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Nisi Shawl

Nisi Shawl

When Nisi Shawl was seventeen, they moved from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Celery Capitol of the Midwest, to nearby Ann Arbor. There they attended the University of Michigan’s Residential College and lived in a house known as Cosmic Plateau with people who called themselves The Bozos. They paid $65 a month rent. Upon leaving the University they went to work part-time as a janitor, an au pair, a dorm cook, and an artists’ model. They read Charnas, Russ, Delany, Colette, Wittig, and learned a lot. They wrote, and performed their writings publicly, at parks and cafes and museums. When their landlady kicked the Bozos out of Cosmic Plateau, they kept writing.

Their 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). Their 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 them. A discussion with classmates during the workshop provided the impetus for the essay and class that inspired Writing the Other: A Practical Approach (2005). It was also at Clarion West that they met their friend Cynthia, who became the class’s co-teacher and the book’s co-author. Their experience with another writers’ program in the Puget Sound area (Cottages at Hedgebrook, 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 more than four dozen short stories, lectured at Stanford and Duke Universities and other institutions, helped found the Carl Brandon Society (an organization focusing on the presence of nonwhites in the fantastic genres), wrote scores of book reviews for The Seattle Times and Ms. Magazine, and finished four novels, including Everfair, a finalist for the 2016 Nebula Award, and Speculation, their forthcoming (2023) middle grade historical fantasy. In 2009 their Aqueduct story collection Filter House received the Otherwise Award. Two more collections have come out since then: A Primer to Nisi Shawl from Dark Moon Books (2017) and Talk Like a Man from PM Press (2019). Their newest Aqueduct Press collection, Our Fruiting Bodies, is forthcoming in October 2022.

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 they edited.

Nisi also edited the anthology New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, which won the World Fantasy, IGNYTE, and Locus Awards; its sequel, New Suns 2, is forthcoming in 2023. They are the 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.

Nisi is active on Twitter and Facebook, has a sadly neglected Instagram account, and promises to update their website (www.nisishawl.com) soon. They like to relax by pretending they live in other people’s houses.


(Photo by Caren Corley)
Strange Matings Our Fruiting Bodies Writing the Other Filter House The WisCon Chronicles (Vol 5) Something More and More