By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, September 27 at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café, the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series skirted the haunting season of Hallowe’en, presenting fantasy writers N.K. Jemisin and Kai Ashante Wilson.
The event opened as usual with a welcome from producer/executive curator Jim Freund, longtime host of WBAI-FM’s Hour of the Wolf radio program on sf and fantasy (the show broadcasts and streams every Wednesday night/Thursday morning from 1:30-3:00 am and worldwide at wbai.org, and for a time afterwards may be heard on-demand as well as an RSS feed for podcasts), and a tongue-in-cheek caution that we were on Livestream (video and audio). Admission to the readings are always free, but, to fund the Series (which pays to rent its current space), the suggested donation (currently $7) may be raised; crowdfunding plans are in the thinking stage.
He then announced upcoming readings: November 1st (All Saints’ Day – not All Souls’ Day) will be the inaugural Margot Adler Memorial Reading; on November 15th, readers will be Kij Johnson and Sonya Taaffe; and Monday, December 12th, will be the traditional Family Night with Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman. Looking ahead to 2017, take note that April 1st will be Samuel R. Delany’s 75th birthday.
The first reader, Kai Ashante Wilson, is a rising star of fantastic fiction, the author of the stories “Super Bass” (pronounced like the musical instrument, not the fish), “The Devil in America” (nominated for both the World Fantasy and Nebula Awards) and “Kaiju maximus®,” the novellas The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps and A Taste of Honey. His offering was a selection from his novelette, “Légendaire,” which appeared in the anthology, Stories for Chip (which celebrates the legacy of the aforementioned science fiction grandmaster Samuel R. Delany). Kai Ashante Wilson lives in New York City. Dedicated to Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, and subsequently Prince, the fable, set in a sort of fantasy New Orleans, concerns a small boy whose prodigious dancing has attracted the attention of the local witches, or racosi (spelling uncertain). One counsels him to “get in some trouble” because the best dancers all have broken hearts. The imagery was beautiful.
During the break, a raffle was held, the prizes a copy of “The Devil in America” and what Freund described as the Kai Ashante Wilson Chapstick, and access at the $50 level to N.K. Jemisin’s Pantheon blog, Epiphany 2.0, along with a print out of part of her blog.
The evening’s second reader, N.K. (the “N” stands for Nora) Jemisin, has been nominated multiple times for the Hugo, the Nebula and the World Fantasy Awards; shortlisted for the Crawford, the Gemmell Morningstar and the Tiptree Awards. In addition, she has won a Locus Award for Best First Novel as well as the Romantic Times’ Reviewer’s Choice Award, and, last month, won the Best Novel Hugo for The Fifth Season. (She is, noted Freund, the first black writer to win the Hugo Award in that category, Delany and Octavia Butler having received it in other categories.) Seven of her novels, a novella and a short story collection are out now from Orbit Books (the most recent is The Obelisk Gate, a follow-up to The Fifth Season and the second book in the Broken Earth Trilogy). Besides all that, she is the New York Times’ science fiction reviewer.
She shared “Red Dirt Witch,” a story that is not finished (this was its second draft), though it has already been sold, and that she is “not entirely happy with.” In Deep South Alabama in the still-segregated early ’60s, a poverty-stricken black herbalist is confronted both in this world and in dreams by a White Lady (the capitals soon became clear), a Celtic fae who steals (and taps) children of Power, and wants her newly adolescent daughter. In return, she offers an unsavory deal, that one life for the family’s prosperity and safety. (The Civil Rights movement would involve great struggle and lead to triumphant progress.) By audience demand, Jemisin read to the story’s (as it stood) conclusion.
In a Q&A, a woman asked “How are you not happy with that?” Another even said that she cried. Jemisin was “not sure” about why, and what was off. (The first draft was longer.) In response to another question, Jemisin revealed that it was based in part on her father’s side of the family; he was from the named town outside Birmingham, that her great-grandmother made a living healing and working magic for people, and that her grandmother was named Pauline, like the daughter in the story. (Perhaps the deeply personal connection to the story is why she was dissatisfied?) Wilson reported that he has other stories in that universe, and was urged to write a full novel. A photo session followed.
As customary at these Readings, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered giveaway books, and, for food and beverages, the Café was a few steps away.
The capacity crowd of about at least 70 included Melissa C. Beckman, Richard Bowes, Catelynn Cunningham, Lynn Cohen Koehler, Barbara Krasnoff, Matt Kressel, John Kwok, Mark Richards and Terence Taylor, the Series’ Technical Director, plus a cheering section of members of the Altered Fluid writing group and a brief walk-in from WBAI’s Max Schmid. Schmoozing and more partaking of the Café’s wares ensued.