CUNY professor and sci-fi fan, Joy Sanchez-Taylor, led our N.K. Jemisin Broken Earth reading group at The Center in the summer of 2019. Our summer intern Cyrin Watson interviewed Joy on why she chose the trilogy and what she hopes readers would gain from the class.
What drew you into the science fiction and fantasy genres?
I grew up reading my father’s Piers Anthony collection, which led me to other fantasy and science fiction authors. But it wasn’t until I read Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao that I understood that science fiction and fantasy weren’t “white” genres.
Why did you choose this trilogy for the reading group?
N.K. Jemisin made headlines in the literary world when she won the Hugo Award for best novel three years in a row for the Broken Earth trilogy. While this achievement is impressive, and it was nice to see a women of color honored by the science fiction community, it is the levels of meaning in the Broken Earth trilogy that ultimately drew me in. Jemisin is the first author I have read since the passing of Octavia Butler who writes with the same attention to detail and a similar understanding of the workings of humanity. The trilogy is a literary masterpiece, but it is also accessible to a wide audience.
In your opinion, what makes a “good” science fiction novel or trilogy?
A “good” novel or trilogy is one I can’t put down. It builds a world I want to visit again and again and keeps me on the edge of my seat in terms of plot. A great series (like the Broken Earth Trilogy) does this while also including multiple important social lessons about power structures, race, gender, etc. A great series makes me question what I thought I knew about being human.
As an academic, how do you think the school curriculum can incorporate more books by writers of color and of different genres?
The U.S. needs schools where the teachers and staff are as diverse as the country. I work at LaGuardia Community College: one of the most diverse community colleges in the country. Every day, I work to make sure that all races, genders and cultures are represented in the readings I teach and in my choices of which authors to invite to campus.
What do you love about a class that encourages reading?
Reading is one of the most important skills a child can learn. Good readers tend to have better vocabulary and writing skills. Reading can also teach people about the experiences of peoples of other races and genders. Reading about people who are not like you allows you to learn empathy and think critically about social issues.
What other resources do you think would benefit writers in New York?
New York has so many wonderful resources for writers! The New York Public Library is a treasure, and everyone should visit the Schomburg Center when they come to New York City. Museums like the Queens Museum are also bringing new and innovate programming like their new “Altermundos” exhibit which features Latinx and Indigenous science fiction artwork.
What interested you in agreeing to lead a summer reading group with The Center for Fiction?
I love the Center’s mission to help the general public remember the value of reading fiction, and I am very excited about leading a group in the Center’s beautiful new campus. I am looking forward to a great discussion about one of my favorite series with other science fiction lovers. If you are not a science fiction lover, I look forward to converting you.
How do you plan to structure this class? What do you hope the participants of your reading group will learn?
I always spend some time at the first meeting on introductions; that way, I know who I am working with and what their expectations are. Since this is not a college course with strict requirements and grades, I like to tailor the course to the participants. So the discussions will be based on the interests of the people participating.
The Broken Earth Trilogy
By N.K. Jemisin
“. . .a story that tells a deeply human story of flawed characters working to not simply survive, but the lengths that they need to go in order to change a world that is literally and figuratively broken.” -Andrew Liptak, The Verge
When N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy won the Hugo award three years in a row, it was an unprecedented event. As the first black author to win one of science fiction and fantasy’s most prestigious honors, Jemisin’s writing expands the boundaries of genres typically dominated by white, male authors. Her worlds seamlessly blend elements of science fiction and fantasy to create spaces which include peoples of all races and abilities. Broken Earth addresses the consequences of systemic racism and the effects of climate change. However, these larger issues are woven inside the more intimate story of a mother trying to save her daughter in a climate hostile to them both.