Suzy McKee Charnas

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Suzy McKee Charnas
Charnas in 2006.
Charnas in 2006.
Born1939 (age 80–81)
New York City, United States
Genrescience fiction and fantasy
Notable worksThe Holdfast Chronicles
Notable awardsHugo Award, Nebula Award, James Tiptree Jr. Award, Gaylactic Spectrum Award, Aslan Award

Suzy McKee Charnas (born 22 October 1939) is an American novelist and short story writer, writing primarily in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. She has won several awards for her fiction, including the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and the James Tiptree Jr. Award. A selection of her short fiction was collected in Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms in 2004. The Holdfast Chronicles, a four-volume story written over the course of almost thirty years (the first installment, Walk to the End of the World was published in 1974, and the last installment, The Conqueror's Child was published in 1999) is considered to be her major accomplishment in writing. The series addresses the topics of feminist dystopia, separatist societies, war, and reintegration.[1] Another of her major works, The Vampire Tapestry, has been adapted (by Charnas herself) into a play called "Vampire Dreams".[2] She lives in New Mexico.


Suzy McKee Charnas was born in Manhattan to two professional artists. Her father was an illustrator for Wonder Books, a company that made picture books for children, and her mother was a textile designer.[3] Her parents divorced in her childhood. Charnas helped her mother raise one younger sister, who is six years younger than she is. Despite being from a low-income family, Charnas was able to pursue a prestigious education. She attended an arts high school in New York City and, influenced by her parents, even considered pursuing a career in the visual arts.[4] She received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College, where she majored in economics and history.[5] She continued her education at New York University, where she earned a master's degree in education. She has taught in Nigeria as a part of the Peace Corps.[5]

Influences and themes[edit]

Charnas' work focuses on the sociological and the anthropological—rather than exclusively the technological—dimensions of science fiction. Her background in history and economics, as well as her experiences in Nigeria, have had a profound impact on her work.[6] She had keenly explored the genres of Western, adventure, and science fiction in the books she had read earlier in her life, yet she realized that these books lacked strong female characters. She considers Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness to have been a major inspiration for the initiation of her writing career, as it was one of the first feminist novels she had encountered.[7] Despite this, she did not intend to write feminist literature.[8] Her work did not take a feminist slant until after the first draft of "Walk to the End of the World", which she had originally intended to be political satire.[9]


When Charnas tried to publish Motherlines, the second installment of the Holdfast Chronicles, she was met with some resistance. The company that had published Walk to the End of the World, Ballantine Books, rejected Motherlines because it was deemed inappropriate for what they considered to be their target science fiction audience: young boys.[10] This was because the book contains no male characters, and there are some controversial sexual relationships. Charnas tried to get the work published several times. It was generally rejected not for the quality of the story, but rather its controversial, even radical, themes. One editor even said that he could accept the work- and even that it would be very successful- if all the female characters were changed to men.[11] Charnas rejected this offer. The book was finally accepted after one year (which was a long time for science fiction in this era) by editor David G. Hartwell, who went on to publish several of Charnas' other works.[12][13]





  • Moonstone and Tiger-Eye (1992)
  • Music of the Night (2001) ebook
  • Stagestruck Vampires and Other Phantasms (2004, Tachyon Publications)


  • Strange Seas (2001) ebook
  • My Father's Ghost (2002)

Notable short stories[edit]

  • "Unicorn Tapestry" (1980) Winner of the 1980 Nebula Award for the best novella[19]
  • "Scorched Supper on New Niger" (1980)
  • "Listening to Brahms" (1988)
  • "Boobs" (1989) Winner of the 1990 Hugo Award for the best short story[20]
  • "Beauty and the Opera or the Phantom Beast" (1996)
  • "Peregrines" (2004)



  1. ^ Cavacanti 52
  2. ^ Gordon 458
  3. ^ Gordon 448
  4. ^ "Suzy McKee Charnas Interview, Part 1, from SnackReads" 2:16
  5. ^ a b Gordon 447
  6. ^ Gordon 449-51
  7. ^ "Suzy McKee Charnas Interview, Part 2, from SnackReads" 0:41
  8. ^ "Suzy McKee Charnas Interview, Part 2, from SnackReads" 1:17
  9. ^ "Suzy McKee Charnas Interview, Part 2, from SnackReads" 3:28
  10. ^ "Suzy McKee Charnas Interview, Part 2, from SnackReads" 15:29
  11. ^ "Suzy McKee Charnas Interview, Part 2, from SnackReads" 16:12
  12. ^ "Suzy McKee Charnas Interview, Part 2, from SnackReads" 16:33
  13. ^ "Suzy McKee Charnas Interview, Part 2, from SnackReads" 16:55
  14. ^ "Mythopoeic Fantasy Award". Mythopoeic Society. Archived from the original on 10 October 2014. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  15. ^ Charnas, Suzy McKee. "Awards". Archived from the original on 25 May 2011. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  16. ^ "2003 Gaylactic Spectrum Awards". Gaylactic Spectrum Award Foundation. 2008. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  17. ^ a b "James Tiptree, Jr. Award Retrospective Winners". James Tiptree Jr. Award. James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  18. ^ "James Tiptree, Jr. Award 1999 Winner". James Tiptree Jr. Award. James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  19. ^ Clute and Nicholls 1995, p. 208.
  20. ^ "1990 Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. World Science Fiction Society. Retrieved 21 March 2011.


  • Clute, John and Peter Nicholls. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1993 (2nd edition 1995). ISBN 0-312-13486-X.
  • Cavacanti Ildney. “The Writing of Utopia and the Feminist Critical Dystopia: Suzy McKee Charnas’s Holdfast Series.” In Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination. New York: Routledge, 2003.
  • Gordon, Joan, and Suzy McKee Charnas. “Closed Systems Kill: An Interview with Suzy McKee Charnas.” Science Fiction Studies 26, no. 3 (November 1, 1999): 447–468.
  • Suzy McKee Charnas Interview, Part 1, from SnackReads, 2013.
  • Suzy McKee Charnas Interview, Part 2, from SnackReads, 2013.
  • Mohr, Dunja M. Worlds Apart: Dualism and Transgression in Contemporary Female Dystopias. Jefferson, NC, McFarland, 2005.[extensive chapter on Holdfast series, exclusive interview on the Holdfast series]

External links[edit]