- Interview with Professor and Writer Stephanie Andrea Allen, Indiana University
This interview was conducted via email during April 2021.
This special issue asks, "What is your favorite novel?" Do you have a favorite? When did you first encounter it and how has your relationship with that book changed over time?
I actually have two: The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker, and The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (I guess that's really four novels). I think I first encountered Walker's novel as a relatively young woman. If I remember correctly, I was married and my daughter was a baby. We were stationed at Ft. Stewart, Georgia, and the place was like a swamp in the summer with daily temperatures over 100 degrees Farenheit, and heat indexes sometimes reaching 112 degrees. I made it a point to stay in the house as much as I could, and venturing out only when it was necessary, and my weekly visit to the bookmobile was necessary. I became close friends with the woman that ran it, and I think she may have recommended TOMF to me. Regardless, I read it the first time and was utterly confused; what on earth was Walker writing about? So, of course, I read it again, and then again. Finally, the light came on and I realized that she was writing about reincarnation (among other things) and I'll never forget the way I cried when I read the scene where Lissie has passed on and the nearly blind Hal sees that painting of the lion with one of Lissie's red shoes on its back paw. He knew that his Lissie hadn't really died, she'd merely come back in another form. Not only did love transcend time and space, it also transcended species. Such a beautiful, moving book. I truly don't remember how I came to know about Jemisin's trilogy, but I know that I read the whole thing over a few days of holiday break one year and fell in love. It's one of the best series of books that I've ever read; it's hard to describe how much it means for Black woman to write science fiction that centers Black and Brown people and who writes about gender and queerness in such an expansive way. She is pure genius and I love her. [End Page 172]
How to Dispatch a Human (2021) is your most recent collection of speculative fiction. What freedoms and limitations do you see within the speculative fiction genre as a writer? As a reader and writer, what draws you to speculative fiction narratives? Do you have a favorite science fiction/speculative fiction writer?
I truly believe that you can do anything you want within the genre of speculative fiction; it seems to get bigger every day! The story has to work, of course, but I truly believe that this is a genre within which the boundaries of convention grow more nebulous every day. I'm so weird when it comes to speculative fiction. I don't like really scary or supernatural things, so I try to steer away from that kind of writing. I do love apocaplytic or dystopian fiction; I gobble those stories up like candy. One of the first novels or series of novels I can remember reading in the genre is Justin Cronin's The Passage Trilogy. It was so good, and unlike anything I'd ever read before. I'd never checked the trade mags to see when a new book was coming out (other than for Toni Morrison), but I checked everywhere, blogs, book review websites, Goodreads, everywhere, to find out when the last book in the series, City of Mirrors, was going to be released. I also remember being horrified that the series had been optioned for television, I knew that they would ruin it, and they did.
Regardless, more than anything, I want to be transported to a world where people like me exist and where they aren't subject to the same kinds of systemic oppressions that currently...