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Ignyte Interview Series: Writing the Other

The Ignyte Community Award celebrates outstanding efforts in service of inclusion and equitable practice in Genre. Nominated in this year’s Ignytes, Writing the Other is an invaluable SFF community resource that includes a textbook, online website, classes, workshops, retreats, and seminars that teach writers how to write characters very different from them sensitively and convincingly. We are honored to count Writing the Other among our finalists and have interviewed them here about their endeavors. K. Tempest Bradford, Nisi Shawl, and Cynthia Ward spearhead Writing the Other

Nisi and Cynthia- You wrote the book Writing the Other: A Practical approach fifteen years ago. What did you see as the need at the time of writing it and how have the needs changed? 

Nisi: At the time we wrote the book race was the primary concern.  Class was a mostly unexpressed factor in “othering” people.  In the interim new categories have become important, such as citizenship status and the cis/trans axis.  Also, awareness of the issue of representation has spread widely.

Cynthia: In early conversations, I noticed a lot of interest in writing outside racial and orientation identities.  Now, there is broader awareness of more categories, and broadening recognition of diversity within many categories.  Too, we’ve become more aware that binary perceptions of identity are often false and harmful.


You all continue to educate the Speculative community, and no doubt many others, on how to inject diversity into their work. What are your hopes for the future of diversity in Spec fic? 

Nisi: I hope that awareness of its importance continues to grow and examples of best practices for doing the work of inclusion grow in number and availability.

Cynthia: I hope more creators and audiences understand the necessity of diversity in the arts, and respond to their recognition thoughtfully and mindfully.


Not only are you all offering classes but you’re also deeply committed to providing scholarships for writers. Why is this important to you?

Nisi: Difference is not monolithic.  Privilege along one axis doesn’t mean you have privilege along all axes, so someone who’s conventionally able-bodied and wants to learn how to represent someone with a physical disability may not have the money to take one of our classes designed to help that process.

Cynthia: The economic playing field is far from level.


What are your hopes for Writing the Other in the future?

Nisi: That it will reflect the changing needs of creators for skills in emerging sorts of representation

Cynthia:  Growth, change, and flexibility as needed.


How has shepherding people into writing those who differ from them impacted your own work? 

Nisi: It has certainly made me double- and triple-check what I do.  It’s also shown me techniques our students practice.

Cynthia:  I’ve learned to cultivate beginner’s mind so I may see my mistakes and misperceptions, and so I will learn from others.


Your online classes run the gamut of identities, how do you choose what to create a class around? How have those choices changed over the years (if they have)?

Nisi:  We create classes based in part on demand.  We respond to alumni requests, and also to the extensive question-and-answer sessions we conduct in our classes.  We also listen to exchanges on social media, and to some extent we brainstorm about these topics among ourselves.


What does it mean to you to be considered for the Community award?

Nisi: It’s thrilling!  I’m so excited to be recognized as part of the community’s work!

Cynthia:  I am honored, elated, and humbled.  Thank you!

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