Nisi Shawl is best known for fiction dealing with gender, race, and colonialism, including the 2016 Nebula finalist novel Everfair, an alternate history of the Congo. They're also the coauthor of the Aqueduct Press Conversation Piece Writing the Other: A Practical Approach and a cofounder of the Carl Brandon Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the presence of people of color in the fantastic genres. They have served on Clarion West's board of directors for two decades.

They edited the World Fantasy, Locus, and Ignyte award-winning anthology New Suns: Speculative Fiction by People of Color, published in 2019; a sequel, New Suns 2, was released in March 2023. Shawl co-edited Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler with Dr. Rebecca Holden. A Middle Grade historical fantasy novel, Speculation, was released February 2023 from Lee & Low. Shawl lives in Seattle, one block away from a beautiful lake full of dangerous currents and millionaires.

Filter House by Nisi Shawl

Filter House is a collection of short fiction by Nisi Shawl, with an introduction by Eileen Gunn (author of Stable Strategies). The collection's fourteen tales offer a haunting montage that works its magic subtly on the reader's subconscious. As Karen Joy Fowler says, "This lovely collection will take you, like a magic carpet, to some strange and wonderful places."


Nisi Shawl's Tiptree Award-winning Filter House collects fourteen tales that encompass a wide and wonderful universe of experience from a Pragmatic Princess's feminist twist on a fairy tale trope to The Huts of Ajala's transactional monster sex and its consequences and rewards. Each story's unforgettable characters and deft, lyrical writing carry you from each reality to the next. – Tenea D. Johnson



  • "From the exotic, baroque complexities of 'At the Huts of Ajala' to the stark, folktale purity of 'The Beads of Ku,' these fourteen superbly written stories will weave around you a ring of dark, dark magic."

    – Ursula K. Le Guin
  • "Nisi Shawl uses the tools of future and fable, usually used to explore the other, the future, and the mysterious, to magically reveal what and who we all are here and today."

    – Tobias Buckell
  • "Sometimes enigmatic, often surprising, always marvelous. This lovely collection will take you, like a magic carpet, to some strange and wonderful places."

    – Karen Joy Fowler
  • "This exquisitely rendered debut collection of 11 reprints and three originals ranges into the past and future to explore identity and belief in a dazzling variety of settings. "At the Huts of Ajala", a folktale concerning a girl wrestling with a trickster god before her birth, is full of urgent and delightful imagery, while "Wallamelon" is an elegaic, sophisticated exploration of the Blue Lady myth. Of the several science fiction stories included, the strongest are "Good Boy", an engrossing experiment in computer psychology, African gods and postcolonial anxiety, and "Shiomah's Land", a cross-genre bildungsroman involving a girl who becomes the wife of a goddess. The concluding tale, "The Beads of Ku", is an utterly arresting, authoritatively delivered tale concerning the diplomacy of marriage and the economy of the land of the dead. The threads of folklore, religious magic, family and the search for a cohesive self are woven with power and lucidity throughout this panorama of race, magic and the body."

    – Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
  • "Nisi Shawl tells stories as if she has just awakened from a vivid and terrifying dream, and she's intent on relating its details. She strings her plots loosely onto frameworks of otherworldly logic, and she makes no attempt to explain why things are the way they are. [...] Her stories are part fairy tale and part nightmare, and they bristle with references to real-life problems, like racism and poverty. [...] Shawl's stories are for the reader who relishes that bone-deep shiver of a grisly ghost story. And they're perfect for the reader who wants to be left scratching her head —and peering over her shoulder — at the end of each tale."

    – Haley Edwards, The Seattle Times, June 6, 2008
  • "These fourteen stories, including three originals, share a striking freshness linked to unique points of view. Sometimes Shawl opens with a great hook, as with the opening of ''The Water Museum'': ''When I saw the hitchhiker standing by the sign for the Water Museum, I knew he had been sent to assassinate me.'' Other times, she invokes African and African-American folklore or weaves a unique riff on fairytales, as with ''The Princess Pragmatic'' or ''The Beads of Ku.'' …The common thread to all of these stories is Shawl's pragmatic, sharp yet comfortable voice. Filter House is a great treat for anyone who likes good writing…."

    – Jeff VanderMeer, Realms of Fantasy



Bird Day

We sat in a circle on the side of the street. Some of us had lawn chairs, or folding chairs we'd brought out from our houses. Stepstools, even. We had a bunch of different kinds of seats we were sitting in.

This was the day to commune with birds. It was a beautiful, cool, early spring morning. The pavement smelled clean and damp.

I was wearing a warm, comfortable caftan, embroidered with silver and dark colors. There were a lot of interesting-looking birds flying around low and purposefully, looking for the person they had a message for. It wouldn't do any good to get someone else's message, or to worry too much whether or not one was ever coming. We relaxed and watched the birds, and talked with neighbors who stopped by our circle. There were a few empty chairs. Eventually, someone might sit in them.

Suddenly, a bird approached me. It was a sort of bird I'd never seen before, a large duck with a sheeny, blue back, the blue of a clear sky just before dawn. I'd never seen a bird like this before, but I knew it was mine. It hovered awkwardly in front of me and gripped my index fingers with its webbed feet, pulling me. My heart lifted and I stood up.

The duck flew backwards, its feet still wrapped around my fingers. I went with it. It let go and turned to fly forward, and I followed it out of the city.

I wasn't about to let it get away from me. This was definitely my bird.

I saw a Great Auk from the corner of my eye, huge, black-and-white, with a broad, brightly-colored bill. It flew down a side road, but I stayed focused on my bird.

The paved road had turned into well-graded brown dirt, dark and wet. I saw houses that people were building: open, pleasing structures. I lost sight of my bird, but went on in the direction it had taken, out of the city. I stayed focused on it, even when I couldn't see it anymore.

I heard the soft beating of its wings and knew it flew on before me.

A stream joined me, running alongside the road. Daffodils joined the stream. Together, we left the houses behind.

I kept walking. I couldn't see my bird anywhere. I closed my eyes. The stream murmured to itself. The only beating I heard was my heart.

How could I catch up? Without wings, how could I fly?

I opened my eyes again and looked around. Where was I? Maybe this was where my bird had been bringing me. Maybe it had left me where I was supposed to be.

Tall trees with their leaves just beginning arched over the road. It was really more a wide path than a road, now. It moved among the tall trees slowly, one way, then -another, quite casually. As if it knew where it was going, but felt no rush to get there.

This didn't seem like a place to stop at, an end.

Maybe my bird had left me because I would be able to figure out everything on my own from here.

I saw sky through the trees. I went at the path's pace till I came to their edge.

It was quite an edge. Only clouds beyond. Very beautiful clouds, with popcorn-colored crests and sunken rifts full of shadows like grey milk.

It was evening already. I could tell by the light. I had been following my bird all day. How had that happened? I had lost track of the time.

That didn't matter, though.

My bird did matter. And its message for me.

It had to be around here somewhere.

The clouds' lighter parts changed and became the color of the insides of unripe peaches. Against them rose black flecks, the flocks of birds flying away from us. Away once more, until next year.

Silence stirred the hairs on the nape of my neck. Silence and a small wind fanned them so they extended upward. And outward. Up and out. Above my head, my bird flew forward, over the edge.

I went with it.