N.K. Jemisin

Nora Keita (N.K.) Jemisin

Born in 1972, Nora Keita (N.K.) Jemisin’s childhood was spent splitting time between Brooklyn, where her father, a painter, lived, and Alabama, where her mother moved following her parents’ divorce at age five. The gaps — geographic and cultural — could not have been wider, a ‘schizoid experience,’ Jemisin tells the New Yorker’s Raffi Khatchadourian, unified only by an enduring fascination with science fiction. Indeed, Jemisin characterizes her younger self as a ‘creepy, obsessed space child.’ Several decades later — after receiving a degree in psychology from Tulane University, and a master’s of education from the University of Maryland, becoming a full-time career counselor while writing in her spare time — that ‘space child’ would become a three-time Hugo winner, witnessing a meteoric rise to fame in the science fiction community. 

Jemisin’s breakthrough was not instant, however, nor was it easy. In her 30s, she gained attention with her first novel, as well as a series of short stories, though only after struggling to make inroads toward a paid career in a sci-fi publishing industry notoriously inhospitable to women in general, much less women of color. Yet by 2012, with the release of her first novel, Killing Moon, she was earning comparisons to figures such as Neil Gaiman and Tolkien. She’s since gone on to receive wide-ranging critical acclaim, as well as popular name recognition, even receiving a shoutout in Childish Gambino’s newest album, 3.15.20. 

Fantasy has remained Jemisin’s preferred genre, and her recent work — the Broken Earth trilogy, in particular — has explored speculative, apocalyptic themes that, while taking place in other, intricately developed worlds, speak most directly to our own. As Jemisin herself notes, in an interview with Jessica Hurley, the themes explored in her books — involving brutal oppression, systems of subordination, and the recurring experience of “the end of the world”— find inspiration the lived realities of present-day victims of oppression, and black Americans in particular. Her work, in this regard, is unapologetically political, using her novels to explore the untapped potential — and humanity — of those most marginalized and overlooked. 

Jemisin currently lives in Brooklyn, where she pursues her writing, as well as other projects, such as a recent Green Lantern film spinoff, from her apartment. 

PBS Interview with N.K. Jemisin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsZetjOH150&t=103s


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