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Ignyte Interview Series 2021: K. Tempest Bradford

The Ignyte Ember Award celebrates the unsung contributions of people in the speculative fiction community. Nominated in this year’s Ignytes, K. Tempest Bradford has served the community as an educator, podcaster, and of course as an author. Her work with Writing the Other has lead to that organization being a two-time nominee of the Ignyte awards. We are honored K. Tempest is being nominated for her individual contributions to the genre and we’ve interviewed her here about her work.

Your efforts to “change SFF culture for the better” have been both successful and wide ranging. What changes in the culture have you been glad to see over your tenure in the field? 

More acknowledgment of the work that still needs doing. There was a time when any conversation about lack of representation or the unfriendliness of con spaces to marginalized folks was brushed off by the majority and seen as not even worth talking about because fandom culture embraces everyone!!!! Except not really. I’m glad to see that these conversations don’t always devolve into “Nuh uh!” “Yes, huh!” anymore. 

What has been one of your favorite classes, workshops or seminars to lead?

Up until this year the answer would be the Writing the Other Building Inclusive Worlds class. That one is a serious group effort and I’m mainly there to make sure things run smoothly for the students and teachers. I love watching each new group of writers get their minds blown by all the lectures and the discussions.

My new favorite workshop endeavor is the Fun & Writing Games/Rekindle Your Will To Write salons. I’m a big fan of writing exercises and there are some wonderful writing-based solo RPGs that work as prompts. I started doing these at the beginning of the year and seeing how much playing these games helped writers get out of their blocks or away from the feeling that they couldn’t write was so, so amazing. All we had to do was give them permission to write something just for the pleasure of it, without any pressure to produce something saleable or even something that made sense. My co-teacher Alethea Kontis and I had planned to do the salons occasionally, now we’re doing them every month.

You hosted the Originality podcast as well as podcasts on Hologram Radio. Is there a particular topic you’d be interested in hosting another podcast about?

Someone please call me to go on endlessly about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine! I also wanted to do a Steven Universe podcast, but getting all the people I wanted was difficult and schedules didn’t match up. I’d still do it, though.

I’d also talk endlessly about She-Ra, both the old and new one, and I’m sure I will have many things to say about the new He-Man.

You are an accomplished writer and have a book, Ruby vs. the Robo-Bug due out in Fall 2022. Tell us a bit about your journey in writing this book.

This one started out as a writing exercise! See, this is how much I love them. I was visiting my friend Alethea and we decided to play The Picture Game as a warm up to writing. The game is simple: you find a cool picture, set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, and write something inspired by it. The picture in question was of a little Black girl with those light up sneakers fighting a giant red thing with only a Super Soaker as a weapon. I believe the piece is called Fight With What You Got.

What I wrote in the 15 minutes ended up being the first chapter of the book. I wasn’t thinking of it in those terms, though. Once we were done and we read what we wrote to each other, Alethea looked me dead in the eye and said: You know that’s the first chapter of a middle grade novel, right?

I fought that suggestion for a while because I didn’t think I had a novel’s worth of story in there and I had never written middle grade. Then over the next four months I kept noodling on the idea, trying to figure out the ending and such, and also reading a ton of middle grade books. Once I had the plot worked out, I started writing and I was able to get through a chapter almost every day.

One of the reasons I think the writing went so fast for me is that I relaxed into my own voice. My main character, Ruby, isn’t me, but she is very much like the Black girls I grew up with in the neighborhood and in my family. I let that kid voice flow and never tried to change it or judge it. I also poured all my love for my upbringing and my family into the book. 

What would you like to explore with your writing in the future?

I know it might seem like a cliche at this point, but I am here for Black Girl Magic in all of its forms. I still have a steampunk ancient Egypt book to write and I have another middle grade outlined about a girl from a long line of women watching over ancient Egyptian artifacts and the magic stored within them. I also want to write books for younger readers that highlight the amazing Black women who’ve held leadership positions throughout ancient times as well as modern.

You will be revisiting Egypt in the near future for research. Is there a particular experience you’re looking forward to having while you are there?

The first time I went to Egypt we visited the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut, a woman who ruled as pharaoh in the 18th dynasty. I learned that this temple was aligned to the sunrise at the winter solstice, just like the famous Karnak temple. On a clear day you can see Karnak from Hatshepsut’s temple. They were meant to be in harmony. I decided that when I went back a second time, it would be to stand on the steps of that temple and watch the sunrise.

What has made you hopeful over the past year?

I’m lucky to be a part of several communities of BIPOC writers, women writers, QUILTBAG writers, etc. where we form (what I feel are) really healthy communities. Marginalized folks often need support. Beyond that, we have fun together, share things that make us laugh, get joyful when good things happen, and enjoy each other’s company. That’s what’s kept me afloat since the beginning of 2020.

The communities that I’ve been part of since I entered the SFF publishing space were so important to me feeling like I belonged, and I want that for every writer, especially marginalized writers, and very especially BIPOC writers. The way we communicate and find each other has changed, the other great stuff hasn’t. That definitely gives me hope.

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

It is overwhelmingly amazing. As I said, the communities I found when I first came to SFF were super important to me. From the beginning I’ve been lifted up, mentored, and loved by folks who had already formed communities and invited me right in. I always strive to model that same behavior myself. I want other writers to feel safe and welcomed and like they belong and like they have a voice. To be nominated in this category is a high honor because it’s a sign I’m on the right track!

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