Monday, December 18, 2023

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2023, pt. 9: Nisi Shawl



Backwards and Forwards: A Couple of Hopes
by Nisi Shawl


My fond affection for the music of my yesteryears remains untarnished by age. Steely Dan, Magazine, Prince--all still reign unchallenged in my aural heart.  And lately I’ve (re)turned to the tight, sweet stylings of The Pointer Sisters.  Their big charting hit was “Yes We Can Can,” which encapsulates for me a lost spring of optimism I drank from carelessly in my youth.  But the song that brought me back to their playlist this time was “Old Songs,” a tune all about nostalgia.  It’s the fifth track on their first, self-titled album, an ambitious enterprise encapsulating decades of soul-stirring melodies in just a few lines.  Longing for the times gone by has always been in fashion, even way back then, back in the 1970s.  There have always been past greatnesses to mourn, to praise, to anthemize and grow lyrical over.

 I hope there always will be.

 My leisure activity continues to take the form of watching films and series, same as last year.  In addition to the practically indistinguishable stream of exploding heads and grifters I prefer to decompress with, I’ve consumed a couple of tamer storylines.  Of these, my favorite is Dead to Me, a “black comedy” starring Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate

The friendship Cardellini’s character foists on the grieving widow played by Applegate is built on lies: she’s pretending to suffer a comparable loss, though actually she’s the hit-and-run driver responsible for the death of Applegate’s husband.  Nevertheless, the friendship proves itself truer than death and more reliable than life.  There are three seasons.  The third was delayed and somewhat rewritten due to Applegate’s sudden Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis.  Poignant and funny and scary and smart.  Can’t wait to watch it again--preferably in the company of someone as ride-or-die for me as these two are for each other.

I continue to reserve much of my reading energy for work assignments.  These break down into (A) books I’ve been invited to blurb and (B) texts by students/potential students.  

For full reportage on the blurb-ables, you’ll want to check the finished books.  They are: 

E. Lily Yu’s collection Jewel Box (October 24, 2023, Erewhon Books); 

These Fragile Graces, This Fugitive Heart, Izzy Wasserstein’s debut novel (March 12, 2024, Tachyon Publications); and

Rob Cameron’s middle grade fantasy Daydreamer (August 2024, Penguin Random House).  

Here I’ll restrict myself from saying much other than that the most thrilling surprise of these turns out to be Wasserstein’s post-apocalyptic, neo-Noirish Graces--mostly because I have yet to finish the Cameron ms., and because I knew of Yu’s prowess in advance.  Following Wasserstein’s Dora Madsen through Kansas City’s pot-holed, climate-catastrophized streets is more exciting than I or any other reader have the right to expect.  I recommend grabbing it up as soon as you possibly can.

Because Hugo House is “re-evaluating” their relationship to me as a teacher, my students and potential students for the past few months have come to me from Seattle’s Jack Straw program.  As of this writing, I’ve just finished winnowing this year’s 76 applicants down to a selection of 12 participants and two alternates.  I read scads of mss.!  Jack Straw emphasizes training students to give audio presentations--in person, online, broadcast, podcast--and has no restrictions concerning genre or form, so I spent a lot of time outside the comfort of my speculative-fiction wheelhouse.  Memoir.  Poetry.  Plays.  More memoir.  More poetry.

Two draft excerpts really got me going.  The first was from a hybrid form focused on links between a specific type of Filipinx monster, the shape-shifting manananggal, and negative takes on the feminine.  The second was from an historical novel about the founding of a colony of anarchists in Western Washington in 1902.  Yes, radical thinkers existed way back then!  They led interesting lives!  We can visualize them!  We can understand their dreams--we can empathize!

At least, I hope we can.

Nisi Shawl (they/them) is the multiple award-winning author, co-author, and editor of over a dozen books of speculative fiction and related nonfiction, including the standard text on diverse representation in literature, the Aqueduct Conversation Piece volume Writing the Other; the Nebula Award finalist novel Everfair; the first two volumes of the New Suns anthology series; and the Aqueduct Press story collection Filter House (co-winner of the 2009 Otherwise Award). They’ve spoken at Duke University, Spelman College, Stanford University, Sarah Lawrence College, and at many other learning institutions.  Recent titles include a new horror-adjacent Aqueduct Press collection, Our Fruiting Bodies; and the Middle Grade historical fantasy novel Speculation (published by Lee & Low in February 2023).  January will see the publication of Kinning, their sequel to Everfair. An excerpt is available on the Tor/Forge blog.
“Sun River,” a short story sequel, has been published by

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