Shelf Life

Shelf Life 

by Alyssa Wong

We asked the Nebula Award-winning writer to share a section of her bookshelf. Alyssa Wong appeared on the Center's panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival, Gender in Science Fiction and Fantasy, on September 18, 2016 in downtown Brooklyn. Click here to watch the video of the event. 


My apartment is very small, but I do have a $10 Target bookshelf that I assembled myself! My favorite shelf is where I keep the books that make me the happiest and remind me why I love to write.


On the far right, I have a couple books on craft—a book on writing villains, another on critique group techniques, and a third on building a novel’s structure (ostensibly in 30 days, but speed-writing isn’t my forte, and I prefer reading the exercises and outlines on their own). I picked up The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine in my last year of college in preparation for my first workshop experience. The other two I’ve had since high school. When I began moving from place to place, I had to minimize my book collection, so I only brought two of my favorites with me. Bullies, Bastards, & Bitches by Jessica Page Morrell is an entertaining take on literary villains, and I’ve had it since I was about fifteen years old.


I also keep a large number of history and reference books on this shelf. Iris Chang’s The Chinese in America documents centuries of Chinese American history. Both The Chinese in America and Embodying Asian American Sexualities and Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation provide a reminder of where the pieces of my identity come from, and the struggle now. Remembering Jim Crow and Race and Rumors of Race are important to me, too, both on a personal level and because I’m studying fiction in the American South. Closer to the middle of the bookcase, I have two volumes of Arizona ghost stories, self-published by James Wharton and acquired by family members who know what I love. Arizona ghosts are a very local interest for me, and these accounts remind me of home.


Lastly, I have books that I admire scattered across the shelf. There are books that I’m excited to read, like Black Hawk Down, and books that inspire me stylistically, like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Child of God, as well as N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. There is The Time Traveler’s Almanac, and an old journal of mine. I love noir and hardboiled pulp fiction, so I keep anthologies like Manila Noir and nonfiction titles like Pistols and Petticoats: 75 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction close at hand. My favorite graphic novels, Pretty Deadly and Monstress, have earned their place on the shelf, along with several slim, hand-bound volumes of indie comics like Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker’s Mooncakes. And then there are the books that I refuse to part with because I love them: Ken Liu’s collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories; Kai Ashante Wilson’s novella The Devil in America; Ted Chiang’s collection The Story of Your Life and Others; a Dragon Age franchise tie-in novel, Dragon Age: Asunder, because I’m a huge fan of the video games; and the special Queers Destroy Horror! issue of Nightmare Magazine, created in part as a response to anti-inclusive backlash in science fiction and fantasy, and which contains my Nebula Award-winning story, “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers.”


These are the books that, when writing becomes hard and sadness creeps into my mind, remind me of why I write. Because it is fun, because it is brave, and because there is too much that inspires me for me to ever, ever stop.







Alyssa Wong is an author of speculative fiction. She has published short fiction and poetry, and studies fiction at North Carolina State University. She is a finalist for the 2016 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her work has been published in Uncanny Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Nightmare Magazine, Black Staticand, among others. Her short story "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" won the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Short Story, and was a finalist for the 2015 Shirley Jackson Award, the 2016 Locus Award for Best Short Story, and the 2015 Bram Stoker Award for Short Fiction. Her short story "The Fisher Queen" was a finalist for the 2014 Nebula Award for Best Short Story, the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award, and the 2015 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story. She can be found on Twitter as @crashwong.