Kelsi Morris on Myths, Monsters, and Fighting Marginalization
Kelsi Morris is a queer and neurodivergent editor who has channeled her passion for books into the Canadian publishing industry, specializing in speculative fiction and comics. She focuses on work that prioritizes and promotes the voices of marginalized communities. Her first co-edited anthology, Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories, published by Exile Editions, was nominated for the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award.
Outside of books, she finds happiness in black coffee, red wine, and dragons.
Kelsi Morris and I chatted earlier about her work on this anthology, how it relates to CanLit, and how she’s working towards making the Canadian SF/F scene more inclusive. Let’s take a look!
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Me: So, first question: What was the inspiration behind Those Who Make Us for you and your co-editor [Kaitlin Tremblay]?
Kelsi Morris: One of the earliest foundations of our friendship was our shared loved monsters! We both noticed that we tended to feel more connection to the monsters/kaiju/alien creatures than the human characters in most cases, and it was only through many (MANY) conversations (and bottles of wine) that we realized that this was not actually all that weird.
These characters are the literal embodiment of otherness, and the treatment they receive from the human world will often resonate far more strongly with folks with marginalized identities than the heroics of the protagonists.
Kaitlin and I were both coming at this from the perspective of queer people who struggle with various mental health issues, and we wanted to see more stories that had the same empathy for the outsiders that we did.
I totally see that. I noticed in particular that the opening story in the collection was really emblematic of that focus. The one where the main character, Melanie, chooses to undergo bodymods to turn into a chimera.
Would you say that sense of empathy was one of the most important things you were looking for in the stories you chose?
Absolutely! That story in particular was exciting, because it really touched on the way marginalized folks are treated by society, while keeping the story very much focused on Melanie’s own journey of self-discovery. It wasn’t about her trying to fit in, or save other people from their bigoted ways. This was something she was doing solely for herself.
We wanted this anthology to be a space for marginalized voices to celebrate and/or explore their identities, as well as criticize/highlight the abundance of ways in which they are mistreated or misrepresented by society.
One thing I also noticed is that the anthology is in dialogue with a lot of tropes/notable figures in CanLit and Canadian history. Like, when I think of Helen Marshall’s story, it feels like a story Margaret Atwood could have referred to in Survival. And Dominik Parisien’s story heavily refers to Peterborough and to Catharine Parr Traill.
I’ve spent my entire career working as an editor in Canadian genre fiction, and it is something I am deeply passionate about. A lot of times publishers and/or authors will shy away from publicizing being Canadian in order to appeal to a wider market, and I feel like that is doing everyone a disservice. I am equally passionate about how entirely fucked it is that so many people seem to buy into our national identity of being “a country at peace”, where we no longer accept racism, ableism, queerphobia, or are party to systemic and institutional violence.
Speculative fiction has always been at the forefront of social criticism, and so it was especially important to me that this project both celebrate excellence in Canadian genre fiction, at the same time it acknowledges and calls attention to the fact that many voices are silenced for the sake of this national myth.
Who else do you see challenging that myth in the Canadian SFF scene?
While neither exclusively focuses on Canadian authors, the Toronto-based literary spec fic magazines like Augur Magazine and Anathema Magazine both have mandates that focus on stories from intersectional marginalized communities, and have been doing an amazing job at celebrating the work of queer writers, writers of colour, and writers with disabilities.
These kind of markets only exist because we have to carve out the space for ourselves. The need for this is what proves that acceptance and visibility within the mainstream publishing industry really isn’t there yet.
[Note: You can read my interview with Anathema here.]
I’m going to be having Augur on the blog too!
Good! I’m so excited by the work that they do, and I can’t wait to watch them grow. 🙂
Has it been hard to carve out the space you’re describing?
As an editor, my experience is obviously quite a different one from the unique frustrations that writers have to deal with. I try to use my position to hold space for marginalized voices, and take on the brunt of any tensions that may arise between the writer and the publisher.
It can be challenging, especially for anthologies, to wholeheartedly believe in a project, and have to convince a publisher that a focus on intersectional voices doesn’t immediately make it any less interesting to “the rest of the market”.
Do you have any other anthologies or projects in progress?
Oh, I have several dream projects, and would dearly love to just work on all of them at once!
This is such an exciting time for Canadian SFF. There is so much excellent work being produced, and so many incredible emerging writers and markets. I love this field, and I’m so excited to continue contributing however I can.