N. K. Jemisin

Speculative Fiction Writer Class of 2020
Portrait of N. K. Jemisin

Pushing against the conventions of epic fantasy and science fiction genres while exploring deeply human questions about structural racism, environmental crises, and familial relationships.

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Brooklyn, New York
age iconAge
48 at time of award
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About N.K.'s Work

N. K. Jemisin is a speculative fiction writer exploring deeply human questions about structural racism, environmental crises, and familial relationships while immersing readers in intricately imagined, fantastical worlds. The societies she constructs are populated by protagonists who push against the conventions of earlier-era science fiction and epic fantasy, which often feature male-dominated casts of characters and draw heavily from the legends of medieval Europe. Her multi-volume sagas counterbalance the monumental themes of oppression and exploitation with attentiveness to the more intimate inner workings of families and communities and the range of emotions—from love to rage, resentment to empathy—that they inspire.

Jemisin’s ambitious three-book series, The Broken Earth Trilogy (completed in 2017), takes place in the Stillness, a continent wracked by geological upheaval as a result of technological hubris and an environmental catastrophe thousands of years in its past. Members of the orogenes, an oppressed minority within the caste-based society of the Stillness, possess power to quell the quakes and eruptions, and this power is exploited and harnessed by other inhabitants as a means of preventing disaster. Jemisin experiments with point of view as she orients her readers to the fractured landscape and social history of her fictional universe. The first novel in the series, The Fifth Season (2015), unfolds from the perspectives of three orogene characters: the grieving mother, Essun, whose son has been killed and daughter abducted; Damaya, a young girl who is forced into training to manipulate her powers; and Syenite, who accommodates herself to the dehumanizing system that controls but also rewards her. The experiences of these characters illuminate the ways in which trauma and the exigencies of survival give rise to new identities and divided selves over the course of a lifespan. Jemisin’s most recent novel, The City We Became (2020), is the first in what will become her Great Cities series and features present-day New York not only as its setting but also as a sentient entity itself. Invading and homogenizing forces threaten the metropolis she depicts and must be fended off by a team of human avatars—comprised primarily of people of color, male and female, queer and straight—who embody the diverse histories and distinct personalities of the city’s boroughs. The novel dramatizes the city’s own legacies of racism and both references and critiques the xenophobic and racist views of H. P. Lovecraft, whose horror fiction has had a profound impact on popular culture.

Jemisin is broadening the spectrum of participants in speculative fiction’s creation and surrounding fandom through her published works as well as her world-building workshops, frequent interviews, and active presence on social media. While engaging readers with grippingly paced narratives, Jemisin demonstrates how the speculative mode enables us to contemplate the ecological crises and social inequalities of our contemporary moment and to consider how societies formed along fault lines might build themselves anew.



N. K. Jemisin received a BS (1994) from Tulane University and a MEd (1997) from the University of Maryland. Her additional books include The Inheritance Trilogy (2010–2011) and The Dreamblood Duology (2012), the story collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month (2018), and the comic book series Far Sector (2019–2021) for DC Comics.

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Published on October 6, 2020

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