Issue 67 – April 2012


Passing Through Each Other: A Round-Table Discussion of Speculative Fiction and Academia

What do Julianna Baggott and Paul Levinson have in common? Or, how about James Enge and Joan Slonczewski? Nnedi Okorafor and Brian Evenson? Ekaterina Sedia and Jeffrey Ford? For one thing, they all write speculative fiction and they all teach at a college or university.

Below, these eight authors discuss the interrelationship of speculative fiction and academia from the point of view of writer/professors. The questions I posed to them grew out of my work at Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that I co-founded with Jeff VanderMeer at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC. Shared Worlds, in turn, grew out of my having used speculative fiction in a high school English class and seeing how powerful an effect it had on students.

Yet, as historian W. Scott Poole, a professor at the College of Charleston and the author of Monsters in America, points out, "Speculative fictions are seldom seen as a central part of a traditional liberal arts curriculum. In fact, such works tend to be relegated to special topics courses in [English departments], seen as the special province of those, usually, postmodern leaning profs, who jump back and forth across the line between popular and so-called 'High Culture.'"

My experiences as an adjunct professor in higher education are similar to those mentioned by Poole. At the three colleges where I have taught, I have met numerous colleagues who read speculative fiction, a few who teach it, and one that writes it. But I also have been told, in essence, "We don't teach that here."

However, Poole suggests that "[s]peculative fiction and higher education share some of the same goals. Both build worlds. Both are amalgams of art and science that endeavor to open up the mysteries of nature, history and culture by hypothesizing speculative universes of meaning."

I bet that many of the professors and administrators involved in Shared Worlds might agree with Poole on that!

As a student, I was lucky. My undergraduate creative writing teacher, Madison Smartt Bell, told me point blank, "Read anything and everything. It will all teach you something." In workshops, he never balked at speculative stories.

Similarly, in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, no one ever forbade me from writing or discussing speculative fiction. Yet, I do not remember ever discussing speculative fiction or reading any speculative fiction manuscripts in workshops. Even so, a few years after graduating from the program, my close friend and classmate, Robert V. S. Redick, sold an epic fantasy trilogy, The Chathrand Voyage, to Gollancz (UK) and Del Rey (US).

(When we were in school, I didn't even know he read fantasy, let alone write it. I don't think he was hiding a "dirty secret" ... it just never came up.)

In what follows, eight authors talk about the purpose of higher education and the purpose of speculative fiction. They brush on the topics of snobbery, technology, the future of education, and what happens when everyone plays well together. I find the topics infinitely fascinating, in no small part because I live, somewhat, in both worlds and find myself crossing their perceptual borders on a regular basis. And crossing borders is never a simple matter.

All in all, I very much agree with Nnedi Okorafor when she says, "It's a complicated thing for me."

What is the purpose of higher education? What is the purpose of speculative fiction? In what ways do the two purposes coincide and/or collide?

Julianna Baggott: Higher education should both broaden the worldview and prepare students for the future. Speculative fiction looks into the future and primarily tells cautionary tales, even when describing utopias. So they collide in their lens set on the future, in some ways. Should they collide in the classroom for every student? No. Speculative fiction is one of many ways of looking toward the future. I think one extremely important way of looking to the future is learning the past, for example, carrying that past with you into the future.

James Enge: I wouldn't say anything as broad-based as higher education has a single purpose. For many, it's job training for certain types of career. This may be the least interesting part of a university education to some observers, but it's always been there: the medieval universities existed to grant people degrees in law and medicine, among other things. And with the hideous cost of an undergraduate education in the USA these days, these practical questions need to be addressed. What is a college education for? Is it worth the price to the people who are buying it?

But I'd say that, essentially, a university exists to preserve, increase and extend the cultural legacy. SFF is part of the cultural legacy, so their purposes are not necessarily in conflict.

Universities are institutions, though, and art doesn't necessarily flourish in institutions. Think of the relationship between a bug-collector and bugs. The bug-collector has an intense and particular interest in capturing and studying bugs—cutting them up, mounting them on cards, working on them in labs, etc. But the bug may be more interested in just surviving and being a bug.

Brian Evenson: For me, higher education should be able to provide students with a series of tools that make critical thinking possible. I don't think it should be about the dissemination of knowledge (or if so only secondarily), nor is it about establishing a particular worldview, nor about positioning oneself in a particular way in regard to employment or a field. At its best [higher education] provides tools for thinking and teaches students how to use them in a way that allows for unexpected and sometimes startling results. I think speculative fiction is a place in which that critical thinking is brought to bear in a very unique and particular way, in which imagined worlds and imagined models end up allowing us to think about our own world in a particular way, but also allow us to approach philosophical and ethical questions differently, and sometimes with a great deal more clarity. I don't see that as a purpose exactly, but more as a mode. I think at their best, both higher education and speculative fiction dovetail into each other. They collide at moments when higher education becomes too insistent on doing something other than providing a series of tools and begins telling people exactly how those tools should be used. It's particularly problematic when higher education becomes a kind of gatekeeper for maintaining the status quo and keeping certain genres and ideas "in their place."

Jeffrey Ford: Higher education teaches you how to answer questions; speculative fiction teaches you how to ask them. They don't so much collide as pass through each other.

I've met a lot of teachers, administrators, students who were SF/F/H readers. A lot of the teachers use speculative works (film and text) in their classes. In a college writing class I taught for students with learning disabilities, I decided I was going to show them a film and have them write a review of it. This student, Antony, volunteered to bring in a movie. I was leery of this. Antony, although never malicious, acted a little wacky at times.

I told him, "Nothing too out there."

"I got a good one," he said.

The next week he brought in the movie and handed me the DVD case. I couldn't believe it. He picked Eyes Wide Shut by Kubrick. My first thought was I'd have been better off if he'd brought in Hostel. Some of the students in that class couldn't sit still for 15 minutes at a time. Forget three hours plus of sturm und drang. I could just picture how long they'd put up with Cruise emoting before they revolted. I saw the flick in the theater when it came out and thought it was confusing and slow; a big fizzle. I didn't have anything else to show, though, so I put it on and settled in.

From the minute it came on, you could hear a pin drop. They were so engrossed by it that it kind of spooked me at first. Then I somehow started seeing it the way they were and got into it. Even that stuff in the mansion at the end, the corny chanting, the naked women in masks, the old dudes in robes, seemed to work. It was deep.

When it was over, we discussed it and they were full of insights about what to mention in their reviews. I couldn't figure out what had happened. More than a few of them described the movie as "Like a fairy tale." Others, "Like a dream." I never saw the film as a speculative piece, but that was their portal into it. Something weird transpired in that classroom. The intersection of speculative fiction and education. Don't ask me to quantify it. I've since seen the film again a couple times on cable, and both times it bored the crap out of me.

Paul Levinson: Some of my critics have said that my scholarly work about the evolution of media is fiction, and my science fiction has so much philosophy and media theory that it reads like a scholarly tract. But that aside: The purpose of higher education is to imbue knowledge and means of learning, with entertainment being a good appetizer and dessert for that. And the purpose of speculative fiction is to entertain, with imparting a thirst for knowledge as a significant chaser. The two therefore have a lot in common. They collide only in the minds of the intellectually rigid and feeble.

Ekaterina Sedia: I would guess that the purposes of the two are mostly orthogonal to each other, not to mention that the purposes are perceived very differently by different people. To me, higher education should be focused on providing the students with a set of higher level skills—critical thinking, information synthesis and integration, along with the usual acquisition of facts and perspectives. For speculative fiction—I wouldn't say that its purpose is terribly different from fiction in general, since even speculative fiction is still mostly about human condition. So perhaps speculative fiction should challenge the readers by talking about people in impossible circumstances.

So I suppose one could argue that both fiction and education really are about widening and challenging the subject's frames of references.

Joan Slonczewski: In my book The Highest Frontier, student-athletes go up to Frontera College on a space station, and discover how to save the world through science. An excellent adventure, with lots to think on—that's the purpose of speculative fiction.

The purpose of education is to explain and to inspire. To explain how the natural world works—and to inspire students to discover new worlds. Unfortunately, much of today's science education fails at both. Explaining things requires good storytelling, so that the student remembers how a sugar molecule breaks down and why it's of compelling importance. Yet the average textbook makes the topic both boring and incomprehensible.

Scientists don't realize how much of what we teach is fictional illustration, such as the ball and stick model of a molecule. If we have to teach that much story, why not teach more?

Do you encounter snobbery from either realm toward the other? If so, why do you suppose that is? And how does it manifest itself?

Julianna Baggott: I really don't know many sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction writers. I know many academics. And, yes, there is snobbery. Not just snobbery, I get end-of-year evaluations and I'm told the kind of work of mine that my colleagues would want to see more of. My fantasy work is never suggested. Pure is not on my academic CV, and neither will be the sequels. I'm writing the Pure Trilogy—which I think of as dystopian fiction instead of falling into the strict boundaries of sci-fi—for myself. I don't see them as part of my creative scholarship and I don't want to put my colleagues in the situation of evaluating them for promotion. I have plenty of works that I create that fit more neatly in the academic environment.

James Enge: I haven't gotten any snobbery from academia towards my sword-and-sorcery. Most of my colleagues at my university were unaware of my fantasy-writing until I was nominated for the World Fantasy Award a year or two ago. And a lot of people were genuinely, I think, excited by it. My novels are now proudly on display in the faculty publications display case, alongside much more serious work.

Sometimes I sense some—I don't know what to call it—anti-snobbery from the other direction. When someone at a con learns that I teach college, they may get anxious, as if I'm about to assign them homework or give them a failing grade in Somethingorother 101.

And often I see fans waxing hysterical online about academia and its lack of respect for genre. It's clear to me that those guys don't have the faintest clue what they're talking about. I would give them an A in Strawman-Fighting and an F in Reality-Dealing, if I had the power to do so.

Brian Evenson: I've mainly encountered it on the part of academics. It manifests sometimes as a kind of embarrassment on the part of academics that I've done not only "literary" work, but work that is "genre"-related. They see it as a kind of shameful secret, like a heroin-addicted uncle or something. But I love my heroin-addicted uncle. The worst was someone who felt he had to draw me aside and explain to me that I was wasting my time by not doing strictly literary work and that it would ruin my reputation. That felt intensely snobbish. Then again, lots of academics find it interesting that I cross that line and are supportive of it and me.

Jeffrey Ford: I guess somebody's got to be a snob. As far as I'm concerned, though, they can gladly have the mantle. The position seems too stressful to me. There are so many different kinds of readers with so many different tastes that it would be a job and a half to come up with standards that might encompass all those minds in their idiosyncratic engagements with text. Less is more when it comes to standards. You'll head for the territory if you have any sense. To be fair, Snob's a tough job because you have to keep giving a shit long after nobody else does. How does it manifest itself? Obeisance to the Precious.

Paul Levinson: I've seen a touch of snobbery from both sides. In academe, it comes from a narrow view that learning has to be difficult, and too much joy in anything may make it suspect. In speculative fiction, it comes from a suspicion of anything that inhabits a classroom. In both cases, again, the snobbery is a sign of a shaky mind.

Nnedi Okorafor: I've encountered both. But I've encountered the snobbery more in academia. I think it's because a lot of academics have not read good speculative fiction. They are basing their snobbery on cliches and stereotypes. That's not good research. It manifests itself on syllabuses. Professors won't put speculative novels/stories on them. It manifests itself in the absence of speculative novels/stories in the literary canon. It manifests itself in the stipulations professors impose in creative writing classes. And let's not ignore the major literary prizes that snub their noses at speculative fiction.

Ekaterina Sedia: In my experience, some individuals from popular fiction writing circles conceive of academia as beret-wearing snobs who read Joyce just to torture themselves. This concept often co-occurs with claims of "it's all about the story" and "I read (or write) to be entertained (or to entertain)." It seems to be a defensive reaction, claiming that SF gets no respect because of academic snobbery. Of course, it does get plenty of respect (and then stops being shelved in the genre section of the bookstore, but that's another story). I also suspect that there are academics who look down on all sorts of popular fiction, I just haven't met any.

Joan Slonczewski: Checking the science is an important part of assessing science fiction. But ultimately what matters is, how does the work make us think? In H. G. Wells's The Time Machine, the science is all a century out of date. But the essential questions he raises remain: Could the human species diverge? And would we still be human?

What's it like when these two worlds—academia and speculative fiction—coexist? When they play well together?

Julianna Baggott: I'm sure there are universities that do embrace all of it. In fact, I've heard that one of our nanobiology specialists teaches science fiction at the end of his own course in the sciences. You know what helps? People like Margaret Atwood. Academics can wrap their heads around the literary importance of her work.

James Enge: SFF now has a cultural legacy long enough that it needs some tending and preservation. That's what academia does best. Mur Lafferty wrote a brief squib a while ago ("My Problem with Classics") about how unpleasant some of the older work in the field was for her. Blogospheric squawking ensued, but I think she raised a very real issue. Some of this older stuff, written as popular fiction and meant to speak directly to a contemporary audience, no longer works as intended because the audience has changed. The marketplace that produced this work is likely to discard it in favor of things more likely to make money nowadays. But universities provide a place for this stuff to be preserved, studied, appreciated, interpreted—independent of the harsh and shifting currents of the fiction markets.

Brian Evenson: Well, I think if you can get students past the kind of resistances that academia has developed for them between so-called serious and so-called non-serious work, the interchange can be very productive. Speculative fiction has a lot to teach students. As someone who is less interested in being considered either a literary or a genre writer and who is more interested in crossing through various territories and no man's lands to try to find whatever it takes to make the writing as strong as it can be, I think they play exceptionally well together. I'm very Rabelasian in the way I think about influence. As a teacher of fiction writing, I try to get students to realize that everything and anything can be potentially important and useful to them.

Jeffrey Ford: A good example would be the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts held every year in Florida. I went this past year. Scholars, writers, students, and fans. Saw friends, heard some good readings, listened to some interesting academic whim-wham, drank and laughed. What more need be said. Check it out if you can.

Paul Levinson: They certainly played well together in the mind of Isaac Asimov—the best science fiction writer in history, in my view, and a professor of biochemistry. Beyond that, you have the Nobel laureate in Economics, Professor Paul Krugman, who says Asimov's Foundation series is what inspired his work in neo-Keynesian economics. And there are the scientists—like AI-specialist Marvin Minsky, who, come to think of it, credits Asimov's robot series as inspiration. Also, in my own life's work, I've found science fiction an inspiration for a lot of my media theory, and my research in evolution and technology a great source of material for my science fiction.

Nnedi Okorafor: I am product of university creative writing programs. I discovered my skill and love for writing fiction in the first creative writing class that I took (in my sophomore year). My very first story was speculative in nature, though based on a real life moment. The fantastical elements were a result of the way that I view the world. Nevertheless, in that first class and just about every creative wring class I took after that (through two master's degrees and a PhD), I was taught by professors who were anti-science fiction and fantasy. Let me be clear: I learned the craft of writing from professors who had no respect or understanding of science fiction or fantasy. Some of them were the best professors I ever had. It's a complicated thing for me.

In that very first class, my professor said, "No science fiction or fantasy." Flat out stated this. Regardless, as the years rolled by, my fiction got more and more fantastical. I took other classes where this was stated. I wasn't bothered, offended or worried. I have a way of ignoring those kinds of rules. Those stipulations simply went in one ear and right out the other, for me. I've always had to write what comes to me. I can't pick and chose. In the critical moments when I submitted the stories, I just called them "magical realism." That made everything ok. Also, as my professors saw what I was writing, I think several of them changed their minds about science fiction and fantasy or at least made exceptions for me.

I am also a product of the Clarion Writers Workshop. I learned to openly call myself a fantasy writer at Clarion (I started writing science fiction later). I went to Clarion after I had finished my first master's degree in journalism from Michigan State.

Somewhere along the way I learned to combine/reconcile my academic and speculative fiction sides. They've never been in conflict. It's very similar to the way I have fused my Nigerian and American sides. These are two aspects (my speculative fiction and academic sides) of who I am as a writers that are necessary and vital. I cannot do without either. I take from both. I've learned from both.

Ekaterina Sedia: In my case, they largely coexist—my academic career is a separate entity, except for when I occasionally teach a writing course. But my literary hobby hasn't got in a way and my colleagues have been wonderfully supportive. On the other hand, being a scientist in a real life, I can convincingly fake science for literary purposes.

Joan Slonczewski: Frank Herbert's Dune is one of the more interesting works that I teach in my course, "Biology in Science Fiction." Dune depicts an ecosystem in surprising detail, much of which is consistent with actual ecosystems. But there is a big hole, where do the organisms get their energy? Students get the message; and they appreciate what it means to "get something wrong." They are also impressed by the amazing amount of ideas that Herbert imagined ahead of his time, such as global climate change, energy-harvesters, and drone warfare.

How has technology changed the way we learn?

Julianna Baggott: That's a vast question. I'll narrow down to something simple. Memorization isn't as important a skill set as it once was. Those who had brains that stored information like computers were thought to be brilliant and were deeply useful. Now, people don't have to memorize. We have to know how to access. The downside is that much of what we learn doesn't have to burrow down deep and so it doesn't. Our brains practice skimming and lightly retaining more than they practice deep excavation.

James Enge: In some ways a lot. I do a lot of teaching about the physical culture of the ancient world, for instance, and getting the visual evidence for that stuff in front of students used to be quite a chore. In a modern multimedia classroom, it's almost too easy. And interactive software has been a boon for helping people develop basic skills in math and language.

In some ways, not a damn thing has changed. People have to read; they have to think about what they read; they have to talk with someone about what they're reading and thinking. I guess it was James Garfield who described education as a log with a teacher on end and a student on the other. (Insert double entendre here.) That's what it still is, and will always be.

Brian Evenson: I think different technologies have had a definite impact on the way we think and the way we write. I think, for instance, that computer word processing programs, which allow you to delete vast blocks of texts very quickly without leaving a record and in which you can move things from page 1 to 100 without much effort have changed the way we think about the structure and the integrity of a narrative. I think the way we text—which has become one of my chief forms of communication—and the emotional shorthand that's developed from texting and twitter has had a serious effect on our emotions in general. That's partly generational, and is influenced by television as well. I don't think of it as a good or bad thing—I think of it as an inevitable thing and as a very interesting thing. The tools we use work not only outward but inward, modifying our selves even as they modify the world around us. It's like how when you have an old car you learn all sorts of procedures and modify your behavior to make it work. You know you have to jiggle the key in a certain way to make it work, know that you should pump the gas twice before starting but not three times or it'll flood, etc. The object teaches you to adapt to it and soon you do so without thinking about it. That's doubly true with technologies that are connected to writing, in that they modify not only our bodies but the very structures of our thinking.

Paul Levinson: The digital revolution, which I examined most recently in my New New Media (2009), has given everyone access to increasing amounts of information from anywhere and everywhere in the world. The classroom has become, if not an afterthought, a place where knowledge increasingly obtained elsewhere can be discussed and analyzed. Of course, the same can be done, ever more easily, online.

Nnedi Okorafor: So much more information is right at our fingertips. It's glorious. If my daughter asks me some crazy off the wall question, nine times out of ten, I can find the answer online. I can show her YouTube videos to illustrate points I'm trying to make. Sadly, this also means that just as much misinformation is also right at our fingertips. Now, people also need to learn how to read information. There are many factors to consider. The source, the timing, the type of information, the biases and agendas, etc. Learning has to be more active. Also, I think people suffer from staying inside to learn about something as opposed to going out an seeing it for themselves. Example, if you are researching grasshoppers, why not go out and catch one, as opposed to looking it up on Wikipedia?

Ekaterina Sedia: Kids no longer have to learn to visualize concepts from written descriptions? Look, I still use blackboard and chalk when I lecture, so maybe I'm not the best person to ask about technology.

Joan Slonczewski: Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker ("Get Smart," April 4, 2011) argues that what we humans have done, for centuries, is to outsource our own intelligence. From the invention of writing and the abacus, to Deep Blue and SimOne, we build devices that do what humans do—then we define their achievement as inhuman. Whatever hurdles remain for machines to surmount, we define what remains as human—"not because it matters more but because it's all that's left to us."

What will higher education be like in a hundred years? What will change and what will most likely stay the same?

Julianna Baggott: Oh, that depends on politics. Right now, those things are being chosen in legislative sessions, state by state. Some states will remain balanced and whole. Others will push solely toward degrees that get people jobs. The fact is, people create. The arts will endure. This skill set and that skill set will become obsolete; technology will continue to force great changes there. But the desire to create, to innovate and invent, to make use of our imaginations—those things will remain, but we might have to fight for them and be hungry for them for a while in certain regions.

James Enge: Higher education is likely to undergo a crisis in the near future, something like the crisis commercial publishing is experiencing now. Institutions may crumble, or adapt, but the storm is coming.

Information is now very easy to get. But the skills to use it, interpret it, understand it, make use of it: these are as elusive as they were in Socrates' day. If institutions can provide these skills, and if people think they are worth paying for, universities will continue to exist. If not, then not.

Brian Evenson: I'm not all that convinced that America has another hundred years left in it, but I hope I'm wrong...

Jeffrey Ford: Forget the next hundred years. I'm more concerned with the next five years. Education is under attack. In this age of slashing budgets, education is one of the first things to go—hey, kids don't vote. More teachers will be laid off, class sizes will increase, programs will be cut. The electorate has, through the work of the right, been convinced that education is somehow evil. The word is always that everyone wants education to be top of the line, but "we don't want to just throw money at it." Why not? This is what's been done with the military for the past 60 years, at least, and we have the best military in the world. Go ahead, I say, throw money at it. That would be a good start.

To compete in the world, we're going to need smart and imaginative people. A lot of the bullshit restraints to thinking should be lifted from education. Let's put a stake through the heart of Creationism (dogma circumvents the need to think), or situations like the one in Tennessee where teachers would be unable to say the word "gay" in a classroom. Forget school voucher programs—they favor the well-off and do nothing for those in need. Let's promise to build up the public education system to where it should be. Throw some money at it, so you can hire the best people. Reintroduce full-on music, art, and athletic programs. Get rid of the inanity of lock-step approaches to teaching a given course and let the experts, the teachers, choose the material and the approaches to a given curriculum. Only ignoramuses think that all courses in a given discipline should be taught the exact same way. This drive toward uniformity is a way to dis-empower teachers and make them merely mouthpieces for the status quo. Keep tenure—teachers have to be able to express a healthy disrespect for authority in order to act as an example for their students. A teacher who is limited to the status quo, and is unable to call bullshit when they readily see it, will only help to produce students who can only spout the status quo. Online education definitely can have benefits for students, but this shell game needs to be thoroughly investigated. Is it more about the students or about the bottom line? Make education not about getting a job—there're no fucking jobs out there anyway—and more about helping young people to become imaginative free-thinkers who are capable of learning any job and have a clue as to what's going on in the world around them. This is where the money should be going, especially now. The current grade school and high school education in this country now is basically a disgrace. Our colleges and universities are somewhat better, but they're faculties and budgets are under attack. I'm not saying spend foolishly, or not to cut waste, but more money is needed overall. This is an investment that will pay off in the future.

I can't think a hundred years in the future. The struggle is now. If we ignore this problem today, there won't be an America in a hundred years.

Paul Levinson: There is something fundamental and irresistible about in-person presence—we are, after all, flesh-and-blood beings. This means that the physical classroom will endure—or at least, professors and students in the same physical space—but one hundred years into the future we'll see much more information imparted online. And the learning online will be increasingly individual—meaning, people will study and learn what they most need—which is good, i.e., real progress.

Nnedi Okorafor: You mean after the Apocalypse? What will stay the same is that we will still need to do the work to learn. You can have all the information in the world available to you on many various gadgets and devices but you'll still need to take it in and process it. you'll still need to study. You will still need to think. What will change? That's not so predictable. Things come and go. There are wild cards that no can possibly predict. I do hope touch screens go away as opposed to evolve... I loathe touchscreens.

Ekaterina Sedia: More administrators, fewer full-time faculty, more talk about education as product and students as customers, less quality. Oh, I'm sorry. Were you expecting something uplifting?

Joan Slonczewski: An unsettling consequence of online learning is that it makes it increasingly easy to narrow your world to those with whom you agree. For example, there is a growing fount of so-called biblical textbooks sold on the Internet. If you select their publishers—and there are many—you can feel as if you're sampling many opinions, when in reality you never hear anything outside the circle. Which is the opposite of what happens in The Highest Frontier.

In The Highest Frontier, most of "higher education" has been outsourced to Toynet—a neural Internet device that, according to NPR reviewer Alan Cheuse, "makes the iPhone look like a Model-T Ford." Students learn history by entering a VR world with Teddy Roosevelt, where they compare his imperialism with that of invading ultraphytes. But at Frontera, students still interact with live teachers. A new student reflects that for the first time she finds herself arguing face to face with a teacher she disagrees with—"breathing the same air."

Julianna Baggott [] is the author of Pure, The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted (as Bridget Asher, and 15 other books. She is also is an associate professor at Florida State University's College of Motion Picture Arts.

James Enge [] is the author of Blood of Ambrose, This Crooked Way, The Wolf Age, and the upcoming A Guile of Dragons. He's also a lecturer in classics at Bowling Green State University.

Brian Evenson [] is the translator of numerous works and the author of eight books, including The Open Curtain and Immobility. He is also the Chair of the Literary Arts Program at Brown University.

Jeffrey Ford [] is the author of ten books, including The Shadow Year and The Drowned Life. He also teaches literature and writing at Brookdale Community College.

Paul Levinson [] is the author of more than a dozen books, including New New Media and The Plot To Save Socrates. He is also a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University.

Nnedi Okorafor [] is the author of six books, including Akata Witch and Iridessa and The Secret of the Never Mine. She is also a professor of creative writing at Chicago State University.

Ekaterina Sedia [] is the author of five novels, including The House of Discarded Dreams and Heart of Iron. She is also an Associate Professor of Biology at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

Joan Slonczewski is the author of seven novels, including Brain Plague and The Highest Frontier. She is also a professor of microbiology at Kenyon College.

Author profile

Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. He is the Staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly and He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006. Jones lives in Upstate South Carolina with his wife, daughter, and flying poodle.

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