Fantastic Women

March 10, 2019

7:00pm | National Museum of Women in the Arts

1250 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20005


Moderator’s Notes

Amber Sparks

Despite the obvious frustrations of the last few #metoo years, women have much to celebrate. The idea that we’ve come a long way, baby, seems anything but a tossed-off slogan in light of the truly intersectional feminism blossoming in the cracks of the old and crumbling patriarchy. Tonight, for example, we can celebrate a stage full of successful women writers, full of short story writers – full of genre-bending, fantastic, feminist writers. It’s incredibly exciting to be a reader and a writer at a time when women are transforming the fantastic in literary fiction in brave new ways and worlds. For too long in modern literary history, experimentalism, fabulism, and boundary-breaking fiction were regarded as tools in an exclusively male toolbox, one that allowed very few women access to its contents. 

But that was then, and this is the fantastic now. Women writers like Kelly Link, Carmen Maria Machado, and Lesley Nneka Arimah have been reclaiming women’s original role as tellers of fantastic tales, unafraid to turn myth and fable and fairy tale upside, exposing often brutal truths about women’s lives, bodies, power imbalances, and sexuality. Machado’s short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was widely celebrated for turning female reality into a series of wild horror films. In her collections, Kelly Link bends time, space, and perception in her short stories, borrowing from fairy tale, myth, and urban legend to create new ghost stories about modern life. And Lesley Nneka Arimah’s dystopian parables in What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky use science to cast shadows over progress, and highlight issues of gender and environmental damage.

The works of novelists Jennifer Marie Brissett, Tananarive Due, Jewelle Gomez, Andrea Hairston, Nalo Hopkinson, N. K. Jemisin, Karen Lord, Nnedi Okorafor, Sofia Samatar, Rivers Solomon, and other multigenre writers such as Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Nisi Shawl, and Ibi Zoboi help frame black women’s agency and aesthetics in a world that often denies the existence of both. As a speculative fiction writer and editor myself, I have witnessed the extraordinary shifts in the field with excitement and hope. As sisters, we black women writers map the future, we are innovators in the field of world-breaking and world-making. By exploring the relationship between indigenous and folk traditional culture, with its healing and rootwork and sophisticated, modified adaptations and application of technology, and the evolution of social and political issues that have haunted the African diaspora over time, black women writers are taking the lead in the Afrofuturism movement, creating works that evoke the past, critique the present, and challenge us to imagine a greater, more possible future for us all.

Featured Writers

Lesley Nneka Arimah

Lesley Nneka Arimah was born in the UK and grew up in Nigeria and wherever else her father was stationed for work. She has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, a National Magazine Award, and won the African Commonwealth Short Story Prize and an O. Henry Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Granta and has received support from The Elizabeth George Foundation and MacDowell, among others. She was selected for the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 and her debut collection What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky won the 2017 Kirkus Prize and the 2017 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. She lives in Minneapolis and is working on a novel about you.

Kelly Link

Kelly Link is the author of the collections Get in Trouble (a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction), Stranger Things Happen, Magic for Beginners, and Pretty Monsters. Her short stories have been published in Tin House, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories 2013. In 2018, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (aka “Genius Grant”). She was born in Miami, Florida, and currently lives with her husband and daughter in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, one of The New York Times’ Top Books of 2017, was a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize. Her work has appeared in Granta, The New Yorker, NPR, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the Michener-Copernicus Foundation and the Elizabeth George Foundation, among others. She is the Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Philadelphia.


Amber Sparks

Amber Sparks is the author of the short story collection The Unfinished World and Other Stories, which has received praise from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Paris Review, among others. She is also the author of a previous short story collection, May We Shed These Human Bodies, as well as the co-author of a hybrid novella with Robert Kloss and illustrator Matt Kish, titled The Desert Places. She’s written numerous short stories and essays which have been featured in various publications and across the web – find them here at, and say hi on Twitter @ambernoelle.