The Friends of Hackney Library hosted speculative fiction author John Kessel as the featured speaker for the Spring 2021 Lecture on Tuesday, March 23, 2021 at Hackney Library on the Barton College campus. (Speculative fiction includes science fiction, fantasy, slipstream and other works that embrace supernatural or futuristic themes; this is our first time hosting an author working in this genre.)
Born in Buffalo, New York, John Kessel is the award-winning author of the novels Pride and Prometheus, The Moon and the Other, Good News from Outer Space, Corrupting Dr. Nice, and in collaboration with James Patrick Kelly, Freedom Beach. His short story collections are Meeting in Infinity (a New York Times Notable Book), The Pure Product, and The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories.
Kessel’s work is highly regarded. Publisher’s Weekly characterizes him as “our American Brian Aldiss, capable of the most artful and rigorous literary composition, but with a mischievous genius that inclines him toward speculative fiction . . . he writes with subtlety and great wit . . . and his craftmanship is frequently absolutely brilliant. Plus, his sense of comedy is remarkable.” And Locus magazine’s Nick Gevers calls him “one of American SF’s finest writers.”
Moreover, Kessel’s stories have twice received the Nebula Award given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (for the best science fiction or fantasy published in the United States), in addition to the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award (the University of Kansas Center for the Study of Science Fiction’s award for best science fiction short story), the Locus Poll (chosen by readers of Locus magazine), the Shirley Jackson Award (for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic) and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award (a literary award encouraging the exploration and expansion of gender). His play “Faustfeathers” won the Paul Green Playwright’s Prize, and his story “A Clean Escape” was adapted as an episode of the ABC TV series Masters of Science Fiction.
With Jim Kelly, he has edited five anthologies of stories re-visioning contemporary short sci fi, most recently Digital Rapture: The Singularity Anthology.
Read on for a sample of his work and the praise it has garnered:
Pride and Prometheus (2018) is a “literary mashup” of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which Austen’s character Mary Bennett crosses paths with Shelley’s character Victor Frankenstein, following him through Europe on “a disturbing mission to animate another corpse and risk losing his own humanity, according to Booklist Online‘s review. In Booklist‘s estimation, fans of the two original works “won’t be able to help but fall headfirst into this exceedingly creative fusion of the two classic novels’ worlds.” In 2009, Kessel’s novella “Pride and Prometheus” (later expanded into the novel-length version) received both the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson Award (for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic).
The Moon and the Other (2017) takes place in the 22nd century, featuring over two dozen diverse, Earth-colonized lunar city-states. One of these, the Society of Cousins, goes against the grain organized as a matriarchal utopia in which men are given great freedoms of expression but are forbidden to vote. Society of Cousins men who have escaped to patriarchal colonies on the Moon attempt to shine a light on their plight, as well as on the secretive protection of technological advances in their home colony, all of which sparks a Lunar War. According to reviewer Jennifer Beach in Library Journal, Kessel’s “wonderfully weighty novel is speculative fiction at its finest….Political, theological, sensual, this is impossible to put down.” According to Booklist Online‘s review, “Kessel has crafted a compelling and complex tale, full of social commentary and thought-provoking dire warnings of a perilous future.”
Kessel holds a B.A. in Physics and English and a Ph.D. in American Literature. He helped found and served as the first director of the MFA program in creative writing at North Carolina State University, where he has taught since 1982. He lives and works in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife, the author Therese Anne Fowler.
The recording of Dr. Kessel’s lecture is available for viewing here: https://youtu.be/qThiZRpiS7A