Rebecca Roanhorse

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Rebecca Roanhorse
Rebecca Roanhorse 2019.jpg
Rebecca Parish[1]

March 14, 1971
science fiction writer
Spouse(s)Michael Roanhorse
AwardsJohn W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, 2018
Hugo Award for Best Short Story, 2018
Nebula Award for Best Short Story, 2017[3]

Rebecca Roanhorse (born March 14, 1971)[4] is an American science fiction and fantasy writer from New Mexico. She has written short stories and science fiction novels featuring Navajo characters.[5] Her work has received Hugo and Nebula awards, among others.

Background and family[edit]

Roanhorse was born Rebecca Parish[1] in Conway, Arkansas in 1971.[2] Raised in northern Texas, she has said that “being a black and Native kid in Fort Worth in the ’70s and ’80s was pretty limiting“; thus, she turned to reading and writing, especially science fiction, as a form of escape. Her father was an economics professor, and her mother was a high school English teacher who encouraged Rebecca’s early attempts at writing stories.[6]

She was adopted by white parents; from her birth certificate, she learned that she is "half-Black and half–Spanish Indian". She reunited with her birth mother later in life, though they rarely speak. Roanhorse has said that she is of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and African American descent, though she is not an enrolled tribal member.[7] Members of the Ohkay Owingeh community have disputed this, saying she has no connection to their community.[8]

Roanhorse graduated from Yale University and later earned her JD degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law, specializing in Federal Indian Law and lived for several years in the Navajo Nation, where she clerked at the Navajo Supreme Court before working as an attorney.[7] She currently lives in New Mexico with her husband, who is Navajo,[9] and their daughter.

Written works[edit]

Roanhorse told The New York Times that she initially worked on “Tolkien knockoffs about white farm boys going on journeys”, because she figured that is what readers wanted.[10]

On August 19, 2020, Roanhorse was announced as a contributing writer to Marvel Comics' Marvel's Voices: Indigenous Voices #1 anthology, which released in November 2020. She wrote a story about Echo, joined by Weshoyot Alvitre on art.[11]


The Sixth World series

Between Earth and Sky Series

Short stories and essays[edit]

  • "Native in Space" in Invisible 3, edited by Jim Hines and Mary Anne Mohanraj (June 27, 2017)
  • "Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™" in Apex Magazine (August 8, 2017)[12]
  • "Postcards from the Apocalypse" in Uncanny Magazine (January/February 2018)[13]
  • "Harvest" in New Suns, edited by Nisi Shawl (March 12, 2019)[14]


In 2018 Roanhorse received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her short story "Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™" (Apex Magazine 2017) won two major awards: the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Short Story and the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Short Story. The story also earned her nominations for the 2018 Locus Award for Best Short Story, the 2018 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the 2018 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story.[15]

Her first novel, Trail of Lightning, is an "apocalyptic adventure" set in Dinétah, formerly the Navajo reservation in the Southwestern United States, with mostly Navajo characters. The novel received significant critical acclaim. Kirkus Reviews described the book as a "sharp, wonderfully dreamy, action-driven novel,"[16] while The Verge praised the book's representation of Native cultures, saying it "takes readers along for a fun ride."[17] It went on to win the 2019 Locus Award for Best First Novel,[18] as well as receive nominations for the 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novel,[19] the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Novel,[20] and the 2019 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.[21]

However, it has also been criticized by some Navajo/Diné and other Native authors, scholars, and activists, who have argued that, due to a lack of cultural connection, it misrepresents Navajo teachings and spirituality, disrespects Navajo sensibilities, and harms Navajo culture.[8][22] A group of Navajo writers and cultural workers condemned Trail of Lightning as an inaccurate cultural appropriation that uses an at-times mocking and derisive tone.[23] For example, they criticized the hero's use of bullets filled with corn pollen to slay the monster, which they viewed as a violent, disrespectful misuse of sacred ceremonial traditions.[7] When asked in a Reddit AMA about including Navajo cultural aspects into her works, Roanhorse said her goal was "accuracy and respect" and gave examples of what she fictionalized and what she considered off-limits.[24] "I think a lot of Native characters that we see are stuck in the past. So it was important for me Native American readers and non-Native American readers that we're alive and we're thriving in our cultures", she said in 2018.[9] Native scholar Debbie Reese initially praised Trail of Lightning but upon learning that Roanhorse was not an enrolled tribal member, retracted the review and criticized Roanhorse for sharing ideas outside the culture and misusing sacred stories.[7] Some critics argue that because the Indigenous community that Roanhorse has claimed does not claim her, this makes her non-Indigenous;[8] others do not question her Black Indigenous heritage and have expressed concern that claims about her identity are either racist or a distraction from discussions of her work's content.[7] Others have also discussed anti-Blackness within Indigenous communities and how this may impact critiques of Roanhorse.[25] At some point in 2018, when the complaints of cultural appropriation surfaced, references to the Ohkay Owingeh were removed from her official website;[8] Roanhorse believes her mother’s family descended from Ohkay Owingeh people but is “trying to be more careful" about how she discusses it.[7]


  1. ^ a b Agoyo, Acee (24 June 2020). "'The Elizabeth Warren of the sci-fi set': Author faces criticism for repeated use of tribal traditions". Indianz. Retrieved 17 June 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Rebecca Roanhorse: From Legend to Fantasy". Locus. 17 September 2018. Retrieved 17 June 2021.
  3. ^ Nebula Awards, 2017. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  4. ^ "Video unavailable".
  5. ^ Kerry Lengel, "Navajo legends come to life in Rebecca Roanhorse's debut novel 'Trail of Lightning'" AZ Central (June 22, 2018).
  6. ^ "Rebecca Roanhorse: From Legend to Fantasy". Locus Magazine. September 1, 2018. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d e f The Sci-Fi Author Reimagining Native History. Lila Shapiro, Vulture, October 20, 2020
  8. ^ a b c d "The Elizabeth Warren of the sci-fi set: Author faces criticism for repeated use of tribal traditions". June 24, 2020. Retrieved 26 Nov 2020.
  9. ^ a b Kyle Muzyka, "A correction of stereotypes: Rebecca Roanhorse's post-apocalyptic books draw on Indigenous experience" CBC Radio (November 16, 2018).
  10. ^ Alexandra Alter (2020-08-14). "'We've Already Survived an Apocalypse': Indigenous Writers Are Changing Sci-Fi". The New York Times. p. C1. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
  11. ^ "Marvel's Voices Expands with 'Marvel's Voices: Indigenous Voices' #1". Marvel Entertainment. Retrieved 2020-08-22.
  12. ^ "Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™". Apex Magazine. 2017-08-08. Retrieved 2019-04-06.
  13. ^ Roanhorse, Rebecca. "Postcards from the Apocalypse". Uncanny Magazine. Retrieved 2019-04-06.
  14. ^ Shawl, Nisi (2019-03-12). New Suns. ISBN 9781781085783.
  15. ^ "sfadb : Rebecca Roanhorse Awards". Retrieved 2018-12-20.
  16. ^ Trail of Lightning, Kirkus Reviews, June 18, 2018
  17. ^ Trail of Lightning is a breathtaking Native American urban fantasy adventure. The Verge, June 26, 2018
  18. ^ locusmag (2019-06-29). "2019 Locus Awards Winners". Locus Online. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  19. ^ "2019 Nebula Award Nominees". 20 February 2019. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  20. ^ "2019 Hugo Award Finalists Announced". 2 April 2019. Retrieved 2019-04-03.
  21. ^ "World Fantasy Awards℠ 2019 | World Fantasy Convention". Retrieved 2019-07-25.
  22. ^ Denetdale, Jennifer. "New novel twists Diné teachings, spirituality." Navajo Times: Window Rock, November 21, 2018, Opinion.
  23. ^ Saad Bee Hózhǫ́/Diné Writers' Association. "Trail of Lightning is an appropriation of Diné cultural beliefs." Indian Country Today. December 5, 2018. Opinion column, open letter
  24. ^ Rocket, Stubby the (2018-07-20). "Rebecca Roanhorse on Which Aspects of Diné Culture Are Featured in Trail of Lightning". Retrieved 2018-12-20.
  25. ^ Martin, Nick (3 July 2020). "Reckoning with Anti-Blackness in Indian Country". The New Republic.

External links[edit]