One Trans Response to “Cloth…”

I recently blogged my notes on trans themes in my Nebula-nominated “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds.” Shortly after that, Corey Alexander/Xan West posted an essay titled “One Trans Response to “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds”. It is a powerful, hard-hitting entry. I am very honored to have this perspective and this reaction to my work. I hope you give it a read (but note the content warnings).

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of Corey’s entry:

About content: this post speaks openly (and in some detail) about trans oppression in queer communities (with a focus on the ways trans men are targeted), gender border wars, purging, and gender-based coercion and abuse in relationships. Most of that discussion is in the first section, so if you want to avoid it, skip to the section titled My Response to Grandmother-nei-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds.

My Own Context for Reading Rose Lemberg’s Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds

I remember the hardness of the chairs in the auditorium. I remember the buzz of the fluorescent lights. I remember trembling in my seat, my stomach in knots. I remember the energy in the room feeling dangerous to me, like if I moved I might get noticed, get hit by the violent storm.

I don’t remember what exactly people said at that queer town hall meeting. I have tried, today, as I write this, to recall those kinds of details. But I can’t access them. I don’t know how I ended up in that room. I don’t know who I came with.

It was 1996, probably. I think. Twenty years ago. And it was the first time I heard queer cis women speaking openly about the reality that some of their partners, some folks in queer women’s community, were transitioning.

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Two Bits of Poetry News

1. Publishers Weeekly (!!!!) reviews my debut poetry collection, Marginalia to Stone Bird:

In their debut collection, Lemberg summons elements of speculative fiction to capture a world in which everything is in motion, yet remains guided by language […] A book this dense with poems about passing between states—migrants in transit between countries, spirits negotiating between the living and the unliving, celestial bodies that walk the earth in human form—might lose its way if it did not thrive joyfully in its own collective liminality.

2. Strange Horizons will publish my poem “The Ash Manifesto.” I am very pleased.

Notes on trans themes in “Cloth…”

Grandmother-na-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” is a Nebula nominee. As such, it is getting a lot of attention.

I usually let my stories stand on their own. When this story came out, I had written brief story notes focusing on Kimi’s autism in the context of the Khana culture. Even that felt too much for me. I want readers to get what they need from my work, without my external authorial influence.

But as this story is getting more attention, I’d like to write some notes about the trans aspects of this story.

[TWs: general mentions of homophobia, transphobia, and intolerance in the family. Spoiler warnings: discusses gender(s) in the story, but not plot points.]

I think it makes a crucial difference in this case to know that it is a trans story, with multiple trans characters, written by a trans person about trans lives.

This in itself cannot guarantee freedom from fail. But it does set up a specific framework, a framework of an #ownvoices narrative.

I am a non-binary trans person. I am AFAB and bigender. I strongly identify with both binary genders. I use the pronoun “they” as well as “she,” though I am phasing out “she” right now.

I am an immigrant from Russia and Ukraine. As as a queer, trans child and adolescent, I have been strongly othered by my environment. I talk about it in an essay I wrote 5 years ago, shortly after coming out as queer and genderqueer, “No Coming Out Narrative, or Growing up queer in the Soviet Union.” After I left the Soviet Union and moved to less homophobic environments, I continued to be strongly othered, shamed, and pressured – both by my environment and by my family – to remain closeted. My immigrant parents hoped for and pressured me for a trajectory that centered normativity in both professional and personal life. At no point in my life so far have I not struggled with this burden, with this aspirational normativity which has been drilled into me by society, by variably violent bullies, and by family.

Many of us are pressured by families. Especially trans people. Especially trans people (and queer people) who are from non-white and/or non-Anglo-Western cultural backgrounds, and/or who are immigrants. Many trans people I know have strained relationships with their families, and many had to cut ties with their families or were disowned.

This story came from that place, a place of deep hurt in me, and in many of my trans friends. It came from a place of wanting to imagine healing.

It also came from a place of wanting to center a trans character who comes out later in life. For many trans and queer people, coming out later in life is very fraught. Coming out is always fraught. Coming out later in life, when one’s identity is supposed to be firmly established, is terrifyingly difficult. This is my perspective. I am in my late thirties. There’s not enough trans representation in SFF; there’s never enough representation of queer and trans elders specifically. I write queer and trans elders and older people a lot.

The last piece of this is Kimi. As an Aspie and a member of a neurodiverse family of three, I know how many of us struggle with understanding, much less conforming to, the binary gender system which is imposed on us. I wanted to center the personhood of a non-binary autistic person who grows up in a binarist environment and who is also non-verbal or minimally verbal.

The viewpoint of Aviya was difficult for me. It is a viewpoint that begins from a place of both love and at the same time rejection of our truest selves, which is so familiar and so incredibly hurtful for many of us with cis and/or straight family members. When I am writing a viewpoint of a cisgender family member who is loving, but only conditionally accepting I am both writing the other, and writing from a perspective which is excruciatingly and deeply familiar to me. Like many trans people, I have been pressured to learn this perspective, to internalize it, to center it before my own.

It was also deeply healing for me to write this viewpoint. It allowed me to put on a cis person’s viewpoint of us, to see her struggle with who we are, and together with her to look for ways – very imperfect and marked as such in the story – to shift the nature of her gaze, from the societally imposed expectations of gender, family structure, age, and disability, and to come to a place of love which is grounded in acceptance, if not yet in perfect understanding.

Language, and the way different languages code for grammatical gender plays an important role in the story. I am a sociolinguist and a multilingual person, and am often grappling with issues of gender being encoded in different ways in my different languages. These tensions are important in my work.

As always, I am very grateful that this story resonated with so many people. I am especially grateful to my partner Bogi Takács, and to Corey Alexander (Xan West), for their insightful commentary and engagement with this story and this world.

“Cloth” is a Nebula Award nominee!

My Birdverse novelette “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) is a Nebula Awards finalist!

This is the first time my work has been nominated for the Nebula. It is a tremendous honor, and a huge personal milestone. I am grateful to my editor, Scott Andrews of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, who believed in my Birdverse work for years; to those who nominated this story for the Nebula; and to all my readers who enjoyed and supported my Birdverse work. I am in particular grateful to my Birdverse Patreon backers, who are incredible and whose support is always much appreciated. As ever, I am grateful to Bogi Takács and Shweta Narayan, who helped me so much on every stage of this journey.

I have written prose and poetry in various genres, from magic realism to surrealism to science fiction and even horror, but secondary world fantasy is special for me. Birdverse in particular is the reason I am writing.  I am thrilled that so many people have found my stories meaningful, and it is so huge to have a Birdverse story honored, to have this particular story honored.

The Nebula list this year is very strong, and I am happy to share it with so many great writers, including N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Fran Wilde, Ken Liu, C.S.E. Cooney, Beth Cato, E. J. Fischer, Kelly Robson, Nnedi Okorafor, Usman T. Malik, Henry Lien, Brooke Bolander, Sarah Pinsker, Amal El-Mohtar, Sam J. Miller, Alyssa Wong, Kate Elliott, Daniel José Older, and others!  Congratulations, and good luck to all of us!

Here are some entries I’ve written about this story:

Rhysling Award nominations

I’m very pleased to announce that two of my poems from 2015 have been nominated for the Rhysling Award in the LONG poetry category:

  1. Long Shadow” (Strange Horizons), which already took 2nd place in the Strange Horizons Readers’ poll;
  2. Archival Testimony Fragments/minersong” (Uncanny), also on the Locus Recommended Reading list.

Both poems are included in my new poetry collection from Aqueduct, MARGINALIA TO STONE BIRD.

Really glad to see so many nominations from Strange Horizons. They had a tremendous year of poetry. Among my favorites are Ryu Ando’s “Season of the Ginozakura,” which is his first published poem; M. Sereno’s powerful “Adarna“; and Gabby Reed’s “Lola” (almost anything with grandmothers is an instant win for me), among many others I’m happy to see on the Rhysling list.

New reactions to Birdverse

I’m excited to have quite a few new and newish Birdverse pieces out, and the reactions have been amazing. Here are some recent ones:

Kate Elliott talks about “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds”:

In the Birdverse universe, relationships and language and magic intertwine so tightly they can’t be fully pulled apart because none of them exist in isolation from each other. Language and linguistics underpins the Birdverse. If you enjoy asides on and playing with etymology and language change, if you love fascinating cultural explorations and inventive customs and traditions that feel lived in, this is the story for you. This world feels “real” in the sense that I can imagine myself wandering into it, and it comes alive in striking and evocative writing.

Sara Norja recommends “Geometries of Belonging”:

So many complex characters in this novelette, and complex cultural and political situations that act as a background to the events. It was great to read about an autistic character who is portrayed with such sensitivity and nuance, too. […] This wasn’t the lightest of tales to read – the various societal oppressions and people’s own locks and problems do not make for a happy-go-lucky atmosphere. But Geometries of Belonging is a hopeful story, definitely. And an important one.

Tangent reviews “The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Berevyar”

Lemberg’s characters are inspired by their admiration of each other’s artistry, and through their flowing language the reader is treated to descriptions of beautiful magic that in some ways mimic the easier communication that we take for granted. This story is about passion tempered by respect and effort.

New from Birdverse: Glassmaker and Jeweler

I have a new Birdverse story out at Uncanny Magazine, and for a change, it’s not a novelette. “The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Berevyar” is a happy, hopeful story about two artists and their art, and I am very happy to share it with you.

Charles Payseur reviews it at Quick Sips:

And the story takes the shape of two people exchanging letters. About art and craft but also about seeing the world and learning of each other and a yearning that finally bridges so much distance and difference. The story is set in the same world that the author has used many times, and every time I step back into that world I am delighted and left wanting more. […] And there is the inherent tension to the relationship, to the correspondence, to the waiting. That waiting is full of implications and flights of the imagination and worry, full of things that seem to spill from the ether…

And Sara Norja writes in her Sunday Recs: Rose Lemberg’s Birdverse:

…this is a happy story – ah, marvellously joyful and hopeful, though not without conflict. It’s written in an epistolary format, which is something that I really enjoy. Two artists meet and share their art, and more. Rose always writes exquisitely, but the language here is really something special. The words in these particular arrangements sparkle like jewels, like shimmering shards of coloured glass.

(She also reviews Geometries of Belonging in the same entry!)

Finally, Liz Argall has been publishing a special Uncanny feature of her webcomic Things Without Arms and Without Legs, reacting to a story in Uncanny Magazine, and this month’s installment reacts to Glassmaker and Jeweler! Hurray!

First reviews of Marginalia to Stone Bird

My poetry collection, MARGINALIA TO STONE BIRD, has received its first reviews.

Nerds of a Feather published a review by Charles Payseur, their first speculative poetry review:

Marginalia to Stone Bird is a testament to how speculative poetry can succeed in capturing voice and plot and movement and feeling while still tackling big ideas and personal truths. The collection crafts a sort of map of forms and intents, a tour of what speculative poetry can be. From magic realism to high fantasy to far off-world science fiction, the poems range far and wide while maintaining a circling consistency, an interest in language and oppression and voice and freedom.

Charles elaborates further in his Goodreads review:

I really can’t say enough about the organization of the collection, with each section growing more comfortable with the strange, the unearthly, with form becoming looser and more and more speculative elements creeping in so that, by the end, the verse is dominated by fantasy and science fiction, by sweeping epics ripe with world building and tight plotting and complex morality.

And finally, this week Strange Horizons published a review of MARGINALIA in form of a conversation between Karen Burnham and Sofia Samatar. Here’s an excerpt:

KB: There’s a lot to be said about how Lemberg is able to take starkly contrasting images and language and make them work together in interesting ways. As you mentioned, there’s history, autobiography, mysticism, and fantasy all juxtaposed […]

SS: This is so interesting and important, I think—the poems are very carefully organized. It’s the organization that makes Marginalia feel like a book, a complete argument rather than a “collected poems of Rose Lemberg.” And you’re right, those pieces set in the same world are not clumped together, but their influence grows toward the end of the book. It feels more like a tapestry than a collage—rather than separate components set beside each other, there are threads that travel through the whole, but certain colors are stronger in some places. Or maybe it’s like a piece of music, with themes that are repeated with variations, and grow and dominate in different movements.

I am really thrilled with these reactions.

We are running a Goodreads Giveaway for two signed copies of the book; it runs until February 3rd. I hope you enter!

Locus Recommended

In a strange and marvelous turn of events, I have a piece on the Locus Recommended Reading List. It is my poem “Archival Testimony Fragments/Minersong.”


A poem I wrote is on the Locus Recommended Reading List.

Under Short Stores.

I only know of one other poem that has been on the list: Paul Park’s “Ragnarok,” a few years ago. (I’d love to hear about any others).

Strange, and marvelous, and a great honor.

Archival Testimony Fragments/Minersong” is a poem about living ships, and memory, and corporations, and unlikely connections made and honored. It has been published in the second issue of Uncanny Magazine. There’s a haunting, terrific podcast of it by C.S.E.Cooney, who reads it in multiple voices.

My work also appears in Letters to Tiptree and Sisters of the Revolution, which are on the Locus Recommended List this year.

If you are so inclined, consider voting in the Locus Poll! Obviously you do not have to vote for me – there’s a lot of tremendous work on the list – but it’s definitely a rare chance to vote for a POEM!

This Award Season and “Grandmother-Nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds”

I am thrilled and honored to see my Birdverse novelette “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) on many awards and reading lists this award season.

It has been included in:

SFWA award reading list
Tangent Online 2015 Recommended reading list (three stars!)
Tiptree Award recommendations
Beneath Ceaseless Skies award recommendations, Best Novelette
Nerds of a Feather Hugo Award Longlist

And various fine people’s 2015 lists:
Fran Wilde’s award recommendations
Gwendolyn Clare’s award recommendations
Forestofglory’s Favorite Short Fiction of 2015
Ada Hoffmann’s 2015 list
I think I am missing some lists, so I will be adding them as I see them.

What readers say:

“…a world in which it seems natural that old women should be the guardians of secret romance and rebellion” — C.L. Kagmi

“a beautiful story…” – Kate Elliott

“It’s soaked in sensory detail, transporting the reader to the world of the tale. Overall, it’s lovely on many levels” (A.C. Wise)

“It’s an incredibly complex story, but it reads with an effortless grace” – Charles Payseur at Nerds of a Feather

“It resonated a lot with me from the perspective of gender and societal expectations, but also that of the complexities of family: disappointment and love and misunderstanding.” (Paige Kimble)

If you are voting or recommending for awards this season, I hope you give this story a try!

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Rose Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Tiptree, Elgin, Rhysling, and Crawford awards.

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