by Amanda Ong
Local Seattle science fiction author Denise “Nisi” Shawl has recently published a new collection of short stories, Our Fruiting Bodies — stories that Shawl says reflect some of the intersections of science fiction and horror.
“[Our Fruiting Bodies is] a particular kind of beauty that sinks beneath your skin and stays with you. That’s what I’m trying to invoke in people,” Shawl said. “It’s for people who want to be surprised.”
Our Fruiting Bodies includes 18 short stories, all of which are reprints of previously published stories, though many of them appeared in obscure places: in a museum and printed on a letterpress, for example. The stories themselves are delightfully strange, from a young woman with the power to give nonphysical entities physical forms, to the events related in a 17th-century Scottish ballad transposed into the 1960s in South Seattle. Now, they are gathered together to complement each other as they explore the rich terrain of fantastic fiction.
“Our Fruiting Bodies came together for me because of my relationship with the subgenre of the fantastic, the horror stories,” Shawl said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “And there was this resurgence and sort of renaissance [in horror]. It was growing, and it was becoming more complicated and more interesting. And this was due a lot to the contributions of People of Color. So, investigating that further, I realized that actually some of what I did could be seen as horror.”
Horror, Shawl says, is like science fiction in that it is literature of the imagination — fantastic literature. And Shawl would know; they have been reading fantastic fiction their entire life. As a young reader growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Shawl became tired of picture books and coerced the public librarian into letting them read adult science fiction. Soon enough, they were reading Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke, and by the ninth grade, they were writing their own works.
The book arose as Shawl recalculated their relationship with certain stories they had already written. “For People of Color, we don’t seem to draw such clear distinctions between science fiction and fantasy and horror,” Shawl said. “Author and artist John Jennings … talks about ethno-gothic, which is his term for People of Color’s take on horror. And, specifically for African-descended people, we have all this baggage of horrors that have been perpetrated on us. And that writing in the ethno-gothic exorcises us so we can get rid of [our horrors] and be free to move on to the Afrofuture.”
An author, editor, and teacher, Shawl has lived in Seattle since 1996, but first came here in 1992 to attend the Clarion West Writers Workshop. Even now, they say they experience science fiction more as a community than a genre, with Clarion West as their entry into the community. Since coming to Seattle, a number of Shawl’s short stories have taken place in South Seattle, including some in Our Fruiting Bodies.
“I wrote these three short stories about a character in an unpublished novel of mine, and this is the first time all three have been published in the same place,” Shawl said. The third of these stories, “Conversion Therapy,” takes place in the South End as the main character is forcibly treated for homsexuality. Shawl’s story “Cruel Sistah,” about a Black woman who is jealous of her sister’s straight hair, also takes place in South Seattle.
Our Fruiting Bodies reflects some of the horrors and delights of BIPOC identity, as well as of South Seattle. And by bringing together such a varied selection of previously published stories, it creates something entirely new.
Check out Our Fruiting Bodies on Bookshop.org or on Amazon, and follow Shawl on Twitter to keep up with upcoming works, including the sequel to their 2016 book, Everfair.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: Local Seattle science fiction author Denise “Nisi” Shawl has recently published a new collection of short stories, “Our Fruiting Bodies” – stories that Shawl says reflect some of the intersections of science fiction and horror. (Left Photo: Misha Stone; Right Photo: Cover designed by Kath Wilham using a photo by Barry Webb.)
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