When Nisi Shawl was seventeen, she moved from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Celery Capitol of the Midwest, to nearby Ann Arbor. There she attended the University of Michigan's Residential College and lived in a house known as Cosmic Plateau with people who called themselves The Bozos. She paid $65 a month rent. Upon leaving the University she went to work part-time as a janitor, an au pair, a dorm cook, and an artists' model. She read Charnas, Russ, Delany, Colette, Wittig, and learned a lot. She wrote, and performed her writings publicly, at parks and cafes and museums. When their landlady kicked all the Bozos out of Cosmic Plateau, she kept writing.
Her first science fiction appearance was in the nude, as a model for one of Rick Lieber's illustrations for the Arkham House hardcover of Bruce Sterling's Crystal Express (1990). Her first science fiction publication was in Semiotext(e) #14, sharing the table of contents with William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, William Gibson, Pat Cadigan, and John Shirley. Meeting the last two writers at a cyberpunk symposium in Detroit in 1992, Nisi was encouraged by them to apply to the Clarion West Writers Workshop, where both taught that year.
At Clarion West, Nisi learned in six weeks things that six years at the University could never have taught her. A discussion with classmates during the workshop provided the initial impetus for the essay and class that inspired Writing the Other: A Practical Guide (2005). It was also at Clarion West that she met her friend Cynthia, who became the class's co-teacher and the book's co-author. Her experience with another writers' program in the Puget Sound area (Cottages at Hedgebrook, a retreat on Whidbey Island) combined with Clarion West's Seattle location to entice Nisi into taking up permanent residence in the area.
After moving, Nisi joined Clarion West's Board of Directors, created and taught several writing classes for both children and adults, sold and resold more than four dozen short stories, lectured at Stanford and Duke Universities, helped found the Carl Brandon Society (an organization focusing on the presence of nonwhites in the fantastic genres), contributed to The Encyclopedia of Themes in Science Fiction and Fantasy and to Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy, wrote scores of book reviews for The Seattle Times and Ms. Magazine, finished three as-yet-unpublished novels, and began a fourth. In 2009 her story collection Filter House received the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. It was nominated for a World Fantasy Award that year also, as was “Good Boy,” a story original to the collection.
In 2010 Nisi was WisCon 35's Guest of Honor. Something More and More, a limited edition collection of stories, essays, and an interview conducted by Eileen Gunn, appeared in celebration of the honor. Simultaneously, Aqueduct Press published The WisCon Chronicles 5: Writing and Racial Identity, which Nisi edited.
Nisi currently serves as reviews editor for The Cascadia Subduction Zone, Aqueduct Press's literary quarterly. She edited Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia E. Butler Scholars, and is co-editor, with Dr. Rebecca Holden, of Strange Matings: Octavia E. Butler, Science Fiction, African Voices, and Feminism, and with Bill Campbell of Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany (forthcoming).
Nisi is active on Twitter and Facebook, and promises to update her website (www.nisishawl.com) soon. She likes to relax by pretending she lives in other people’s houses.