By Alisa Samadani, A&E Editor Originally published in Issue 10, Volume 33 of The University Register on March 26, 2021
On Thursday, March 11, the Prairie Gate Literary Festival hosted their second event in the annual three-event series, with the evening’s panel consisting of three fantasy/science fiction writers. Joshua Phillip Johnson is an English professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris and author of the environmental fantasy novel The Forever Sea, due out by DAW Publishing in January. It is part of an expected epic fantasy series. Rebecca Kuang is an Chinese-American fantasy writer, and author of “The Poppy War” Trilogy, published by Harper Voyager. She is a 2020 Astounding Award winner as well as a Nebula, Locus and World Fantasy Award nominee. She is currently finishing up a fourth book. Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani-American Muslim writer and author of the YA science fiction novel “I Hope You Get This Message,” published by Harper Collins. She is also a talented voice actor. They all met at an Odyssey Writer’s workshop.
When being interviewed, the three had a lot to say about the new age of fantasy being less about destiny and old traditions versus characters being self aware and working toward their goal.
Farah: “I think there’s something to be said about putting out books that reach out to those who may not have a place to explore certain concepts. Will it reach out to every person? No, but it will reach out to one.” Her favorite non-fantasy book is “A Place For Us” by Fatama Mirza and her favorite non-book fantasy is “Lord of The Rings.”
Josh: “Writing can offer a different perspective on incoming equality and gender and race but you sort of achieve that by moving away” “If it worked, it seems like it would’ve worked already” ‘A lot of the fantasy and science fiction that I once gravitated towards just seems less interesting now. As a writer I find myself coming back to these approaches and thinking, ‘If I want to write about climate change, every step I take away from it potentially loses any real conversation about that thing I really want to talk about.’”
His favorite non-book fantasy is tied between Pokemon Blue and Spirited Away, and his favorite non-fantasy book is a book of poems called “Catalogue” by Ross Gay.
“I have random dumb ideas all the time, many of which I just like to text to people in this Zoom call. I think that it’s hard to make the decision to take an idea and dedicate time and effort into working on it.”
When asked about books with queer characters cleverly woven in, these were brought up: Priory of the Orange Tree - Samantha Shannon First Sister by Linden A. Louis C. L. Polk writes a lot of literature with queer characters featured in their works. Witchmark, Midnight Bargain
None of the authors were interested in reading or writing about the pandemic, considering it has been such a miserable experience. When asked about connecting with other writers, there was not much to say.
Rebecca - “During the pandemic I’ve just turtles down but Twitter has a lot of people willing to talk about writing. Under the hashtag, #amwriting. There are also plenty of Facebook groups for writing.” Josh - “A lot of workshops have gone online although I think R.K. is right that there is a kind of limit to not being in a room with a group of people versus the online environment. I think it would be hard right now and I feel lucky to have a preexisting community to confide in with my writing one of the measures of a good community is that they are still there when you come out of your turtle shell.” Farah - “Going to these virtual events might be nice to access other writers that you may not be able to meet in person.”
Next month, the last Prairie Gate Literary Festival event will be hosted. April is also National Poetry Month. Mark your calendars for April 9!
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