The Paris Review

A True Utopia: An Interview With N. K. Jemisin

Author N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin is the author of nine books—a duology, two trilogies, and a short story collection. The last of those, How Long ‘til Black Future Month?, is her most recent. Not only is she the only writer to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel, one of the highest awards in science fiction and fantasy, three years in a row (for all three groundbreaking books of the Broken Earth series), but she is also the first black person to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel ever. Speculative fiction is about imagining futures, but those futures are only as revolutionary as the minds of those who create them. We are lucky to have Jemisin’s revolutionary imagination to expand our own.

How Long ‘til Black Future Month? is a collection of twenty-two stories written over the course of fifteen years. Each story contains a world that you never want to leave, whether it’s to stay close to Franca while she cooks meals in the kitchen of an inn or to walk alongside Jessaline while she undertakes a covert mission to save her people. Jemisin’s characters usually don’t live in a utopia, but they are fighters—for better futures, for better lives, for their fellow kind.

In 2016, the New York Times referred to Ursula K. Le Guin as America’s greatest living science-fiction writer. Though Jemisin’s books have only been in circulation for eight years, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that she could one day be the greatest living science-fiction writer for a new generation. She may already be.

A few days before Thanksgiving, Jemisin and I spoke by phone about utopia, justice, sitting with damage, and more.

INTERVIEWER

In the introduction to , you write that short stories presented a way for you to work out techniques and consider perspectives without the commitment of a novel. What else do short stories offer

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Paris Review

The Paris Review5 min read
The Empty Room
In his new biweekly column, Pinakothek, Luc Sante excavates and examines miscellaneous visual strata of the past. The more empty the photograph, the more it implies horror. The void that dominates an empty photograph is the site of past human activi
The Paris Review8 min read
Ms. Difficult: Translating Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson, ca. 1848. Photo: public domain, courtesy of Yale University Manuscripts and Archives Digital Images Database, via Wikimedia Commons. When she was translating Rilke into Russian, the poet Marina Tsvetaeva wrote in a letter to Boris Pa
The Paris Review6 min read
The Royally Radical Life of Margaret Cavendish
Peter Lely, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, 1665. Public domain. To Virginia Woolf, she was “a giant cucumber” choking the roses and carnations in an otherwise orderly garden of seventeenth-century literature. Several of her contemporaries