Biography of

[Joan Slonczewski]

Here's the biographical blurb from "Landfall" in The Other Half of the Sky:

Joan Slonzcewski is the first author since Fred Pohl to win a second John Campbell award (for The Highest Frontier, and previously A Door Into Ocean). The Highest Frontier (Tor Books, 2011) depicts a Cuban-American woman going to college in a space habitat powered by solar bacteria and threatened by cyanide-producing aliens. Frontera College is run by a male couple, while on Earth a lesbian is running for president. A Door Into Ocean (Tor Books, 1986) creates a world covered entirely by ocean, inhabited by an all-female race of purple people who use genetic engineering to defend their unique ecosystem. In Brain Plague (Tor Books, 2000; Arc Manor, 2009), intelligent alien microbes invade our brains. The secret of these unique addictive microbes was discovered by a human-gorilla scientist in The Children Star (Tor Books, 1998; Arc Manor, 2009). Slonczewski and her students investigate bacteria in extreme environments at Kenyon College, where she teaches the course "Biology in Science Fiction."

Here's what Joan Slonczewski says about herself:

I was born in Hyde Park but grew up in Katonah, NY. Katonah was a very sheltered, forested place when I was growing up. I used to look up at the trees in the blue sky and imagine the branches growing downward instead of up; I think that's where the image of the raft roots in the water came from, in A Door Into Ocean.

My father was (is) a physicist at IBM, and I used to play with the IBM 360. We spent a couple years in Zurich with the guys that won the Nobels for STM and superconductivity. I went to the local school there in 3rd grade and was exposed to a very different political system; I've been interested in that sort of thing ever since. But I was always most interested in biology, and became a molecular biologist. At Yale I studied how bacteria swim; they have tails that rotate, powered by electrostatic motors in their membrane. So I always wanted to do a book on creatures with wheels.

My favorite authors are Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. My favorite SF authors are Robert A. Heinlein and Ursula K. LeGuin. My favorite books in recent years include Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars, and Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

My current research is about how bacteria survive environmental stress. I study intestinal bacteria, and how they get through the acid stomach to live in the intestine. I look at which genes are "turned on" to help the bacteria survive. My Kenyon students do much of my research, using up-to-date techniques like Polymerase Chair Reaction (what they used in Jurassic Park to clone the dinosaurs.)

When I'm not teaching, researching, writing, or administering a $1.5 million Hughes grant for Kenyon science, I'm doing computer stuff with my two children (age 13 and 9). My husband, Michael Barich, teaches classics at Kenyon, and buys/sells high-tech stocks on the side. We all attend Granville Friends Meeting (Quakers).

No matter how busy you are, if you live in the U.S. go out and VOTE in November. It's fine to dream up great new worlds but we all live in this one.

Last modified: March 11, 2014

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