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Kij Johnson wins top writing award — again

Monday, November 20, 2017

LAWRENCE — Winning a top award in your field never gets old.

Even though she had already won the three most prestigious awards a science fiction/fantasy author can win, Assistant Professor of English Kij Johnson was still thrilled to win the 2017 World Fantasy Award for best long fiction for her 2016 novella, “The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe” (Tor.com).

The awards were presented earlier this month at the annual World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio.

Johnson won a World Fantasy Award in 2009 for her short story “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss,” published in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine.

Johnson called the World Fantasy Award, along with the Hugo and Nebula awards, the “hat trick” of honors for a U.S. writer of sci-fi and fantasy.

She won the 2009 Nebula Award for the short story “Spar,” published in Clarkesworld magazine. The following year she tied the great Harlan Ellison for best short story Nebula for her “Ponies,” published on the Tor.com website. And in 2011, she took home the Nebula for Best Novella for her “The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” published in Asimov’s Science Fiction. The Nebulas are awarded by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” also won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novella. The Hugos are named after the author and Amazing Stories magazine founder Hugo Gernsback The Hugos are awarded by the World Science Fiction Society.

And while Johnson is no stranger to the award platform, “It in no way decreased the delight in this one,” she said. “I cried when I went on stage.”

“Vellitt Boe,” with its middle-aged female protagonist, is a feminist riff on H.P. Lovecraft’s novella “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” published posthumously in 1943. It struck a deep chord with readers.

“There are a lot of people in my field interested in Lovecraft and intrigued to see so many writers exploring some of the same materials — Caitlin Kiernan, Matt Ruff, Victor LaValle, Cassandra Klaw and others — just in the last couple of years,” Johnson said. “But judging from the comments I have seen, many more of the people who like the book have never read ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,’ my starting point. I think the appeal for some is Vellitt herself, a pragmatic, tough woman with preoccupations different from the more usual ones: revenge, conquest, love, ambition.”

“Vellitt Boe” continues to sell well, Johnson said, “and I couldn't be happier, but I think this year's book, ‘The River Bank,’ may well outsell it.”

“The River Bank,” published a few weeks ago by Small Beer Press, adds female characters to Mr. Toad and the rest of the well-loved anthropomorphic animal cast established in 1908 by Kenneth Grahame in “The Wind in the Willows.”