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PHOTO ESSAY

African American Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers

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Virginia Esther Hamilton

Virginia Hamilton, 24 October 1994. Photograph by Jimmy Byrge. Courtesy of www.virginiahamilton.com.

Celebrated children's author Virginia Esther Hamilton (1936–2002) wrote in a variety of styles and won the Newberry Medal, becoming the first African American to do so, for her realistic fiction novel M. C. Higgins, the Great (1974). In 1975, Hamilton became the first children's writer to win a MacArthur Fellowship, and in 1992 she won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Author Award, given biennially to authors who have made an extraordinary contribution to the field of children's literature. Although she is not normally considered a science fiction writer, between 1978 and 1981 Hamilton released a series of young adult novels, collectively known as The Justice Cycle, that fit squarely in the sci-fi genre. The books reference many of the hallmarks of speculative fiction—extrasensory perception, future worlds, alien planets, fantastical creatures—but at their core, the novels are about human relationships, namely the relationship that eleven-year-old Justice has with her twin brothers. Indeed, deeply-felt human relationships lie at the core of much of Hamilton's work, and many critics cite Hamilton's sensitivity to the intricacies of interpersonal communication as the primary strength of her literary output.

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