters usually don’t live in a utopia, but they are fighters—for better futures, for better lives, for their fellow kind.
In 2016, the New York Times referred to Ursula K. Le Guin as America’s greatest living science-fiction writer. Though Jemisin’s books have only been in circulation for eight years, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that she could one day be the greatest living science-fiction writer for a new generation. She may already be.
A few days before Thanksgiving, Jemisin and I spoke by phone about utopia, justice, sitting with damage, and more.
In the introduction to How Long ‘til Black Future Month?, you write that short stories presented a way for you to work out techniques and consider perspectives without the commitment of a novel. What else do short stories offer you that the novel doesn’t?
Really, that’s the main thing. You’re still putting a pretty hefty mental commitment into making a short story. Even though it’s relatively brief, you still have to come up with a world that’s coherent. I find short stories almost as difficult to write as novels, it’s just less time-consuming. Short stories are hard for me. That’s why the collection is something like fifteen years worth of short stories. They asked me to write several new ones for the collection and I was just like, Not likely to happen. In fact, I can really only write them when I’m between novels because they take away from whatever energy I’m trying to pour into a novel.