When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what does it mean to you to be a black writer in this society?
I first realized I *could* be a writer in the 1970s, after reading a bunch of feminist SF. I realized if Suzy McKee Charnas got away with saying what she said, I had a chance to do something similar. What it means to me to be a black writer in this society is to have built-in “cognitive estrangement,” the quality that critic Darko Suvin thinks is essential to the imaginative genres.
Do you write full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?
I’m a college drop-out. I write and teach writing full time. I work in a bookstore one day a week.
How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your writing career?
I have no day job to speak of. I’m divorced, no children. My family know not to talk to me–or even talk around me–when I’m writing.
What genre(s) do you write in, is there a favorite and which do you feel have had the most important impact on the black community? Traditionally, in mainstream media, blacks have been vastly marginalized in Speculative Fiction and fiction in general, how do you see that changing and what impact will your work have on making those changes?
I write science fiction, fantasy, horror, and creative nonfiction. Which is the most influential? I have two words for you: Black Panther. In speculative fiction there has been a growing acceptance of the presence of African-descended writers and African-derived content since the 2009 online controversy known as “Racefail.” Con or Bust, the Carl Brandon Society, and many other factors have supporteded this growth.
Who are some of the major writing influences who most inspired you?
Samuel R. Delany, Gwyneth Jones, Colette, and Raymond Chandler.
Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what type?
I listen to instrumental music for the most part, and the sort of instrumental music depends on the sort of story I’m writing: harp music, ragtime, hard bop, electronica, so on, so forth.
How long does it usually take you to complete work on a book?
Years. Everfair took six. I write at a fairly slow pace.
How many books have you written?
Eight. Now ask me how many I’ve published (five).
As a black author, do you feel a personal responsibility to the black community to create content which not only entertains, but also uplifts and educates?
Nope. I feel a personal responsibility to my ancestors to create beauty.
Is there any particular book that you’ve written that you’re most passionate about?
I’m most passionate about The Blazing World, which my agent described as “weird.” It’s unpublished and unsold. It’s the first novel I ever wrote.
What legacy do you want your work to represent and resonate in the black community and the world?
I want my work to challenge and satisfy readers, to have the undeniable emotional impact of a piece of music. I want it to set a standard that others enjoy meeting in their own work.
What are some of the upcoming projects you’re working on?
I’m revising a Middle Grade historical fantasy about two young African American girls having adventures in 1962; it’s called Speculation, and it involves a pair of magic glasses. I’m also drafting a sequel to Everfair, my Nebula-nominated alternate history of a socialist Utopia in the 19th century Congo.
How can the readers learn more about your work and follow your career?
Nisi Shawl is an African American writer, editor, and journalist. They are best known for co-authoring Writing the Other: A Practical Approach, which is the go-to guide to representing difference in fiction. Their debut novel, Everfair, ws a Nebula finalist; their debut story collection, Filter House, is co-winner of the 2009 James Tiptree, Jr. Award. Most recently Shawl edited New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color. Among other books, they co-edited Stories for Chip, a tribute to Samuel R. Delany; and Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. They edit reviews for literary quarterly The Cascadia Subduction Zone, and have contributed to Ms. Magazine, The Washington Post, Tor.com, and other venues. Shawl has appeared as a guest lecturer at several educational institutions, including Duke University and Spelman College. They live in Seattle, near a large lake full of enticingly dangerous currents.