The Nebula Awards may honor the most out-of-this-world science fiction and fantasy, but its finalists are highly representative of the diverse world we’re living in. White men may still dominate high school reading lists (and the government, depending on your country of origin), but women and nonbinary authors of color are filling the rosters for one of genre fiction’s most prestigious awards. Chances are, you’ve read some of these. And chances are even higher you’ll love all the ones you haven’t.
Image Via The Wild Detectives
Categories for winners include Best Novel, Novella, Novelette, and Short Story. There’s also a specific prize for YA sci-fi and fantasy: The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Fiction. Since there are fifty nominations in total across each category, let’s focus on the ten nominees for Best Novel and The Andre Norton Award, two categories in which some real some real magic is happening. First, let’s take a minute to reflect on exactly how big a deal these awards are: YA superstars J.K. Rowling (who you know) and Holly Black (who you really should) have both been Nebula Award-winners.
Now that we’ve established the prestige level of this award (to clarify: massively high), let’s consider that, in these two categories, female and nonbinary authors of color comprise fully half of the nominees. In case this actually needs establishing, that’s a massive deal.
Though the other categories don’t boast such incredible statistics, they’re still strikingly diverse. The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation has two particularly high-profile works among its nominees: Janelle Monae‘s album Dirty Computer; Boots Riley‘s film Sorry to Bother You, and Ryan Coogler‘s international sensation Black Panther. (This list seems to indicate that including Tessa Thompson will statistically increase your chances of a nomination. Is this true? True enough.)
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YA has always been a particularly diverse genre, quick to shirk the confines of more traditional literary fiction. As the YA craze reaches a wider audience, it has more people to represent. Let’s just say the genre has risen to the challenge. For example, let’s look at underrated YA romance release Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann, depicting the experiences of an asexual and biromantic black teenage girl with a nuanced and thoughtful touch. Many feel that the publishing world’s interest in YA reflects an alarming cultural trend: a departure from the classics and other works of value. But literary fiction is a genre like any other—it’s not a synonym for good. Publishers aren’t the only ones all over YA fiction; readers gravitate towards the books that represent their own experiences.
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Diverse YA releases like Tomi Adeyemi‘s Children of Blood and Bone, a fantasy debut inspired by Nigerian mythology, have gotten massive attention—from media coverage to a reported seven-figure book deal. And everybody’s talking about Samira Ahmed‘s upcoming Internment, a dystopian novel in which American Muslims are detained in camps. While many are quick to complain about the market’s saturation with YA genre fiction, readers shouldn’t be so eager to decry its literary value—some of these dystopian worlds no longer come with all the logic of an Internet personality quiz. Instead, these groundbreaking authors are using technology and magic as metaphors to comment upon reality.
Image Via Samira Ahmed Twitter
YA is growing increasingly diverse from the top down—even lesser-known releases are incorporating richer cultural contexts into their works. An underrated December release, The Disasters by queer author M.K. England, features a world in which space exploration has been driven by African and Middle-Eastern science and technology. It’s all space ships, shenanigans, Muslim calls to prayer, and seriously making sure you’re not wearing a bright turquoise hijab when avoiding interplanetary mercenaries in a crowd! (Looking at you, character-who-will-not-be-named.)
Though many are quick to associate sci-fi in particular with white teen boys thirsting after Princess Leia, these skeptics should maybe slow down with the assumptions.
Featured Image Via Fierce Reads.