Friday, October 1, 2021

Fricatives: Short Plays to Nourish the Mind and Soul by Cesi Davidson


I'm pleased to announce the release of Fricatives: Short Plays to Nourish the Mind and Soul by Cesi Davidson, as the eighty-second volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series. Her second collection of Short Plays to Nourish the Mind & Soul, Fricatives positions Cesi Davidson as a champion of brevity and depth in playmaking. Her years of listening to the collective us, her unconstrained imagination, and her linguistic flexibility result in unusual interpretations of the complexities of American life. Fricatives follows her first book, Articulation, with an eclectic mix of storytelling, providing challenges to performing artists and a roller coaster ride of entertainment for the reader. 

Fricatives is available now in both print and e-book at   

Read a sample from the book.


Praise for Fricatives

“Don’t be deceived by what may appear to be delightful, soft spoken ‘playlets’ which could easily be developed into full length plays. The Fricatives anthology dives deep and extends wide into complex dilemmas of race, class, gender, and spirituality. Cesi Davidson crafts this inquiry with characters ranging from inanimate objects, to food, to animals. When her characters are human, their authentic dialogue is flavored with magical realism that entrances the reader and spirits them to the end of the tale. Actors are challenged to live the truth of a Green Pea. Directors must create an ensemble which can ferret in and out of time, transporting the audience beyond their wildest imaginings. Designers are invited to build worlds both minimalist, or whimsical, and every way in between. Don’t be afraid to surrender your soul, naked to the depth in these plays. Whether read or performed, it’s an unforgettable trip.”  —Tonya Pinkins, Tony Award Winning Actor and Award winning filmmaker of RED PILL

“Cesi Davidson’s creativity knows no bounds. Wildly imaginative in style, hilarious, moving, and often disturbing, her plays illuminate a wide range of real-life experiences—human, vegetable, and beyond. Whether seen in production “or read in the privacy of your home, Davidson’s plays will introduce you to voices you’ve never heard, make you think about the world in ways you’ve never considered, and stir up emotions you never knew you had. What more can you ask of this wonderful writer?”
 —Zachary Sklar, Oscar-nominated screenwriter for JFK (with Oliver Stone)

“Cesi Davidson’s words are musical notes on paper. She creates stories with a composer’s tools: rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, dynamics, texture, and form. Some plays in her anthology Fricatives, have the emotional feel of a familiar ballad. Others are complex symphonies. Still others jump off the page with the energy of boogie woogie. Cesi has found a way to be guided in her writing by the universality of music and language, and the marriage is beautiful.”  —John ‘JT’ Thomas, musician and composer

“The words come through me,” says a character in one of Cesi Davidson‘s marvelous new plays. “I don’t own them… or do I?” This character is channeling the spirit of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and, in turn, being channeled by the author. Such moments abound here, moments of wonder and wondering. The human voice—that most rich and varied of instruments—breaks through again and again, riffing on our shared reservoir of bliss and heartache and hilarity. These little plays are big.”  —John Gould, author of The End of Me

“Cesi Davidson’s compelling plays in the anthology Fricatives are grounded in forgiveness and resilience, permitting emancipation and the freedom to be one’s true authentic self. As always, Davidson’s work asks us to examine and transform the “nonhuman” aspects of our humanity, liberating ourselves from the poison in our hearts and allowing us to see the full extent of human joy, excellence, and magic.”  —Tobie S. Stein, author, of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Performing Arts Workforce

“Cesi Davidson’s short plays will intrigue, delight, move, and shock you. You might be drawn to her whimsical creatures residing in the animal kingdom or the country of fruits and vegetables. You might be drawn to her human characters, the real-world issues of lack of opportunities, discrimination and racism. Whatever your preference, you will be entertained, you will learn from these plays and you will think about them long after you have finished reading/watching them.”  —Anna Steegmann, bilingual writer and translator

“The plays in Cesi Davidson’s anthology Fricatives are small bites that satisfy a five course gourmet literary palate.”  —Celeste Rita Baker, author of Glass Bottle Dancer, De MotherJumpers, and the short story collection Back, Belly and Side 

“In this kaleidoscope of plays, you’ll meet many characters, human and non-human, that collectively shine a light on humanity with honesty, heartache, and humor. Cesi’s imaginative, playful and courageous words are golden for a performer. I especially appreciate the diverse casting that offers fresh perspectives on our shared human experience. These unique voices remind us that the world is full of wonder, and I’ll never look at pasta the same way ever again.”  —Rachel Lu, actress, Chingish and Front Cover

“From a pair of frozen peas who take themselves too seriously to an activist cow to an old friend of Jean Michel Basquiat, Cesi Davidson spotlights people and things that may never have otherwise seen the light. You can think you understand a character’s motivation, but in an instant they will transform and astound you, leaving you breathless. In this latest collection of Cesi’s plays, a reader will find in every piece the “audible friction” that is the title of the book. Many of the darker plays have an incredible lightness, and her lighter pieces offer deeper glimpses into subjects like grief, abuse and greed. She can broach these topics with ease because she knows how to encase them in love. Her cows are righteous, her peas are hard-working, and her words point us towards a more truthful version of ourselves.”  —Kim Chinh, actor, screenwriter, playwright, author of Reclaiming Vietnam

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The 2020 Otherwise Award and Honor List

(Extracted from Alexis Lothian's post at

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki has won the 2020 Otherwise Award for “Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon” (in Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora, edited by Zelda Knight and Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Aurelia Leo, 2020). 

2020 Otherwise Award winner Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, “Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon”

The 2020 jury comprised Chesya Burke, M.L. Clarke, Liz Henry (chair), Annalee Newitz, and Tochi Onyebuchi.

A virtual award ceremony will be held on Saturday, October 30, 2021, at 3pm EST. For details on how to join, please check the website for A Room of One’s Own Bookstore, which is hosting the event.

This year’s winner, “Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, was a unanimous favorite in a rich field of literary explorations around gender, sex, and related societal roles. We are delighted to present Ekpeki’s tale, a novella first published in Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora (Aurelia Leo), as this year’s recipient of the Otherwise Award.

In the winning story and the Honor List, several overlapping themes stood out. Like “Ife-Iyoku,” many of the Honor List stories treat gender in the context of intersectionality—we see how racialized, national, and ethnic identity, as well as disability, affect gendered experience. Several stories grapple with the fact that trans men, trans women, nonbinary people, and other embodied entities walk different paths than cisgender people, and that affects how they experience the world as gendered beings.

A number of stories  deal with queer elders, including City of a Thousand Feelings, The Seep, and The Four Profound Weaves. Though science fiction and fantasy have a long tradition of celebrating wise elders, whether they are high-level wizards or ancient AIs, it is rare to see them explored in a queer context. These stories demand we acknowledge that one doesn’t stop growing, healing, hurting, or being lost and in need of re-forging community and place with age. They also describe ways that queer elders provide models to the young, how they may fall short, and how younger generations engage with them, while also celebrating the different ways each generation expresses themselves.

Given the events of the past several years, perhaps it is no surprise that exile was a theme that came up in these stories over and over: in “Ife-Iyoku,” “The Moon Room,” Depart, Depart!, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, City of a Thousand Feelings, and Four Profound Weaves, we meet characters who have been cast out of their homelands and are searching for a way back. As they struggle with their sense of dislocation, our heroes and antiheroes must find a way to construct new kinds of home, with their chosen communities. Often, this sense of exile is compounded by environmental destruction associated with climate change—another theme in many of these stories, which grapple with the multi-generational legacy of industrial production and agricultural waste.

The environment isn’t just a force “out there”—it affects our bodies, both physical and political, as well as our social roles. In these stories, we can feel those effects. We meet people who can wring rain out of the air, build floating cities, transform themselves into clouds of gas, merge with machines, and transcend the world altogether. We feel the heat and moisture and sickness that come with a carbon cycle that is perturbed beyond all measure. Our identities do not end where our skin meets the air, but instead are part of ecosystems. And when those ecosystems are under attack, so are we.

Many of the Otherwise honorees grapple with this idea by showing us how our bodies are permeable to the environment. This is especially apparent when it comes to the mechanized bodies of the characters in “Helicopter Story” and “Custom Options Available.” Here we see characters whose gendered bodies have been rebuilt to function as weapons, or hyper-productive workers—a literalization of the ways that patriarchy and capitalism demand that we refashion ourselves as things-to-be-used rather than people.

The Otherwise Award honors stories that expose the many ways we experience gender in this world and others. This year we were thrilled to see so many brilliant authors taking a nuanced, complex approach to the topic—giving us characters we will never forget, in worlds as alien as our own.

The jury for the 2020 Otherwise Award wishes to thank readers and writers alike for their deep engagement with works that explore and expand our concepts of gender.

Winner: 2020 Otherwise Award

​​In a year crowded with stellar work that interrogated, celebrated, and contextualized gender in the way that only speculative fiction can, “Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon” stood out. Not only did it distinguish itself with the thematic concerns in which it engaged but also through the cohesion with which the story’s concerns were handled. This story situated discussion and depictions of gender, attendant expectations, constrictions, and transcendence in a situation and cultural and religious schema still vanishingly rare in the genre, and remained an entertaining and emotionally scopic story in the process.

What could have easily slipped into a stereotypical depiction and affirmation of patriarchal norms among the pre- or post-colonial African societies presents itself instead as the struggle of a community in the context of colonialism and colonization, a context that pits the impetus for communal survival against the dictate toward individuality. What does it look like to have gender roles enlisted in the pursuit of a community’s survival against larger, aggressive, unreasoning entities? How does the threat of annihilation further entrench that social schema? In the context of the story, childbearing isn’t a mandated duty because those identified by the community as women are too weak for combat but because childbearing is the only vehicle of the community’s continued existence. Such a distinction read to us, the jury, as a lived principle among the characters rather than mere scaffolding for oppressive policies, and the skill to which this dynamic was pulled off in the story impressed us greatly.

We loved the story’s critique of the idea that an extremely special, powerful place can ever be magically protected from the ravages of colonialism. Here, Ekpeki is careful to show us the downside of living inside this protected shell: the village is still operating as a monarchy, where women’s views are marginalized, and this leads directly to repeating the very scenario that made many African civilizations vulnerable to the incursions of European slavers. As the story unfolds, we realize that it is impossible for any community to remain isolated from imperialism, even if they have superpowers. And this makes the story a more powerful allegory—as well as a more truthful account of how power works.

A story that contains everything that “Ife-Iyoku” contains could easily have burst at the seams, but one of this work’s most stunning and impressive qualities is its cohesion. In the exciting cinematic opening, a team of psychically gifted hunters battles a mutant, winged, lava-breathing dinosaur. Over the next few chapters, the complex web of the community, its history, its divisions, and its context in the world are revealed, leading us to a situation that shows the disruptive power of a single woman’s choices, and her insistence on self-determination. In addition to presenting a dramatic and three-dimensional discourse on gender, community, and sacrifice, the story also gives us an inversion of a creation myth wherein the gendered nature of such tales is treated in a grounded and nuanced manner. Not once did it feel like the story’s many themes and aspects existed in isolation. That the story, as much as it holds within it, reads as a seamless piece is a testament to the craft on display.

“Ife-Iyoku” is a work of daring moral imagination as well as a story expertly constructed. What makes this story’s achievement even more spectacular is that it hardly emerged as the lone blossom in an otherwise fallow field of storytelling on gendered themes. Rather, this year’s winner stood out for the jury in a bumper crop of thought-provoking and challenging speculative fictions. For this reason, we are delighted to share the following Honor List, of eight other 2020 tales that significantly advanced our genre’s explorations of gender, sex, and societal roles, in unranked order but with the deepest of congratulations to all.

Honor List: 2020 Otherwise Award

2020 Otherwise Award Honor List
R.B. Lemberg, The Four Profound Weaves (Tachyon Publications, novella)
R.B. Lemberg’s The Four Profound Weaves explores the intertwined lives of genderfluid and trans elders who live in a world that hovers between dreams and ancient history. It centers on a nameless man, exiled from his home for moving between genders. He’s on a quest to find an old friend, Benesret, who has the power to weave textiles that embody the four “profound” human experiences of hope, change, wanderlust, and death. Haunting and delightful by turns, the story explores a world of nomads and city-states, magic and art, youth and age, and ultimately what it means to remain friends even as the world and our identities shift like desert sands.
Anya Johanna DeNiro, City of a Thousand Feelings (Aqueduct Press, novella)
In a swooping poetic allegory, Anya Johanna DeNiro’s City of a Thousand Feelings takes us with trans exiles into battle as they try to enter a city of dreams and wonders, only to be turned away by militant patriarchal villains. Relationships form under pressure, lapse, and are taken up again years later, as the protagonists hide in exile or continue to fight in wars. Finally, new generations are born with new goals, creating their own amazing city, built on the work of the elders who fought so hard to make a world where that was possible. Deeply moving.
Maggie Tokuda-Hall, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea (Candlewick Press, novel)
Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is an exciting, complex story about a young nonbinary pirate and an aristocratic young woman figuring out who they are in the face of danger. Unable to return to their homelands, pursued by nasty colonizers, they form an alliance that grows into a fierce and wonderful romance. We can’t wait to return to the world of The Mermaid to learn more about these delightful characters, their cool magic system, and the ways they might start to resist a tyrannical empire!
Sim Kern, Depart, Depart! (Stelliform Press, novel)
Depart, Depart! follows Noah, whose escape from climate disaster in Houston to a refugee camp further north is complicated by more specific needs for safety and key resources as a young trans man. Luckily, he has a ghostly ancestor for an ally, and a wealth of ethno-familial history to lean on as he navigates his distinct instant of a struggle for a sense of home, belonging, and acceptance that stretches back eons.
Chana Porter, The Seep (Soho Press, novel)
The Seep, set in San Francisco in homage to Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing, takes a somewhat bitter, leather-jacket-wearing butch dyke protagonist into a post-singularity future where alien nanobots ingested as a drug make almost everyone super happy. Her search for meaning and connection takes place within a community indifferently giving up specific embodied histories, to become whoever and whatever they wish with seemingly no adverse consequences, while she questions whether identity can have meaning without its histories.
Isabel Fall, “Helicopter Story” (Clarkesworld Magazine, short story)
Isabel Fall’s “Helicopter Story” created an intense and divisive reaction. For the jury, this is a story that extols the triumphant gender/sex-messiness of the protagonist’s transition into a military weapon, exposes the ways that the military industrial complex can co-opt some of our deepest human social structures to weave our identity construction into components of a bigger machine, a military force. With beauty, depth, and sensitivity, Fall describes Barb’s gendered precision, feelings, fierceness, and relationships built on the trust developed in battle. It is a love story in the mil-sf tradition, one where its heroes, whose identities are tied to war, begin to question the ethics behind that war.
Amy Griswold, “Custom Options Available” (Fireside Magazine, short story)
Another story that explores mechanization and gender-modelling is Amy Griswold’s “Custom Options Available,” a joyous romp in which a retired mining robot chooses gender and sexuality configurations, then cruises for partners. The protagonist then starts to uncover feelings and preferences that they didn’t choose, including a fierce desire for freedom and self-determination.
Maria Romasco Moore, “The Moon Room” (Kaleidotrope, short story)
Maria Romasco Moore’s “The Moon Room” brings us into a glittering, but gritty, urban world of drag bars and clandestine identities as seen through the eyes of an alien. Trained from a young age to hide her true nature, she takes photographs of drag queens and revels in their ability to be seen—while the pressures of hiding her polymorphous body drives her to drink and blackouts. Luckily, queer joy saves her from a life of hiding—and she’s finally able to come out as the beauty she is.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Adventure of the Golden Woman by Cynthia Ward


I'm pleased to announce the release of Cynthia Ward's The Adventure of the Golden Woman, the final volume in the Bloody-Thirsty Agent series, as the eighty-first volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series, in both print and e-book editions. You can purchase it now at


Lesbian vampire spies at the cabaret!  It's 1931, and conquest of the earth isn't enough for the British Empire.  But the demi-mondaine of occupied Berlin harbors a resistance movement, and the double agents Lucy Harker—Dracula's daughter—and her lover, the vampire Carmilla, steal England's spaceship plans.  Then the handoff to American agent Adolph Hitler is foiled by an impossibly advanced mechanical woman, and the lovers are imprisoned on a lunar spaceship scheduled for imminent launch. Now Lucy and Carmilla's only hope of saving the solar system is to overcome the ship's robot crew and outthink England's greatest espionage agent: Sherlock Holmes. 

  Read a sample from the book.

Publishers Weekly gave the Adventure of the Golden Woman a starred review:

The wildly fun, fast-paced finale to Ward’s Blood-Thirsty Agent series (after The Adventure of the Naked Guide) finds vampire double agent Lucy Harker, daughter of Dracula, working against the power-grabbing British empire through a resistance unit housed in 1931 British-occupied Berlin. After her attempt to deliver documents to Dolf Heidler is foiled by an oddly graceful, golden automaton, Lucy lands in the hands of her step-uncle, Sherlock Holmes. With the help of her vampire lover and fellow double agent, Clarimal Stein—Countess Karnstein of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla—Lucy must complete her mission to halt Britain’s conquest of Earth before the empire can expand outward into the galaxy. It’s an exhilarating example of alternate history, weaving classic characters into a narrative that’s as bombastically entertaining as it is thoughtful. Ward also commendably finds time for nuanced explorations of discrimination based on gender, sexuality, race, and origin in the midst of the thrilling espionage plot. This deeply satisfying conclusion is a win for series fans.  


 "Cynthia Ward’s Lucy Harker novellas give the modern reader an updated frolic through avant-garde genre fiction, a frolic frosted with a myriad of clever fandom-esque references sure to delight adventurous readers." –Michelle Ristuccia, Tangent Online (February 14, 2020)


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

For the Good of the Realm by Nancy Jane Moore


 I'm pleased to announce the release of For the Good of the Realm, a novel by Nancy Jane Moore, in both print and e-book editions. It's now available for purchase from Aqueduct Press at

 Anna d’Gart is both skilled with the sword and shrewd (not to mention discreet), a rare combination among the hot-tempered and rowdy Guards serving the King, Queen, and Hierofante, which is why she’s always the Queen’s first choice for carrying out sensitive assignments. Discovering that someone powerful is using magic to damage the Queen, Anna is plunged into political intrigue and a series of tough decisions. No fan of the uncanny, she’s forced to enlist the assistance of a witch—whose magical practices are strictly prohibited in the Realm and condemned by the Church.

With the aid of her flirtatious friend and fellow Guardswoman Asamir and their friends Roland de Barthes and Jean-Paul of the King’s Guard, Anna repeatedly matches wits with an opponent too powerful to be named. Intent on preventing war, preserving the Realm, and protecting the Queen despite the risks to herself and her fears about the ancient way of magic, Anna deploys all the means at her disposal—espionage, diplomacy, her sword, a powerful witch, and, of course, indomitable bravery. 

For the Good of the Realm is a splendid, swashbuckling romp that captures the very spirit of the Musketeers. The author weaves palace intrigue, swordplay, romance and divided loyalties into a deeply satisfying fantasy adventure with women at the center of the narrative, wielding and negotiating power.--Tansy Rayner Roberts, author of Musketeer Space and The Creature Court Trilogy 

For the Good of the Realm is a sparkling tournament of a novel, full of thrills as well as feats of storytelling bravado. Moore has invented a feminist medieval otherworld that is egalitarian in its sword and sorcery, yet political intrigue ultimately rules as Anna, a stalwart member of the Queen’s Guard, collaborates with a range of surprising characters to foil the nefarious plots of a power-hungry Hierofante. Spirited and funny, this is a great read. —Lesley Wheeler, author of Unbecoming

 This lighthearted, female-led fantasy adventure from Moore (The Weave) follows a pair of Queen’s Guards—staid, circumspect Anna and feisty, impulsive Asamir—as they become embroiled in the machinations of the rulers of Grande Terre. As the threat of war looms and a sinister undercurrent of forbidden magic becomes harder for Anna to ignore, the two women must out-fight and out-think the enemies of the realm in a series of duels and cloak-and-dagger intrigues. Moore’s plotting is relatively pared back, focusing on a handful of characters and a single political moment; it’s a refreshing counterpoint to the world-ending bombast of much secondary-world fantasy. The sword fights and worldbuilding will appeal to fans of fantasies of manners in the vein of Ellen Kushner’s works and historical adventure à la Dana Stabenow’s Silk and Song....With a principal cast of mostly women, this is sure to appeal to readers looking for stories of empowered female characters that go beyond simply giving them swords. —Publishers Weekly, March 2021

 Read a sample from the book.

Writers Drinking Coffee interviews Nancy in the ninety-third episode of their podcast. Listen to it here.

Nancy will be reading from For the Good of the Realm on Sunday, July 25, in an online event sponsored by FogCon.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection by Tara Campbell


 I'm pleased to announce the release of Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection by Tara Campbell as the eightieth volume in Aqueduct Press's Conversation Pieces series, in both print and e-book editions. You can purchase a copy now at

Read a sample from the book.


Deep in the recesses of childhood memory, your old playthings await. Listen: don’t you hear them crying out for you? Come take a peek inside the Cabinet of Wrath to find out what really happens when toys go missing and the stark decision they must make if they ever want to go home again. Discover what doll heads really think about being separated from their bodies. Follow a skull-and-bones novelty ring as it assembles a full body for itself, bit by grisly bit, and learn how loving your doll too much can lead to grave consequences. Open the door to these fabulist tales of toys and vengeance for a playtime you’ll never forget.

 Celebrate the release of the book with for a virtual reading and discussion of Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection, in conversation with Kelly Ann Jacobson, author of Tink and Wendy and An Inventory of Abandoned Things, with an introduction by L. Timmel Duchamp at the Writer's Center on July 15 here.

Katharine Blair has a long, thoughtful review of Cabinet of Wrath at Trampset. "Sometimes the most effective and thought-provoking speculative fiction is found in the smallest of shifts in perspective. Given the number of stories in Cabinet of Wrath that explore the ways in which a woman’s value depends so profoundly on the motives of her oppressors, I think anything that keeps us as readers closer to the root of our own culpability is best.Lost loves and predators, manipulation and finding solace, violence and the search for connection. These most human of experiences are at once the beauty and the horror of this collection and the perfect subject for its vantage of a seemingly childlike entry point into our world. Childhood has always been as much about powerlessness as innocence.... Now here, twenty years, a divorce, and eight pregnancies later, I think I’m ready to call it: if you want to understand the human experience, speculative fiction, and specifically a collection like Cabinet of Wrath, this is a great place to start. Let these dolls be the abstraction that allows the necessary distance to examine your own world with clarity."

Campbell delivers nine spooky stories of toys turned sinister that are sure to make readers reconsider the dolls, stuffed animals, and childhood playthings collecting dust in storage....[T]he imaginative scenarios and alluring voice never waver. Readers looking for bite-size horror will be delighted.—Publishers Weekly

 A delectably gruesome, tantalizingly bitey cabinet of wonders awaits you in this jewel box of a collection from Tara Campbell.—Tina Connolly, Hugo-nominated author of The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections

I thought I’d seen it all with the “creepy doll” story line, but Tara Campbell takes it to the next level with her twisted and delightful imagination. Kidnappers. Lovers. Killers. Seekers. I will be thinking about these stories in my nightmares. –Tara Laskowski, author of One Night Gone and Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Silences of Ararat by L. Timmel Duchamp

 I'm pleased to announce the release of The Silences of Ararat, an original novella by L. Timmel Duchamp, in both print and e-book editions, as the seventy-ninth volume in our Conversation Pieces series. It's available now at


It’s an old, old story: the King loses what passes for his mind and accuses his perfect trophy wife of adultery and prepares to have her put to death. Temporary insanity, right? Often in such cases, there’s collateral damage, and that’s the case in this story. But who, in a monarchy like Ararat, can oppose the King? Enter, Paulina, stage left, a sculptor with a hidden talent, a dea ex machina with her own ideas about how this story should end. 

Read a sample from the book.

Also available is the author's essay, A Few Thoughts on Writing The Silences of Ararat, on her website.

(Yeah, it does feel weird writing about myself in the third person. Forgive me, please.This is the problem of wearing two different hats in the same blog post.)

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Quote of the Day

 An image never stands alone. It belongs to a system of visibility that governs the status of the bodies represented and the kind of attention they merit.--Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator

Monday, February 15, 2021

Resistance and Transformation: On Fairy Tales, by Mari Ness

 I'm pleased to announce the release, in both print and e-book editions, of Resistance and Transformation: On Fairy Tales,  by Mari Ness, as the seventy-eighth volume in our Conversation Pieces Series. It's available now from Aqueduct Press at 

Read a sample from the book.

A group of French aristocrats, trapped by their culture and gender, wanted to speak out against the regime and the king. But they could not, for that king was Louis XIV.

And so they turned to fairy tales. In this collection of fourteen essays, Mari Ness explores the lives and tales of these remarkable writers who used fairy tales to subtly critique – and in a few cases, support – the absolutist rule of Louis XIV. They include the scandalous Henriette Julie de Murat, imprisoned for debauchery, and rumored to wear men's clothing; Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, imprisoned for writing impious poetry; and Madame d'Aulnoy, who spent years of her life in exile from her beloved country, but still insisted on contributing to French literature. Told with wit and humor, the essays help set beloved fairy tales into their historical and cultural context. A must read for fairy tale lovers and anyone interested in how words can be shaped into acts of resistance.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Climbing Lightly through Forests: A Poetry Anthology Honoring Ursula K. Le Guin


I'm pleased to announce the release of Climbing Lightly through Forests: A Poetry Anthology Honoring Ursula K. Le Guin, edited by R.B. Lemberg and Lisa M. Bradley, in both print and e-book editions. It's available now at

Read a sample from the book.

Ursula K. Le Guin, celebrated for her speculative fiction, was also a prolific poet. Although poetry framed Le Guin’s life, her poetic oeuvre never garnered the same acclaim as her fiction. Distinct from the cosmic worldbuilding of her science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin’s poems were “smaller scale, more intimate, more fragile.”

A tribute anthology, Climbing Lightly Through Forests hosts multiple conversations: poets respond to Ursula K. Le Guin, her work, or their own reactions to Le Guin or her work; editors Lemberg and Bradley put the poets in conversation with each other and with readers. Poets from around the world (including Greece, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, the UK, Australia, Canada, and the United States) contribute perspectives that both honor and challenge Le Guin’s legacy. In addition, Lemberg, a Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellow, provides a retrospective essay engaging with each of Le Guin’s nine full-length poetry collections in turn.

In the editors' "Not an Introduction," Lisa asks R.B.: What did you learn from your deep dive into Le Guin’s poetry?

R.B. replies: Much of her poetry felt very personal to me, and not nearly as speculative as her fiction; and there was much less engagement with it, from both readers and critics, so I was interested in why that might be. Le Guin herself said her poetry was dismissed because it was written by a novelist; but I am not sure if that is quite true. It’s just that her poetry was so much less speculative, and her readers expected speculative works from her—grand feats of imagination, of naming what has been silent for long. The magic of her poetry is quieter. It is in the wind and water, the landscape and the trees, whole forests of them. Ursula called herself an arboreal writer, and the title of this book, a line from one of her poems, reflects that.

Lisa: Arboreal! Certainly, Le Guin looms large as a sequoia for readers of her speculative fiction. But perhaps we should imagine her as a whole forest, because she wrote astutely and passionately about many things in many genres.

The editors mention a few of Ursula's many conversations with other poets, including those she translated into English--eager, as always, to bring unheard voices into our cultural conversations. This spirit is at the heart of this anthology, and in this seeks to honor Ursula K. Le Guin three years after her death. As R.B. remarks, "I love how the poetry in this volume has such a range of tone. Taken as a whole, the resulting book is deeply Ursuline—in its contemplativeness, in its rebelliousness and resistance, in its thoughtfulness, in its sadness, and its hope."

Friday, January 8, 2021

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2020, pt 34: Vandana Singh



What I read in 2020
by Vandana Singh


In 2020 I didn’t get to read much fiction (excluding mystery fiction for stress relief), in part because I was on sabbatical in India for six months, which was complicated by the pandemic, the lockdown and the consequent last minute change in my academic project. I read acres of nonfiction instead; however, I also read some standout fiction, made even more memorable against the dramatic and tumultuous backdrop of this historic Year of the Pandemic. As always, I make an effort to read diverse authors, an immensely rewarding experience, as my notes below indicate.  And there’s a tottering pile of unread wonders by my bedside, waiting for that mythical thing, a free moment.  In no particular order, here are some highlights of my readings in 2020:

1.      When the River Sleeps by Easterine Kire

This remarkable novel is set in Northeast India, in the state of Nagaland, where a man haunted by a dream travels through the hills and forests of his people in search of a sleeping river.  If you pluck a stone from a sleeping river, it is said, you will gain power.  But this journey through the verdant wilderness, enriched by the author’s inside knowledge of Naga cosmology and animated by spirits and magical beings, is a quest for meaning, not power.  The main character is not a youthful Chosen One, but a middle aged man called Vilie, who is compelled by his dream to leave a relatively peaceful life as an employee of the Forest Department to go into the unknown. This aspect of the novel – dealing with uncertainty, when the only security comes from trust in others, trust that is sometimes betrayed – seemed especially meaningful when I read it in Delhi in March, just when the pandemic was gaining momentum and the false security that modernity gives us began to slip from our lives.  The story is told in lyrical, unpretentious prose, and carries with it something like the cadence of a river, slow and stately in parts, swift and urgent in others. 


2.      My Father May Be an Elephant and My Mother Only a Small Basket, But… by Gogu Shyamala


This is a collection of luminous short stories by Dalit writer and academic Gogu Shyamala, set in her home state of Telengana, rendered in English from the Telegu by multiple translators.  The daughter of agricultural laborers in rural Telengana, her parents worked hard to ensure that she got an education; she ultimately went on to gain a Ph.D. and became a scholar, an activist and a writer.  Many of these stories are inspired by her own life.  As she says in an interview ( , she avoids presenting Dalits as either victims or heroes; she does not shy away from depicting caste violence and everyday prejudice, which are frequent themes, yet her characters are fully human and her prose filled with an ebullience that celebrates the resilience, courage, creativity, and humor of her people.  Their intimate knowledge of the land and seasons, the animals and landscape, makes the natural world come alive, and sometimes blurs the boundary between humans and the rest of nature; one of the stories, for example, is narrated by a village pond.  The stories take those of us from privileged backgrounds into another world, which, although it exists in reality, feels like the best of speculative fiction because of its superb worldbuilding, immersing us in a world unfamiliar to most of us until it feels intimately and viscerally real, and doing so with the sureness of a master. 


3.      Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman


Terra Nullius literally means no man’s land.  The title reminds me of watching on TV the celebrations at the start of the LA Olympics decades ago, in which the pioneers were depicted rushing valiantly into an empty United States.  Apparently Native Americans had never existed. Unsurprisingly, this attempted erasure is also reflected in classic science fiction; as academics such as John Rieder and writer/editors such as Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan have noted, classic ‘golden age’ science fiction is intimately associated with colonialism from the perspective of the colonizers.  Writers from countries or societies that have experienced (and are still experiencing) colonialism are often adept at turning this trope on its head. Indigenous Australian writer Claire G. Coleman, who identifies with the South Coast Noongar people, does a spectacular job of this in her first novel, Terra Nullius.  It begins with a young man called Jacky, who is on the run from a missionary re-education school meant to ‘elevate the natives.’  (‘Re-schooling’ for cultural erasure is a tactic used worldwide against Indigenous people, and not just in the past – it is an essential instrument of cultural genocide – consider for example the phenomenon of factory schools operated by big business in India What Claire Coleman does with the theme of colonialism is something the like of which I haven’t seen before, something that only speculative fiction can do.  I’m tempted to elaborate, but I shall desist.  Readers should experience the power of this astonishing book for themselves.  As the words at the back of the book say, ‘Do you recognize this story?  Look again.’


4.      The Overstory by Richard Powers


This novel recently won the Pulitzer prize, rocking the mainstream literary world because it acknowledges, among other things, that non-humans exist!  (I am being a little sarcastic here, in case it isn’t obvious, because a pet peeve I have with much of the modern mainstream Anglophone literature I’ve read is its obsession with the exclusively human (where ‘human’ is limited to white, suburban, privileged people engaged in an endless monotony of self-indulgent misery-making)). There are many pleasures in this book, not least of which are the positively sensuous descriptions of trees, especially the giant redwoods of the West coast, one of which literally has a small lake and trees growing way up among its giant branches. The sections of the book take inspiration from the structure of a tree, and the first, ‘Roots,’ begins with the generational family histories of each of the nine characters.  The paeans to the interconnectedness of trees, although beautifully written, stand in (probably unintentional) ironic contrast to the often unsocial, damaged, disconnected and typically individualistic main characters.  Although I enjoyed several parts of the book, I would not have thought it worthy of a Pulitzer. Some of the protagonists seem quite unnecessary to the story, while others make a disastrous decision that seems to go against common sense as well as their painstakingly set up characters and histories.  If The Overstory is intended to be a space-and-time-spanning American novel, it fails, because – to begin with - everyone except for a couple of Asian-American characters -  is white.  (The portrayal of the Indian-American character made me wince more than a bit).  Indigenous people are invoked once off-stage, then they make a cameo appearance near the end, and that’s it. Interestingly, the powers-that-be are also invisible; the forces of destruction are not seen, not named, except indirectly through standoffs with loggers. Thus we never get a sense of why the world is so hopeless – and hopelessness (except in unconvincing techno-visionary imaginings of one of the characters) seems to be the ultimate message, because no other way out is presented.  To me this seems to be a result of the stupendous lack of speculative imagination. Many people I know love this book, in part (I suspect) because reading some of the most poetic sections about trees seems to assuage a little of the species loneliness with which we moderns are afflicted – indeed, the most triumphant and enduring characters in the books are the trees.  One cannot help but weep when some of them are destroyed. Worth a read for that alone; ambitious, but with major limitations and flaws.  


5.      The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

This novel by Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder, is set on an unnamed island where the Memory Police can cause any object or concept – or person – to cease existing.  For instance, at one point the inhabitants are told that birds will no longer exist from that day onward, so the people gather to open the cages of their pet birds and let them fly away.  After that day they might see feathered, flying things around, but cannot conceive of them as birds, nor imagine any relationship with them.  But there are people who cannot forget, and they must keep their intact memories a secret, else the Memory Police will take them away.  The protagonist, a young woman, lost her mother to them for that reason; when the story opens, her father, an ornithologist, is also dead. The woman is a writer, a storyteller, and as she witnesses her world shrink with the disappearance of what was once familiar and conceivable, she attempts to rescue others like her mother before they are taken away.  As the Memory Police ramp up their dreadful work, we see our main character become less and less real to herself, and yet she retains a sense of self through the creation of story, and through a final act of resistance.  Disturbingly resonant in a time when authoritarian regimes are trying to rewrite history, geography, and reality, the book leads inexorably to its stark conclusion.  (Reading this, I was reminded that about half of the six-thousand-odd languages of the world are under threat of extinction, and with them concepts and ways of being that are potentially as important for our survival as biological diversity (see for example  In understated, almost journalistic prose, the book tells me that we cannot be free alone, that our freedom is contingent upon the freedom of others, that memory is both individual and collective, and that without stories, without imagination, we are lost.  And that any system which builds its power through erasure – of people, concepts, ideas, words - plants the seeds of its own destruction.  


6.      Guido Brunetti mystery series by Donna Leon


I mention this wonderful series because of many reasons – one being the marvelously detailed setting, Venice.  Although I have never been there and can’t speak for the accuracy of the depiction of the place and culture, Donna Leon apparently lived there for thirty years.  The waterways and palazzos, the way the light falls at different times of the year, the seasons, the lagoons, the acqua alta floods - all come alive in a wonderfully immersive way.  I read mysteries mostly for light reading before bedtime, to engage another part of my brain when I am tired, and forget them rather quickly, but this series escapes being merely trivial because it gives us the triple pleasures of place as character, intricate mysteries set in a social context, and well drawn characters.  The philosophical and ethical questions that arise in crimes as dire as murder, in a city that is fast changing due to modernity and an influx of refugees, are not dismissed or ignored; instead our hero, Commissario Guido Brunetti, engages with them as he works out the solution to the mystery. The best part for me is the depiction of the characters, especially Brunetti, who goes against the current popular (and annoyingly repetitive) stereotype of the detective: a man who is disturbed, antisocial, or enraged on a near-permanent basis due to some past tragedy, but of course, has a heart of gold under all those layers of hard-boiledness. By contrast Brunetti is refreshingly human, a grown-up, a decent man, happy with his lot in life, including his academic wife and two teenage children.  A man who is secure enough to not play power games, yet bold and clever when he must be, to get around the corrupt and inefficient people above and around him, he is susceptible to springtime, opera, his wife, and the beauty of his city. And Signorina Elettra, fashionista and diva of deviousness, who is fortunately on Brunetti’s side, is a delight. As must be relevant in any city built on water, environmental concerns are a frequent theme, but presented in a way that brings out the reality of the problem alongside the indifference with which most urbanites consider these issues.  


7.      Finally I must mention two short story collections that are not out as yet but will be this year, 2021, from two remarkable South Asian writers. I was privileged to read these before they were put in final form for the publishers. Usman Tanveer Malik’s Midnight Doorways and Anil Menon’s The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun are going to be out this year, and I hope that both will make it to multiple best-of lists for collections. 


Midnight Doorways is a collection of lyrically told, atmospheric stories that shine the light into the darkest reaches of the human psyche – and they are also very Pakistani and very South Asian.  Reading them, I was reminded of sitting in the dark with cousins as a teen in India, each of us taking turns to relate supernatural stories during the frequent summer power outages.  We terrified ourselves silly. It’s probably because of those experiences that I don’t generally read horror.  But Usman’s stories are not retellings of old tales, dressed up to scare another generation of youngsters.  They make something new out of the amalgam of ancient culture and modernity, engaging with issues of love, betrayal, longing and justice in the world we live in now, reminding the reader that electric bulbs are no protection, not against the darkness within, nor the darkness beyond the circle of light by which you are reading this. And that horrible things happen in the world, and to look upon them and shudder to the depths of one’s soul is one way we learn to recognize and confront these horrors. 


 Meanwhile, Anil Menon’s stories, collected in The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun (coming out from Hachette), play with an eccentric mélange of science fictional, fantastic and realist themes, with India a frequent setting. Anil ( is one of the most erudite and well-read writers out there, who can quote an obscure Western philosopher in one breath and ancient Indian love poetry in the next, and is himself eminently quotable. This inconceivable variety and depth of knowledge allows him to wander across multiple boundaries not limited to the geographical – fact and fiction, spec fic and realism, poetry and table of contents.  Odd things happen in the most ordinary circumstances (many of the settings are domestic) and what is real and what is not real become obscured. The ability to reveal the peculiar and extraordinary within the most everyday situations is well displayed in this collection. The stories are invariably clever, in the best tradition of the literature of ideas, but are also emotionally resonant, rendered with characteristic elegance and wit. 

With these two, it is already a good year for short story collections.



Vandana Singh is the author of Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories (Small Beer Press, 2018), The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet (Zubaan, 2009), numerous fine short stories, and two novellas published by Aqueduct Press in the Conversation Pieces series: Of Love and Other Monsters and Distances, which won the Carl Brandon Society's Parallax Award and was on the Otherwise Award (at the time of the award, Tiptree) Honor List. She lives near Boston, where she teaches physics.