N. K. Jemisin

American science fiction and fantasy writer

Nora Keita Jemisin (born September 19, 1972) is an American speculative fiction writer and blogger.

N. K. Jemisin (2015)


  • (Book that...everyone should read:) One of the many books by queer and POC authors that are under challenge by conservatives, via your local library. If they’re no longer available at your library because the conservatives got there first, join your local Library Board and fight to reinstate them. Reading–and the freedom to speak truth to power–is part of a framework of equity and justice that is under attack in a way not seen for a generation. Fight for all books. Or else.
  • This is the year in which I get to smile at all of those naysayers – every single mediocre insecure wannabe who fixes their mouth to suggest that I do not belong on this stage, that people like me cannot possibly have earned such an honour, that when they win it it’s meritocracy but when we win it it’s ‘identity politics’ –… I get to smile at those people, and lift a massive, shining, rocket-shaped middle finger in their direction.
  • …You’re still putting a pretty hefty mental commitment into making a short story. Even though it’s relatively brief, you still have to come up with a world that’s coherent. I find short stories almost as difficult to write as novels, it’s just less time-consuming. Short stories are hard for me. That’s why the collection is something like fifteen years worth of short stories. They asked me to write several new ones for the collection and I was just like, Not likely to happen. In fact, I can really only write them when I’m between novels because they take away from whatever energy I’m trying to pour into a novel.
  • The pasts that I draw upon tend to be mythic pasts. I’m not super interested in writing historical fantasy. I have done that a few times in the case of subject areas that I felt like should have been explored more, like the Haitian Revolution, for example. But for the most part, I’m more interested in exploring the gods that we could have had. Or these are the creation myths that we could have explored. I’m not super interested in existing mythology, though existing mythology does inform just about everything that I’m coming up with. But that’s more along the lines of, This is how mythology should be structured, so you need to look at existing mythology to understand that. If I’m trying to come up with a secondary world, the goal is to use not too much of the existing world…
  • My job is to help the world..That is what an artist's job is—to the degree that we can. That is nothing more than holding up a mirror and saying, 'You're beautiful, baby.' Or holding up a mirror and saying, 'Look at the shit that you're doing to yourself. Maybe you should stop.' It is an artist's job to speak truth to power.
All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Orbit Books ISBN 978-0-316-04391-5
Nominated for the 2011 Nebula Award and the 2011 Hugo Award
  • There is no greater warrior than a mother protecting her child.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 36)
  • But perhaps that was just the way of power: no such thing as too much.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 61)
  • It is blasphemy to separate oneself from the earth and look down on it like a god. It is more than blasphemy, it is dangerous. We can never be gods, after all—but we can become something less than human with frightening ease.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 74)
  • It is important to appreciate beauty, even when it is evil.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 75)
  • Immortality gets very, very boring. You'd be surprised at how interesting the small mundanities of life can seem after a few millennia.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 103)
  • But love like that doesn’t just disappear, does it? No matter how powerful the hate, there’s always a little love left, underneath.
    Yes. Horrible, isn’t it?
    • Chapter 12 (p. 144)
  • There is no logic to grief.
    • Chapter 21 (p. 282)
  • “I'm tired of being what everyone else has made me,” I said. “I want to be myself.”
    “Don’t be a child.”
    I looked up, startled and angry, though of course there was nothing to see. “What?”
    “You are what your creators and experiences have made you, like every other being in this universe. Accept that and be done; I’m tired of your whining.”
    • Chapter 22 (p. 299)
  • “I will not beg your forgiveness,” she said. Only her voice betrayed her fear; it was not its usual strong, clear tone. “I did what I felt was right.”
    “Of course you did,” I said. “It was the wise thing to do.”
    • Chapter 29 (p. 394)
All page numbers from the trade paperback first edition published by Orbit Books ISBN 978-0-316-04396-0
  • It’s all right to need help. All of us have things we can’t do alone.
    • (p. 1; repeated twice more in the book)
  • Love betrayed has an entirely different sound from hatred outright.
    • Chapter 3 “Gods and Corpses” (oil on canvas) (p. 58)
  • When people questioned this, the priests simply said, The world has changed. We must change with it.
    You can imagine how well that went over.
    • Chapter 4 “Frustration” (watercolor) (p. 60)
  • I was beginning to understand, a little. “Is that why you’re a usurer?”
    Madding chuckled. “I prefer the term investor. And my rates are perfectly fair, thank you.”
    “Drug dealer, then.”
    “I prefer the term independent apothecary—”
    • Chapter 4 “Frustration” (watercolor) (p. 68)
  • Very quickly I fell in with others like me—newcomers, dreamers, young people drawn to the city in spite of its dangers because sometimes, for some of us, tedium and familiarity feel worse than risking your life.
    • Chapter 4 “Frustration” (watercolor) (p. 71)
  • There’s not such thing as magic that does no harm.
    • Chapter 4 “Frustration” (watercolor) (p. 93)
  • “They follow the creed of the Bright: that which disturbs the order of society must be eliminated, regardless of whether it caused the disturbance.” She rolled her eyes. “You’d think they’d get tired of parroting Itempas and start thinking for themselves after two thousand years.”
    • Chapter 5 “Family” (charcoal study) (p. 105)
  • I knew as well as anyone that the priests taught what they wanted us to know, not necessarily what was true. And sometimes even when they told the truth, they got it wrong.
    • Chapter 5 “Family” (charcoal study) (p. 120)
  • What happened when people who’d once possessed absolute power suddenly lost it?
    • Chapter 8 “Light Reveals” (encaustic on canvas) (p. 170)
  • But though I repeated my plea, and waited on my knees for nearly an hour, there was no answer.
    • Chapter 9 “Seduction” (charcoal) (p. 181)
  • I understand that mutual dissatisfaction is a factor in their collaboration. I imagine it isn’t a far step from mutual goals to mutual respect, and from there to love.
    • Chapter 9 “Seduction” (charcoal) (p. 185)
  • “You can’t lose faith you never had to begin with.”
    “Ah. So you never believed in the Bright at all?”
    “Of course I believed. Even now I believe, in principle. But when I was sixteen, I saw the hypocrisy in all the things the priests had taught me. It’s all very well to say the world values reason and compassion and justice, but if nothing in reality reflects those words, they’re meaningless.”
    • Chapter 9 “Seduction” (charcoal) (p. 189)
  • So, there was a girl.
    What I’ve guessed, and what the history books imply, is that she was unlucky enough to have been sired by a cruel man. He beat both wife and daughter and abused them in other ways. Bright Itempas is called, among other things, the god of justice. Perhaps that was why He responded when she came into His temple, her heart full of unchildlike rage.
    “I want him to die,” she said (or so I imagine). “Please Great Lord, make him die.”
    You know the truth now about Itempas. He is a god of warmth and light, which we think of as pleasant, gentle things. I once thought of Him that way, too. But warmth uncooled burns; light undimmed can hurt even my blind eyes. I should have realized. We should all have realized. He was never what we wanted Him to be.
    So when the girl begged the Bright Lord to murder her father, He said, “Kill him yourself.” And He gifted her with a knife perfectly suited to her small, weak child’s hands.
    She took the knife home and used it that very night. The next day, she came back to the Bright Lord, her hands and soul stained red, happy for the first time in her short life. “I will love you forever,” she declared. And He, for a rare once, found Himself impressed by mortal will.
    Or so I imagine.
    The child was mad, of course. Later events proved this. But it makes sense to me that this madness, not mere religious devotion, would appeal most to the Bright Lord. Her love was unconditional, her purpose undiluted by such paltry considerations as conscience or doubt. It seems like Him, I think, to value that kind of purity of purpose—even though, like warmth and light, too much love is never a good thing.
    • Chapter 11 “Possession” (watercolor) (pp. 202-203)
  • Good intentions are pointless without the will to implement them.
    • Chapter 16 “From the Depths to the Heights” (watercolor) (p. 281)
  • I...regret...what I did. It was wrong. Very wrong. But regret is meaningless.
    • Chapter 16 “From the Depths to the Heights” (watercolor) (p. 283)
  • They live forever, but many of them are even more lonely and miserable than we are. Why do you think they bother with us? We teach them life’s value.
    • Chapter 17 “A Golden Chain” (engraving on metal plate) (p. 309)
  • “I keep hoping you’ll tell me. You’re the god, after all. If I prayed to you for guidance, and you decided to answer, what would you tell me?”
    “I wouldn’t answer.”
    “Because you don’t care? Or because you wouldn’t know what to say?”
    More silence.
    • Chapter 17 “A Golden Chain” (engraving on metal plate) (p. 311)
  • I knew what it was at last—the visible manifestation of my will. My power, inherited from my god ancestors and distilled through generations of humanity, given shape and energy and potential. That was all magic was, really, in the end. Possibility. With it I could create anything, provided I believed.
    • Chapter 19 “The Demons’ War” (charcoal and chalk on black paper) (p. 349)
  • Otherwise it was quiet—that eerie, not-quite-comforting quiet one finds in small towns before dawn.
    • Chapter 20 “Life” (oil study) (p. 364)
  • I had never been able to truly hate anyone who’d suffered, no matter what evils they’d done in the aftermath.
    • Chapter 21 “Still Life” (oil on canvas) (p. 378)
All page numbers from the trade paperback first edition published by Orbit Books ISBN 978-0-316-04393-9
Nominated for the 2012 Nebula Award
  • “Well, isn’t that what fathers do?” He had no idea what fathers did. “Love you, even if you don’t love them? Miss you when you go away?”
    • Chapter 1 (p. 19)
  • “When things are bad, change is good, right? Change means things will get better.”
    • Chapter 1 (p. 19)
  • Unconditional love: childhood’s greatest magic.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 35)
  • There was no point in making myself suffer unnecessarily. As a mortal, there would be pain enough in my life, whether I sought it out or not.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 119)
  • Sky’s forecourt had been designed by my late sister, Kurue, who had understood two key elements of the mortal psyche: they hate being reminded of their own insignificance, yet they simultaneously and instinctively expect their leaders to be overwhelmingly dominant.
    • Chapter 5 (p. 119)
  • It is a massive palace, each spire of which could house a village; its chambers contain dozens of entertainments. All of these become tedious to the point of torment after two thousand years. Hells, after twenty.
    • Chapter 6 (p. 139)
  • That was the way of things, after all. Children had to grow up. They did not always become what others wanted.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 166)
  • I’d come down sick. (I had. It was called adolescence, an evil, evil disease.)
    • Chapter 7 (p. 170)
  • It takes great strength to compromise, Shahar. More than it does to threaten and destroy, since you must fight your own pride as well as the enemy.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 171)
  • The child in her wanted to do as she pleased, cling to impossible hopes. The woman in her wanted to make sound decisions, succeed even if it meant sacrifice. The woman would win; that was inevitable. But the child would not go quietly.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 173)
  • Well. Adolescence is all about making mistakes.
    • Chapter 9 (p. 200)
  • I think you’re just so gods-damned certain of your own importance that you haven’t figured it out. So let me make this clear: I don’t care about you. You’re irrelevant. It’s a waste of my energy even to hate you!”
    • Chapter 10 (p. 232)
  • “Even our mortal courtesans have been with gods enough to have acquired a certain ethereal technique.” He smiled a salesman’s smile, though it never once touched his eyes.
    “That’s what you’re selling. Not sex, but divinity.” I frowned. “Gods, Ahad, at least worship is free.”
    “It was never free.” His smile vanished. It hadn’t been real, anyway. “Every mortal who offered a god devotion wanted something in exchange for it—blessings, a guaranteed place in the heavens, status. And every god who demanded worship expected loyalty and more, in exchange. So why shouldn’t we be honest about what we’re doing? At least here, no god lies.”
    • Chapter 10 (p. 236)
  • Unreasoning optimism is a fundamental element of childishness.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 237)
  • It was the oldest of tricks, to sow dissension between groups that had common interests. Good for deflecting attention from greater mischief, too.
    • Chapter 12 (p. 301)
  • Funny thing, employment. If you keep doing it, you keep getting paid.
    • Chapter 12 (p. 308)
  • Magic is merely communication, after all.
    Communication, and conduits.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 325)
  • If they will not love me, fear is an acceptable substitute.
    • Chapter 13 (p. 331)
  • This was what I’d asked her to give me. I had no right to complain just because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
    • Chapter 14 (p. 347)
  • Fear was like poison to mortals; it killed their rationality.
    • Chapter 16 (p. 407)
  • Those with power would always find some way to exert it over those who didn’t.
    • Chapter 19 (p. 494)
  • At least I’m done with adolescence. Never could stand it; if I don’t want to kill someone, I want to have sex with them.
    • Chapter 19 (p. 498)
  • Peace is meaningless without freedom.
    • Chapter 20 (p. 514)
  • Mother always said that if one must do something unpleasant, one should do it wholeheartedly and not waste effort on regret.
    • Chapter 23 (p. 563)
  • “We will continue to serve you, Lady, whether you’re here or not. What prayers shall we say for you at the dawn and twilight hour?”
    She threw me an odd look, as if checking to see if I was joking. I wasn’t This seemed to surprise and unnerve her; she laughed, though it sounded a bit forced.
    “Say whatever you want,” she said finally. “Someone might be listening, but it won’t be me. I have better things to do.”
    She vanished.
    • Chapter 23 (p. 571)
All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Orbit Books ISBN 978-0-316-22929-6
Nominated for the 2016 Nebula Award and won the 2016 Hugo Award
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall; Death is the Fifth, and master of all.
    • Chapter 8 “Syenite on the highroad” (p. 149)
  • Syenite wonders if there is any point in hating a crazy man. It’s not like he’ll notice, anyway.
    • Chapter 9 “Syenite among the enemy” (p. 160)
  • “Home is people,” she says to Asael, softly. Asael blinks. “Home is what you take with you, not what you leave behind.”
    • Chapter 12 “Syenite finds a new toy” (p. 226)
  • Weapons have no need of friends.
    • Chapter 17 “Damaya, in finality” (p. 297)
  • My people didn’t use mysterious powers to track you; we used deduction. Much more reliable.
    • Chapter 21 “you’re getting the band back together” (p. 392)
  • Honor in safety, survival under threat. Better a living coward than a dead hero.
    • Chapter 21 “you’re getting the band back together” (p. 405)
All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Orbit Books ISBN 978-0-316-22926-5
Nominated for the 2017 Nebula Award and won the 2017 Hugo Award
  • The Leadership legends have the air of a myth concocted to justify their place in society.
    • Chapter 6 “you commit to the cause” (p. 91)
  • It is surprising how refreshing this feels. Being judged by what you do, and not what you are.
    • Chapter 8 “you've been warned” (p. 127)
  • Put people in a cage and they will devote themselves to escaping it, not cooperating with those who caged them.
    • Chapter 15 “Nassun, in rejection” (p. 270)
  • You’re abbreviating heavily, not lying. That’s what you tell yourself.
    • Chapter 16 “you meet an old friend, again” (p. 293)
All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Orbit Books ISBN 978-0-316-22924-1
Won the 2018 Nebula Award and the 2018 Hugo Award
  • When we say that “the world has ended,” remember—it is usually a lie. The planet is just fine.
    • Prologue “me, when I was I” (p. 2)
  • All energy is the same, through its different states and names. Movement creates heat which is also light that waves like sound which tightens or loosens the atomic bonds of crystal as they hum with strong and weak forces. In mirroring resonance with all of this is magic, the radiant emission of life and death.
    • Syl Anagist: Four (p. 97)
  • Would’ve been nice if we could’ve all had normal, of course, but not enough people wanted to share. So now we all burn.
    • Chapter 7 “you’re planning ahead” (p. 170)
  • Honor in safety, survival under threat. Necessity is the only law.
    • Chapter 9 “the desert, briefly, and you” (p. 231)
  • Nassun gasps. “That’s horrible!
    I don’t bother to explain that just because something is horrible does not make it any less true.
    • Coda “me, and you” (p. 395)

Quotes about N.K. Jemisin

  • (IL: Did you love Jemisin's Hugo speech directed at the rabid/sad puppies or what?) NH: Nora is graceful forthrightness personified. I still remember her blog post about the ways in which Race/Fail '09 wasn't a failure at all, because people of color in this community began to see that we weren't isolated at all, that we could be a force in each other's support. And because of great initiatives that started, such as publishing ventures and the challenge to read fifty books by authors of color in a year. In fact, I referenced her post in "Reluctant Ambassador." Hers went a long way towards shifting my generalized bad/traumatic feelings about Race/Fail '09 towards one of celebration.
    • 2021 interview included in Conversations with Nalo Hopkinson edited by Isiah Lavender III
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