N.K. Jemisin Scores a Win for Representation

by Kai Heslop, Student Assistant
The Hugo Award logo is a trophy shaped like a spaceship and the title, Hugo AwardAndrea Hairston, Nnedi Okorafor and Tananarive Due are all writers who have greatly contributed to the world of black science fiction and fantasy (SFF). However, the first author ever to win the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novel three years in a row has proven to be a champion for representation within the genre. N.K. Jemisin’s groundbreaking works in the Broken Earth series have attracted attention and acclaim among writers and editors alike in the genre.  

Many view SFF as a forward thinking and progressive genre by default due to the futuristic topics and themes of challenging norms often included. This, however, does not make it exempt from the widespread phenomenon in the world of literature and entertainment of preferring characters of certain races over others. This same standard extends to the writers who create these characters and bring them to life. Being that SFF as a genre has historically been dominated by white creatives, recent efforts to diversify the genre have been met with varying levels of acceptance.  

In 2009, a yearlong discussion series called Racefail was launched to facilitate conversation around the dominant role that white colonialism played and continues to play in SFF narratives. The conclusion of this series led to a broader understanding of why marginalized voices, especially those of women and people of color, need to be given a platform. Jemisin even directly credited Racefail for the role it played in making the SFF community a safer space for minority writers like herself.  

Despite this, when Jemisin first won the Hugo Award back in 2016, making her the first African American author to receive this prestigious award for a novel, right-wing voters were in a state of disbelief. They attributed her win to identity politics, saying that Jemisin won solely because she was a black woman. The use of this rhetoric was essentially an attempt to prevent Jemisin from recognition as the deserving, talented writer that she is. In 2013, Theodore Beale, another SFF author, referred to Jemisin as a “half-savage” in posts online.   

Jemisin hasn’t allow the words of naysayers to prevent her from following her dreams and, most importantly, from doing what she loves: writing. As she said in her acceptance speech at the 2018 Hugo Awards, Jemisin’s first book, The Killing Moon, was rejected based on the presumption that only black people would want to read a book by a black author. Comparing the reception of her first book to the reception of her Broken Earth series is a testament to just how resilient Jemisin has been in her fight for representation in spaces where black voices have been challenged and silenced for years.  

You can find Jemisin’s award-winning novels, along with many of her earlier works, at the Undergraduate Library:  

And check out some of the other African American SFF books available in the Stone Center Library: 

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