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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jane Yolen on After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia

Jane Yolen is the author of over 300 books, and has been named a Grand Master of the Science Fiction Poetry Association as well as Grand Master of the World Fantasy Association. She has won two Nebulas–for short fiction, and several sf poetry awards. Six colleges and universities have given her honorary doctorates. Photo by Jason Stemple.

SF Signal had the opportunity to talk with several authors involved in the new anthology, After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and featuring stories asking: If the melt-down, flood, plague, the third World War, new Ice Age, Rapture, alien invasion, clamp-down, meteor, or something else entirely hit today, what would tomorrow look like? Some of the biggest names in YA and adult literature answer that very question in this short story anthology, each story exploring the lives of teen protagonists raised in catastrophe’s wake—whether set in the days after the change, or decades far in the future.

CHARLES TAN: For you, how would you define Dyslit or what are its essential characteristics?

JANE YOLEN: Am assuming you mean dystopian lit? I’d not heard it called that.

My definition would be a story (or poem or script or graphic novel) set in a place and in a time where communities or cultures or nations–or even an entire world–has become a ruin. It may simply be a cultural ruin, or a natural catastrophe that has destroyed what came before, or a place that time has forgot or has bypassed. Or has zombies.

CT: What’s the appeal of Dyslit for you? Why is it important, especially for YA readers?

JY: Often YA readers feel themselves apart from the world of their fathers and mothers. They would visit a rain of fire on the cultural norms. Or want to take them apart brick by brick without knowing quite how to build a better future for themselves and their friends. Or feel that the world they are inheriting has nothing left of good for themselves. Or only zombies.

And there is a part of the Very Old me who still remembers feeling that way.

CT: How did you settle on gray as the theme for your poem?

JY: I had just seen Wall-E, loved the beginning, hated the space ship stuff. But the idea of that gray planet with nothing left that wasn’t dead or broken, all those automatons acting out life, until the one green shoot began to make it’s way toward the light, the visual playfullness of it, stuck with me. Even if there were no zombies.

CT: What were the challenges in writing “Gray”?

JY: The challenges in writing a poem are always to make each line lyrical.  To use the fewest words possible–but always the right words. To remember that metaphors are a good thing and that verbs are weightier than adverbs. To have something to say, even if it is not about zombies.


Charles Tan is the editor of Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology, the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler, and Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009. His fiction has appeared in publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Philippine Speculative Fiction and the anthology The Dragon and the Stars (ed. by Derwin Mak and Eric Choi).

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