Robin McKinley Named the 39th SFWA Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA) today announced that Robin McKinley has been named the 39th Damon Knight Grand Master for her contributions to the literature of science fiction and fantasy.

The SFWA Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award recognizes “lifetime achievement in science fiction and/or fantasy.” It is named after author Damon Knight, SFWA’s founder and the organization’s 13th Grand Master. McKinley joins 38 writers who’ve been granted the title. 

Robin McKinley is one of the leading writers of the modern fairy-tale retelling genre, and indeed, her debut Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, could be said to have started the fairy-tale retelling trend. She is also celebrated for her original fantasy novels. Her 1982 book The Blue Sword received the Newbery Honor, and its 1984 prequel The Hero and the Crown was awarded the Newbery Medal. School Library Journal said, “Her work has impacted not just the Newbery canon, but the fantasy genre, too.” Her 1985 anthology Imaginary Lands won the World Fantasy Award, and Water, the 2002 collection she co-wrote with Peter Dickinson, was later nominated as well.  

Sunshine (2003), a dark sensual vampire fairy tale that Neil Gaiman called “A gripping, funny, page-turning, pretty much perfect work of magical literature,” won the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature and was named to NPR’s “Top 100 Science-Fiction Fantasy Books” list and Tor.com’s list of “Best SFF Novels of the Decade.” Spindle’s End, McKinley’s Sleeping Beauty retelling, was named to Time Magazine’s “100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time” in 2020.   

For her full bibliography, including multiple additional award nominations, and McKinley’s biography in her own words, please visit the SFWA website.

“I read McKinley’s Deerskin in my late-twenties and it turned my world upside-down,” says SFWA President Jeffe Kennedy. “From there I went on to read everything McKinley has written. With every story, each book, she haunts, delights, and enlightens me. Naming an author who’s been such a profound influence on me as both a reader and a writer as SFWA’s newest Grand Master is one of the greatest privileges of my life.” 

On being named a SFWA Grand Master, McKinley shares, “I am astonished, amazed, delighted & dumbfounded. Thank you very much.”

The 39th Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master award will be presented to McKinley at the 58th Nebula Awards ceremony, which will take place during the annual SFWA Nebula Conference. Further details about next year’s conference will be released soon.

ROBIN MCKINLEY BIOGRAPHY

Robin McKinley usually says she’s from Maine because it’s simpler. That’s where her family settled after her father retired from the Navy. When she left to go to college she was never, ever coming back. She spent years in Boston and New York City and remains very fond of both cities. But she found herself inexplicably buying a little house in Maine and came to the astonished conclusion that she was settling down there.

Which is when Peter Dickinson happened, because that’s how these things go. He had this complicated idea about a transatlantic commute, which she knew both of them would hate. She’d grown up moving on every year or two, she still knew how to do it. Also, she’d fallen in love with Peter’s big English garden almost as hard as she’d fallen in love with him. She said, I’ll emigrate, but you have to marry me. So that’s what they did. She planted a lot of roses in that garden.

She spent nearly 30 years in Hampshire, but after Peter died it felt less and less like home. When she’d emigrated, their area was still mostly countryside and little towns, but it had been relentlessly turning into a posh London suburb. She was moaning to one of her stepsons about this and he said, here’s a mad idea, why don’t you move up here?

Here being Scotland.

She now lives on the top of a hill overlooking a small Scottish town to the ocean. Thanks to the patient stepson and his wife, who hauled her up here and installed her in their spare room while she found and renovated her new house. This was rather more of an adventure than expected. The wiring, for example, dated from the 1950s. But when they tore out the 60-year-old fitted carpet, there was the original Victorian wood and tile flooring, and behind the plasterboard most of the original hearths were still there too. We will pass swiftly over the interesting experience of moving in before there was either a working kitchen or bathroom. Also the Flying Piano—I’m not joking about the hill—when all 96 tons of my gear came up from storage in Hampshire, and had to be hoicked in somehow.

And then, of course, there was COVID.

Scotland was one of my better ideas. And it’s funny, because it’s also a kind of full circle. My first bio for Greenwillow Books, years and years and years ago, said that I wanted to live in a castle in Scotland. I was very young then and didn’t realise how uncomfortable Scottish castles are. This is a standard double-fronted Scottish Victorian house and very comfortable indeed. Especially with Genghis, my German wire-haired pointer (GWHP) keeping my back warm as I sit at my computer. My last dog died during the first, worst lockdown and it was more awful than I can tell you. Approximately the last breed in the world that I wanted anything to do with was a GWHP—they’re 90-mph perpetual-motion machines and have an insane prey drive—but he needed a home and I needed a dog. Two years later and you diss GWHPs at your peril. Actually, not, I will fall down laughing and agree with whatever you say.

I’m also finally working again. I hope to have a final -ish draft of a new book somewhat thrashed into shape maybe by the end of this year? Maybe? I am wildly, inexpressibly glad to be writing again. And I’m planting roses in my new garden. But I still miss Peter.

[Based on a press release.]

5 thoughts on “Robin McKinley Named the 39th SFWA Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master

  1. This makes me happy. I reread a couple of her books every few years, books that were foundational for younger me.

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