Emily St. John Mandel talk

The Station Eleven author on genre and community

Emily St. John Mandel talk
Image: Andrew Liptak

Way back in February, I made the trip down to Middlebury College during a snow storm with my friend Nate. A handful of the college's departments and local organizations had invited Station Eleven and Sea of Tranquility author Emily St. John Mandel for a discussion with assistant professor Megan Mayhew-Bergman, in which they talked about the natural world, the pandemic, and writing.

It was a refreshing talk: I was a big fan of Station Eleven when I read it a decade ago, and I enjoyed Sea of Tranquility when that came out last year. Both generally fall under the science fiction category, and genre was something that Mandel touched on. She explained that she didn't like the idea of being constrained into a single genre, and noted that we tend to like to put things into neat boxes to categorize them. Indeed, both Station Eleven and Sea of Tranquility are hard to really pin down: they're stories that don't necessarily fit into one such box, but sprawl out amongst many. Her next book, she noted, will be a speculative fiction story set in the near future.

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A big part of the discussion centered on the role that communities played in her books. A central part of Station Eleven is how storytelling is an important thing for humans to practice, and she noted that the book pushes back against the conventional tropes of a postapocalyptic story and world. "There will still be some beauty, and there will be humanity, and there will be joy. I think that our basic interests as a species won’t change in the sense that we will still want stories that will still be important.”

Unfortunately, the video from the event was only up for a limited amount of time, so I can't share it, but it was a good talk. If you get the opportunity to see her at some point down the road, it would be worth making the time to do so.