Nisi Shawl on “Representing My Equals”


Nisi Shawl’s novel Everfair is out this week, and she wrote an excellent essay for the Tor/Forge blog about how she went about attempting to give voice to the eleven (yes, 11!) viewpoint characters in the book.

The voices of Everfair are many. …the novel showcases many different spiritualities. Fabian socialist Jackie Owen is an atheist and proud of it. USian “Negro” missionaries Martha Livia Hunter and Thomas Jefferson Wilson are of course Christians–at the book’s start. King Mwenda relies on his bond with his “spirit father” and thus on his practice of local indigenous traditions, while his more cosmopolitan favorite wife, Queen Josina, has adopted some of the ways of the Yoruba nation. When Josina shares her esoteric learning with European Lisette Toutournier, it transpires that Lisette’s relationship to spirituality is more distant than that of her tutor. Tink, aka Ho Lin-Huang, also relates less than fervently to his religious practice, choosing a path matter-of-fact acceptance of the propitiousness of certain moments, numbers, and so on. And for the rest of Everfair’s main characters, spirituality plays roles of even less significance.

How did I dare to hope I’d do justice to all this variety of focus and intensity with my writing?

I began with the knowledge that I couldn’t.

My exploration of ways of “Writing the Other” (both as an author and a teacher) has shown me that it’s best to accept the likelihood of failure from the get-go. And then to endeavor to win anyway.

She also talks about the process of syncretizing all of her knowledge and research into a secondary world that has ties to, and is a reflection of, but is not exactly the same as the history of the Belgian Congo in our world. The whole thing contains lessons all writers who wish to create inclusive fiction and fiction steeped in history should learn. Read the whole piece here.

Then go buy Everfair!