Nisi Shawl

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Nisi Shawl
Nisi Shawl.jpg
Kalamazoo, Michigan
Alma materResidential College, University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
GenreSpeculative fiction
Notable awards2008 James Tiptree, Jr. Award

Nisi Shawl (born 1955) is an African-American writer, editor, and journalist. She is best known as an author of science fiction and fantasy short stories[1] who writes and teaches about how fantastic fiction might reflect real-world diversity of gender, sexual orientation, race, colonialism, physical ability, age, and other sociocultural factors.[2]

Writing the Other, short stories, and awards/memberships[edit]

Shawl is the co-author (with Cynthia Ward) of Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction, a creative-writing handbook derived from the authors' workshop of the same name, in which participants explore techniques to help them write credible characters outside their own cultural experience.[3] Reviewer Genevieve Williams of speculative fiction magazine Strange Horizons summed up about this guidebook: "The practices advocated and concepts presented in Writing the Other may seem PC to some, but following them will help to ensure that an author gives more than lip service to diversity and is thoughtful about the creation and development of societies, cultures, and characters (which we all should be anyway). Much of what Shawl and Ward advocate is, quite simply, good practice: the avoidance of cliches, flat characters, unintended effects, and other hallmarks of lazy writing."[4]

Shawl's short stories have appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction, the Infinite Matrix, Strange Horizons, Semiotext(e) and numerous other magazines and anthologies.[1] Brian Charles Clark of the fiction review site, Curled Up With a Good Book, praised her debut collection, Filter House (2008) – which gathered 11 previously published and three original short fiction pieces[5] – saying that: "Shawl’s keen sense of justice and her adamant anti-colonialism always ride just beneath the surface of her stories. Never didactic, Shawl possesses the gift of a true storyteller: the ability to let the warp and weft of plot and character do her moral work for her."[6]

Shawl is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and a 1992 graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. She is a board member of Clarion West and one of the founders of the Carl Brandon Society. Her stories have been shortlisted for the Theodore Sturgeon Award, the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, and the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award, and Writing the Other received special mention for the James Tiptree Jr. Award.[7] In 2008, she won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award for Filter House,[8] which was also shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award.[9] In 2009 her novella Good Boy was additionally nominated for a World Fantasy Award.[10] Her 2016 novel Everfair was nominated for a Nebula Award.[11]


Shawl's first novel, Neo-Victorian, Belgian-Congo-set, steampunk story Everfair, was released in September 2016 by Tor Books, with a cover illustration by award-winning, Hong Kong artist Victo Ngai.[12]

Everfair is an alternate history of the African Congo, Europe, and the United States, during the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, where Shawl's science-fictional turning point is that "the native populations (of the Congo) had learned about steam technology a bit earlier."[12] Her novel imagines that British Fabian Socialists team up with African-American Christian missionaries to purchase land in the Congo Basin from Leopold II of Belgium, thus creating a speculative new nation in her version of history, where citizens could experiment with the freedoms they had lacked in their original homelands, as well as benefit from this key technology of the industrial revolution, that of steam engines.

"This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated," summarizes Forge Blog, in a "Sneak Peek" of the novel.[12] Its story presents multiple protagonists' perspectives, including "Africans, Europeans, East Asians, and African Americans in complex relationships with one another,[12]" utilizing Shawl's lifelong skills in "writing the other," especially multi-racial characters from marginalized populations.

In an early review for Goodreads, the speculative fiction and fantasy author, Fran Wilde, said of the novel:

With Everfair, Nisi Shawl not only redraws the steampunk map, she reworks history itself, revealing points at which change is entirely within our grasp. Within this sweeping narrative, Everfair's characters are beautifully drawn, yet treated with such a level gaze that one expects to find all of them in history books upon finishing the novel. Interlacing subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in hearts, minds, and communities against the background of the rubber trade, WWI, and King Leopold's reign, Shawl builds a fulcrum for change. In short, Everfair embodies wonder: both technologically, as is familiar to fans of the genre, and in the matters of possibility and hope. Nisi Shawl has breathed new life into the genre.[13]

Contributions to women's, multicultural, and global speculative fiction[edit]

In 2009, Shawl donated her archive to the department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University.[14]

In 2011, her longtime work in the women's speculative fiction was recognized, when Shawl was selected as Guest of Honor at WisCon 35.[15] In 2015, recognized as one of the "go to" teachers and mentors within the speculative fiction community on pedagogical issues of diversity, she served as guest speaker both in the "Black to the Future: An Imagination Incubator" ("Ferguson is the Future") symposium of multicultural speculative fiction artists, academics, and creative writers, at Princeton University (held on September 14, 2015)[16] and in the "Creating Futures Rooted in Wonder" symposium of fairy tale, science fiction, and indigenous storytellers and scholars, at the University of Hawai'i (held from September 16–19, 2015), where she performed in author readings with Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian, and other indigenous writers, as well as led creative writing workshops.[17]

Her novel Everfair joins with the growing movement of international speculative-fiction writers of color, including editorial efforts by Jaymee Goh of Malaysia and Joyce Chng of Singapore (author-anthologists behind the 2015 collection of Southeast Asian steampunk published in English, The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia[18]), to repurpose the science fiction trope of alternate history in critical ways that foreground issues of colonialism, globalization, and culture.

Afrofuturist and feminist sf anthologies[edit]

Shawl has edited several anthologies of speculative fiction, especially collections of Afrofuturist, feminist/LGBT, and African-American sf/fantasy short stories, including recent homages to pioneering black/queer sf novelists Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler: Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany (2015), co-edited with Bill Campbell,[19] and Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler (2015), co-edited by Rebecca J. Holden.[20] Shawl's anthology work has been part of her longtime participation within both the feminist and the African-American sf writing communities, evidenced in her editing of WisCon Chronicles Vol. 5: Writing and Racial Identity (2011, generated from America's most venerable feminist sf convention);[21] as well as in her stories' publication within women sf writers' literary experiments, such as Talking Back: Epistolary Fantasies (2006, by feminist sf publisher Aqueduct Press)[22] and within African-American speculative fiction collections, notably the groundbreaking[23] Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (2000).[24]

Personal life and influences[edit]

Shawl was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She started attending the Residential College of the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts in 1971 at the age of 16, but did not graduate.[25] She lives in Seattle, Washington, where she reviews books for the Seattle Times as a freelance contributor.[1][26][27] She identifies as bisexual.[28]

Among those who have influenced her work, she has named writers Colette, Monique Wittig, and Raymond Chandler; as well as speculative fiction authors Gwyneth Jones, Suzy McKee Charnas, Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany, Howard Waldrop, and Eileen Gunn.[29][30]

Select bibliography[edit]


  • "I Was a Teenage Genetic Engineer," Semiotext(e) SF, New York, NY: Columbia University, April 1989,
  • "The Rainses'," Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, April 1995 (appeared in FILTER HOUSE)
  • "The Pragmatical Princess," Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, January 1999 (appeared in FILTER HOUSE)
  • "At the Huts of Ajala," Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, New York, : Warner Books, July 2000 (appeared in FILTER HOUSE)
  • "Shiomah's Land," Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, March 2001 (appeared in FILTER HOUSE)
  • "Vapors," Wet: More Aqua Erotica, Mary Anne Mohanraj (editor), Three Rivers Press, NY, NY.
  • "The Beads of Ku," Rosebud Magazine, Issue 23, April 2002 (appeared in FILTER HOUSE)
  • "Momi Watsu," Strange Horizons (website) August 2003 (appeared in FILTER HOUSE)
  • "Deep End," So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan, 2004, Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, BC, Canada. (appeared in FILTER HOUSE)
  • "Maggies," Dark Matter: Reading the Bones, edited by Sheree R. Thomas, 2004, NY: Warner Books. (appeared in FILTER HOUSE)
  • "Matched," The Infinite Matrix (excerpt from the novel The Blazing World, co-sponsored by the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs), May 2005.
  • "Wallamelon," Aeon Speculative Fiction #3, May 2005 (website) (appeared in FILTER HOUSE)
  • "Cruel Sistah," Asimov's SF Magazine, October/November 2005; Year's Best Fantasy & Horror #19, New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, August 2006.
  • "But She's Only a Dream," Trabuco Road (website) March 2007 (appeared in FILTER HOUSE)
  • "Little Horses" Detroit Noir, Akashic Books, November 2007 (appeared in FILTER HOUSE)
  • Everfair, Tor, 2016


  • Writing the Other: A Practical Guide, with co-author Cynthia Ward, Aqueduct Press, Seattle, WA, December 2005.
  • "To Jack Kerouac, to Make Much of Space and Time," Talking Back: Epistolary Fantasies, L. Timmel Duchamp (editor), Aqueduct Press, Seattle, WA, March 2006.


  1. ^ a b c "Nisi Shawl: Home Page". SFWA. Archived from the original on January 5, 2012.
  2. ^ "Transracial Writing for the Sincere - SFWA". SFWA. 2009-12-04. Retrieved 2016-05-14.
  3. ^ "Writing The Other - Official Website". Retrieved 2016-05-14.
  4. ^ "Strange Horizons Reviews: Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, reviewed by Genevieve Williams". Archived from the original on 2016-05-30. Retrieved 2016-05-14.
  5. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Filter House by Nisi Shawl". Retrieved 2016-05-14.
  6. ^ Schulz-Elsing, Sharon E. "Fantasy book review: Nisi Shawl's *Filter House: Stories*". Retrieved 2016-05-14.
  7. ^ James Tiptree, Jr: 2005. [1]. Retrieved 2009-4-27.
  8. ^ Tiptree Winners Announced. [2]. Retrieved 2009-4-27.
  9. ^ "Nisi Shawl: Filter House". Retrieved 2016-05-14.
  10. ^ World Fantasy Convention (2010). "Award Winners and Nominees". Archived from the original on December 1, 2010. Retrieved 4 Feb 2011.
  11. ^ "SFWA Announces 2016 Nebula, Norton, and Bradbury Award Nominees! - The Nebula Awards". The Nebula Awards. 2017-02-20. Retrieved 2017-03-06.
  12. ^ a b c d "Sneak Peek: Everfair by Nisi Shawl | Tor/Forge Blog". Retrieved 2016-06-04.
  13. ^ "Everfair". Goodreads. Retrieved 2016-06-04.
  14. ^ Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) Collection Archived June 3, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Northern Illinois University
  15. ^ WisCon main page accessed May 27, 2011
  16. ^ "Black to the Future". Black to the Future. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  17. ^ "UH Manoa Campus Events Calendar". Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  18. ^ "The Sea Is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia". Retrieved 2016-05-14.
  19. ^ "Discover Delight, Ingenuity and Joy with Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany!". Retrieved 2016-04-22.
  20. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler by Edited by Rebecca J. Holden and Nisi Shawl". Retrieved 2016-04-22.
  21. ^ "The Wiscon Chronicles Volume 5". Goodreads. Retrieved 2016-04-22.
  22. ^, -. "Talking Back by L Timmel Duchamp". Retrieved 2016-04-22.
  23. ^ "The SF Site Featured Review: Dark Matter". Retrieved 2016-04-22.
  24. ^ Thomas, Sheree Renée, ed. (2000-07-18). Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (1St ed.). Aspect - Warner Books. ISBN 9780446525831.
  25. ^ Autobiography
  26. ^ Reflection's Edge
  27. ^ Articles by Nisi Shawl, Seattle Times
  28. ^ Nisi Shawl [@NisiShawl] (October 2, 2013). "@legacywalk2012 FWIW, I'm queer (bisexual). So I mean it when I say wouldn't see it as a problem if Octavia had been a lesbian. She wasn't" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  29. ^ "Nisi Shawl". Retrieved 2016-06-07.
  30. ^ "Strange Horizons Articles: An Interview with Nisi Shawl, by JoSelle Vanderhooft". Archived from the original on 2016-06-17. Retrieved 2016-06-07.

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