Tag: Nick Mamatas

Recommended Short Books by Women

Yesterday I asked the internet for recommendations of short books written by women, with no criterion for what constituted “short.” Here’s what people offered. Books I’ve already read are in bold. (Recommenders are in parentheses.)

  • Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red. (Carmen Machado)
  • Willa Cather, A Lost Lady. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Willa Cather, My Antonia. (Sarah Boden)
  • Kate Chopin, The Awakening. (Rebecca Coffey, Krystal Rios)
  • Marguerite Duras, The Lover. (Diana Spechler, Josh Rhome)
  • George Eliot, Silas Marner. (Amy Parker)
  • Marian Engel, Bear. (Carmen Machado)
  • Louise Erdich, Love Medicine. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Elena Ferrante, Days of Abandonment. (Amy Parker)
  • Carolyn Forché, The Country Between Us. (Joseph Tomaras)
  • Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm. (Jed Hartman)
  • Carolyn Ives Gilman, Halfway Human. (Jeanne Griggs)
  • Nadine Gordimer, July’s People. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road. (Jed Hartman)
  • Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God. (Amy Parker)
  • Rachel Ingall, Mrs. Caliban. (Carmen Machado)
  • Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. (Rebecca Coffey, Amy Parker, Carmen Machado, Maureen McHugh)
  • Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived In The Castle. (Amy Parker, Maureen McHugh)
  • Tove Jansson, Tales from Moominvalley. (Jed Hartman)
  • Sesyle Joslin, The Spy Lady and the Muffin Man. (Jed Hartman)
  • Hitomi Kanehera, Snakes and Earrings. (Nick Mamatas)
  • Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy. (Valérie Savard)
  • Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs in Heaven. (Patrice Sarath)
  • Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees. (Patrice Sarath)
  • Nella Larson, Quicksand. (Alea Adigwame)
  • Ursula Le Guin, Fish Soup. (Jed Hartman)
  • Ursula Le Guin, Very Far From Anywhere Else. (Jed Hartman)
  • Tanith Lee, Don’t Bite the Sun. (@Rwenchette)
  • Doris Lessing, Memoirs of a Survivor. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Doris Lessing, The Fifth Child. (Amy Parker, Rebecca Coffey)
  • Denise Levertov, Collected Earlier Poems. (Joseph Tomaras)
  • Bertie MacAvoy, Tea with the Black Dragon. (Dana Huber)
  • Katherine Mansfield, At The Bay. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Katherine Mansfield, Prelude. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Patricia McKillip, Stepping from the Shadows. (Jed Hartman)
  • Jane Mendelsohn, I Was Amelia Earhart. (Stephanie Feldman)
  • Naomi Mitchison, Travel Light. (Jackie Monkiewicz)
  • Katherine Faw Morris, Young God. (Nick Mamatas)
  • Toni Morrison, Sula. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Jenny Offill, The Dept. of Speculation. (Josh Rhome)
  • Yoko Ogawa, Revenge. (Alexandra Geraets, Joseph Tomaras)
  • Sharon Olds, The Cold Cell. (Jed Hartman)
  • Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea. (Valérie Savard)
  • Joanna Russ, Picnic on Paradise. (Karen Meisner)
  • Joanna Russ, The Female Man. (Jed Hartman)
  • Ruth Sawyer, Roller Skates. (Jed Hartman)
  • Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. (Monica Byrne, Justin Cosner, Carmen Machado)
  • Cynthia Voigt, Dicey’s Song. (Jed Hartman)
  • Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome. (Amy Parker)
  • Kate Wilhelm, Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry. (Jed Hartman)
  • Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse. (Amy Parker)
  • Margarite Yourcenar, Coup d’Grace. (Maureen McHugh)

I already own a copy of the most recommended book, The Haunting of Hill House, so that’s in the stack (as are several others). I think the first new one of these I’ll add is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Changing the World Fantasy Award Trophy

The trophy for the World Fantasy Award is a bust of H. P. Lovecraft, a man who, it’s undeniable, was hugely influential on the body of fantastic literature. He was also an exceptionally hateful and unabashed racist. When Nnedi Okorafor won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2011, she wrote a thoughtful blog post about winning an award bearing the image of a man who, in life, would have detested her based on her skin. Since then, discussion of the propriety of having Lovecraft on the award statue has grown. Today Daniel José Older (who recently made a great video about why he doesn’t italicize Spanish words in his fiction) put up a Change.org petition to change the World Fantasy Award to a bust of Octavia Butler.

My initial response to this idea was excitement. Octavia Butler is among my favorite writers, and the author of my all-time favorite short story. She was also a woman of color who wrote about issues of race with as much nuance as anyone ever has. So with regard to addressing the things that make Lovecraft a troublesome figure to have on the statue, it’s hard to imagine anyone better. With regard to representing the fantasy genre, though, Butler is an odd choice. She almost never wrote it.

Butler published, by my count, 21 pieces of fiction during her life: 12 novels and 9 shorter works. Of those, there are only two that seem to me to be works of fantasy. Her short story “The Book of Martha” is clearly fantasy; the story is all about the titular character having a conversation with god about how to construct an utopia, given a Rawlsian veil of ignorance. The rest of her short works are all either science fiction or realism. Of her novels, the only one that is arguably fantasy is Kindred,1 in which the main character jumps through time between the 1970s and pre-Civil War United States, for no reason that is ever explained. (Daniel José Older obliquely references the book in his petition.) While this fantastic premise is perhaps enough to qualify it as a work fantasy, this book itself is far more concerned with investigating the social structures of slavery than it is with the fantastic element. The time travel, for all that it powers the plot, gets very little focus. And in terms of tropes and rhetorical structures, the novel has much more in common with historical fiction than it does fantasy. In bookstores I’ve seen it shelved in “literature” or “African American fiction” more often than I’ve seen it in “science fiction and fantasy.” So even if Kindred is fantasy, it’s not very representative, or in-genre influential fantasy, wonderful book though it is. And that still puts Butler’s fantasy output at less than 10% of her oeuvre.

If the choice is between Lovecraft and Butler for the World Fantasy Award, then obviously I’m on Team Butler. But if the choice instead is Lovecraft or Not Lovecraft, then I think I lean toward a different sort of Not Lovecraft: I’m on Team Nobody. Why does the award have to be a person? It isn’t named for a person, it’s named for a genre. No one–not Lovecraft, or Dunsany, or Tolkien–encapsulates an entire genre. I think I’m with Nick Mamatas, who proposed that the award be changed to something symbolic of fantasy. His suggestion was a chimera, which I like. In discussion on Twitter, Kurt Busiek spitballed the idea of a globe with fantastic maps, which could be nice too. The convention could have a design competition, like there is every year for the base of the Hugo award (the trophy for which, it’s worth noting, isn’t a bust of Hugo Gernsback). Doing so would undoubtedly produce a great, artistic design, and it would nicely unify a family of closely related awards: the Hugo is a rocket ship, the Nebula is astral bodies, and the World Fantasy Award would be… something fantastic.

  1. Fledgling has vampires in it, but treats them in a throughly science-fictional, biologically rigorous way. There’s nothing fantasy about it. 

Tweek in Review

I’ve started using IFTT to aggregate my favorite tweets to Evernote. Here are the things I favstarred this week.
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AboutSF: Videos from the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at KU

I’ve just discovered, via Nick Mamatas, the YouTube account AboutSF, which are all videos uploaded by the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas. Some of these, like the one embedded below, are excerpts from lectures given back when James Gunn was bringing science fiction authors to KU in the ’60s and ’70s. This is interesting for me personally, as my parents met at KU during this time and attended the Gunn-organized readings and lectures together. Here’s one of a bunch writers, including Harlan Ellison, Poul Anderson, John Brunner, Fred Pohl, and Isaac Asimov discussing the value of science fiction. I particularly like Anderson’s opening comments.

Preserved for Posterity

Presumably all in reference to this bit of idiocy, but that’s incidental.

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On Genre Writers and MFA Programs

I couldn’t attend ICFA this year, but I’ve been following along as best I can on social networks. Earlier today Nick Mamatas livetweeted a panel discussion on graduate school and job possibilities for writers with MFAs/PhDs. Apparently someone (or several someones) at this panel expressed an opinion that Nick summarized as “Genre writers seeking MFAs shouldn’t do only genre in samples or classes. Or try milder non-real not hardcore space opera.” I think that, in the absence of a discussion about why one is seeking an MFA in the first place, this advice is misguided.

If your only goal is to receive an MFA, and you either do not care about or consider it of secondary importance where you go and what kind of experience you have, then sure, you can probably maximize the statistical likelihood of MFA program X accepting you by leaning toward realism in your writing sample. But if what you want is to spend a few years working on your writing in the company of supportive teachers and receptive peers, then you do yourself a disservice by misrepresenting the kind of writing you plan to focus on. If hardcore space opera is what you want to write, finagling an acceptance to an MFA program where you will be told that exploding spaceships are a waste of the workshop’s time is a pyrrhic victory.

I applied to MFA programs with a portfolio that consisted entirely of genre fiction, and made it clear in my personal statement that I intended to continue perpetrating genre at any program that accepted me. My theory was that, as a person primarily interested in being a science fiction writer, I wanted to be rejected by any program with a culture unsupportive of that goal. I was rejected by 4/5 of the programs I applied to, but accepted by the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Iowa, I came to learn, is actively expanding the varieties of fiction they champion. I’m the only pure SF writer in my class, but this semester they have Kevin Brockmeier teaching Iowa’s first-ever graduate workshop specifically devoted to science fiction and fantasy. We are discussing stories by authors like Theodora Goss, Arthur C. Clarke, and J. G. Ballard, and everyone is trying their hands at some variety of fabulism. (And if Kevin hadn’t chosen to do a class on SF, the other visiting professor, Andrew Sean Greer, says he would have.) More personally, I was just awarded a fellowship for my second year, on the basis of the stories I wrote my first semester: one hard SF story, one fantasy story. I’m having a wonderful experience, and I feel valued both as a student and as part of a project to diversify my program’s literary culture. That’s a project I couldn’t have been selected for if I hadn’t signaled my writing intentions in my application.

So, to summarize, my advice for genre writers looking to get MFAs is this: if what you are looking for is a good experience, rather than just a degree, don’t try to juke the system. Write the kind of stories you want to write. Write them as well as you can. Then let the MFA faculties do their jobs and decide whether or not you are a good fit for their program. That way you can be confident that any program which accepts you is interested in supporting the kind of fiction you are passionate about.