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Common Reading 2021: Cloud Dragon Skies by N.K. Jemisin

Cloud Dragon Skies — N.K. Jemisin

"Cloud Dragon Skies" shares the story of Nahautu, a young woman who tends the Earth with her father, after the skies have changed from blue to red. Nahautu and the other guardians of the new Earth have made a pact to always adapt themselves to meet the planet's changes, instead of changing the planet to meet their own desires. But when scientists arrive from HumaniCorp promising to restore the sky and its dragons to its original state, the guardians are eager to accept their help--a decision that could have disastrous consequences. 

About the Author

N.K Jemisin is a New York Times-bestselling author of speculative fiction short stories and novels. In 2018, she became the first author to win three Best Novel Hugos in a row. She is a recipient of Nebula Award, two Locus Awards, and the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Discussion Questions

1. This story explores complicated intersections between technology, cultures, and the environment. What connections stood out to you? What statements do these connections make about the world?

2. What science fiction or fantasy does this story remind you of? What connections can you make from "Cloud Dragon Skies" to other literature or media? 

Class Activity

Imagine that our current world is a post-apocalyptic scenario like the one described in "Cloud Dragon Skies." Work in groups or as a class to draft a guide for guardians of the new Earth and how they can preserve and care for its environment and cultures. 

Introduction — Catherine Zobal Dent

N.K. Jemisin! N.K. Jemisin! N.K. Jemisin! I have long wanted to introduce an author by chanting her name three times, thanks to short story writer Aimee Bender, who thus directed me to George Saunders. If you love Aimee Bender’s enchanting surrealism or George Saunders’s political satire, you will appreciate N.K. Jemisin. And if you have not heard of Bender or Saunders—maybe you are not already a fan of short stories?—then let the genre-shifting, groundbreaking author N.K. Jemisin show you a new world of possibilities. “Cloud Dragon Skies” is the tale of a young earth dweller, Nahautu, whose people who have survived environmental disaster by choosing to “follow African and Native American ways.” Nahautu’s dreams of becoming a griot, a storyteller, can come true after she falls in love with a man from “the Humanicorp ring habitat beyond Mars,” but following love means betraying her father and her people. It is a tale as old as time, through which Jemisin weaves environmental apocalypse, feminism, scientific inquiry, cultural inheritance, emigration, adaptability, loss, homesickness, and more. It is a story of human survival in language that is accessible but also raw. Do you like a good story? Has a story ever gotten you through a rough patch? Do you think stories help humans adapt to changing life circumstances? “Cloud Dragon Skies” might lead you to the conclusion that humanity needs good stories to survive.

The History of Griots in African Society

Additional Resources

Read "Cloud Dragon Skies" at Strange Horizons

In the story, Nahautu says she wants to be a griot. According to Wikipedia, a griot is a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet, or musician. The griot is a repository of oral tradition and is often seen as a leader due to their position as an advisor to royal personages. As a result of the former of these two functions, they are sometimes called a bard.

Read more by N.K. Jemisin at the Blough-Weis Library.


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