Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Celebrating Nisi Shawl

This year Nisi Shawl was WisCon's Guest of Honor. So in addition to featuring celebrations of Carol Emshwiller, in honor of her 90th birthday, the James Tiptree Jr Award, in honor of its 20th birthday, and the memory of Joanna Russ, to commemorate her recent death, WisCon 35 also celebrated Nisi Shawl.

Nisi read at a Room of One's Own on Thursday evening, from her story “Pataki,” which is one of the pieces Aqueduct published in this year's GoH chapbook, Something More and More*, along with the previously unpublished “Something More,” three essays, and a new interview with Eileen Gunn. I have heard that she read from “Something More” at her GoH reading, which I wasn't able to attend, alas.

I also did not get to attend any of Nisi's panels, except for the one discussing her short story, “The Deep End,” titled “Black Souls in White Clones: Swimming in Shawl's Deep End.” This was a deeply satisfying panel, though it became clear by the end of it that the panelists hadn't discussed everything in it that interested them and their audience. The panelists were Eileen Gunn, Nancy Jane Moore, and Andrea Hairston. Jef A. Smith, who proposed the panel, was unable to attend. Nisi Shawl sat with the panelists, and commented by request. Coffee & Ink, and Lila Futuransky have partial (non-verbatim, summary) transcripts that convey some of the flavor of the discussion. It quickly emerged, during the discussion, that Nisi believed she had written a fairly simple, even transparent story, while every panelist (and several people in the audience) had discovered its sentences saturated with a density of information and allusive possibilities that seem only to expand with every additional reading of the story.

Nisi's Guest of Honor speech, which both began and ended with a beautifully delivered song, offered a brilliant reworking of the traditionally male, individualistic concept of Genius that has been with us since the 18th century. Nisi insisted on going back to the older notion of genius loci-- the spirit (a god or other supernatural entity) attached to a particular place in the world (think volcano or spring). The extraordinary, vivid image she used to illuminate her notion of Genius is that of an extension cord-- one that is infinitely long and has an infinite number of sockets into which others can plug in. Rather than being all about the individual, Genius, for Nisi, involves multitudes and is manifested in multiplicity. Anyone who has been reading my posts and essays over the years will know just how appealing this reconceptualization is to me.

I am eager to read the speech when it's available in print. It went by so quickly, in its moment, that I'm sure I missed many of its fine details and nuances.

*Aqueduct will be making this book available for sale in mid-June.

ETA: Coffee & Ink has also posted panel notes on another panel Nisi Shawl participated in, Yearning from the Threshold: Magic Realism and Diaspora Literature; the panel is moderated by Mary Anne Mohanraj, and panelists include, in addition to Nisi,  Hiromi Goto, Sheree Renée Thomas, and Ibi Aanu Zoboi.

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