I’ve meant to chase this for awhile because it is an odd idea that has an element of plausibility.
You’ll find from time to time in Puppydom a claim that people are chasing Hugo Awards because of their academic career i.e. that a lot of winners are people employed in higher education, presumably in the area of English Literature or creative writing, who by gaining awards can further their ACADEMIC career. Now, for all I know, this may even be true in the wider world of literature – but the term ‘publish or perish’ in academia in every other field refers to the need to get academic papers published in high impact journals to ensure that your impact rating his high enough NOT writing novels.
So, what-the-heck-do-I-know, there may be oodles of University lecturers and post-docs desperately hustling for a Hugo award under the belief that will get them tenure. I’m an empiricist, so what I’d like to see is THIS ACTUALLY HAVING AN IMPACT ON THE AWARDS. If it doesn’t, then the question becomes irrelevant. Put another way: where are the academics?
I’ll do the 2017 Best Novel nominees first – because I already know there is at least one academic in there.
- Ada Palmer: Yes! An actual academic at the University of Chicago. Yeah, but her discipline is history, specifically Renaissance history. A *science-fiction* award isn’t going to harm her career but it is not by itself going to further a career in Renaissance history academia.
- N.K.Jemisin: Now a full-time author but her other career was as a psychological counsellor.
- Yoon Ha Lee: According to Wikipedia: “He has worked as an analyst for an energy market intelligence company, done web design, and taught mathematics.”
- Cixin Liu: Wikipedia: “Liu received technical training from North China University of Water Conservancy and Electric Power, graduating in 1988. He has worked as a computer engineer for a power plant located in Yangquan, Shanxi.”
- Becky Chambers: Has less biographical information available on Wikipedia. Going elsewhere http://www.epicreads.com/authors/becky-chambers/1306 says: “Becky Chambers was raised in California as the progeny of an astrobiology educator, an aerospace engineer, and an Apollo-era rocket scientist. An inevitable space enthusiast, she made the obvious choice of studying performing arts. After a few years in theatre administration, she shifted her focus toward writing.” No mention of an academic career.
- Charlie Jane Anders: Professional writer, event organiser, journalist. Again, not actively employed in academia.
So only one confirmed academic and they are a historian rather than in literature.
Let’s go back further to 2013. I won’t repeat nominees.
- Jim Butcher: Professional writer. I don’t see another career in his bio.
- Neal Stephenson: His parents were academics (engineering, physics). He is a Professional writer. I don’t see another career in his bio.
- Ann Leckie. Professional writer. Wikipedia cites that she was a ‘stay-at-home mother’ when she first drafted Ancillary Justice.
- Naomi Novik: Wikipedia says “She studied English Literature at Brown University and holds a master’s degree in Computer Science from Columbia University. She participated in the design and development of the computer game Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide until she discovered that she preferred writing to game design.”
- Kevin J. Anderson: Wikipedia says “For 12 years Anderson worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he met fellow writers Rebecca Moesta and Doug Beason. Anderson would later marry Moesta, and frequently coauthors novels with both her and Beason.”
- Sarah Monette/Katherine Addison: Wikipedia doesn’t list a career other than author but does say: “In 2004 she earned a PhD in English literature, specialising in Renaissance Drama and writing her dissertation on ghosts in English Renaissance revenge tragedy. She double-majored in Classics and Literature (a cross-departmental program between French, English, and Comparative Literature) in college.”
- Brandon Sanderson: Wikipedia says “Sanderson worked as an editor for the semi-professional magazine Leading Edge while attending school at Brigham Young University, where he now periodically teaches creative writing.” Sanderson is a professional writer but this is the closest we’ve got so far to a nominee with a connection between their writing career and academia.
- Larry Correia: Professional writer. A former accountant and business owner.
- Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant: Aside from writing and filking and everything else, I don’t see in her bios what another kind of career she has had. Doesn’t seem to be also fitting in a professorship somewhere.
- Charles Stross: Wikipedia again – “Between 1994 and 2004, he was also an active writer for the magazine Computer Shopper and was responsible for the monthly Linux column. He stopped writing for the magazine to devote more time to novels.”
- Saladin Ahmed: According to this link http://www.bookslut.com/features/2013_02_019843.php “Saladin Ahmed was born in Detroit and raised in a working-class Arab American enclave in Dearborn, Michigan. He has racked up a number of achievements as a poet and a short story writer (including nominations for the Nebula and Campbell awards), and has taught writing at universities and colleges for over ten years.” So, a sort of hit like Sanderson?
- Lois McMaster Bujold: Her writing career dominates the bios I’ve seen. No obvious second career as an academic.
- Kim Stanley Robinson: Professional writer. Wikipedia says “In 1978 Robinson moved to Davis, California to take a break from his graduate studies at UC San Diego. During this time he worked as a bookseller for Orpheus Books. He also taught freshman composition and other courses at the University of California, Davis. In 1982 Robinson earned a PhD in English from the UC San Diego. His initial PhD advisor was a literary critic and Marxist scholar, Fredric Jameson, who told Robinson to read works by Philip K. Dick. Jameson described Dick to Robinson as “the greatest living American writer.” Robinson’s doctoral thesis, The Novels of Philip K. Dick, was published in 1984 and a hardcover version was published by UMI Research Press.”
- John Scalzi: Professional writer and former journalist.
So, the closest hits are Brandon Sanderson, Saladin Ahmed and Kim Stanley Robinson but none of those appears to be actively pursuing an academic career. Now before somebody says that maybe a whole bunch of the people above whose other careers aren’t discussed in Wikipedia may ACTUALLY be academics…well, sure *maybe* but…that would be completely at odds with the ‘publish or perish’ theory. Academics SPRUIK their academic work, they aren’t shy about it precisely because of ‘publish or perish’.
Now, *maybe* I’ll get more hits for academics chasing Hugos in short fiction but I’ll save that for another day. As far as novels go, nominees tend to be professional writers, a small number of whom have done some teaching of creative writing. The ones with active academic careers are rare and that career tends to be as unrelated as the careers of non-academics. Less obvious is that work that involves WRITING seems to be a thing for previous careers but it needn’t be fiction or academic.
[Update: I’ve run through Hugo Short Story nominees as well now, going back several additional years because of the Puppy griefing in recent times. Some authors appear above, others don’t have much in the way of bios. However, of 49 writers I looked at I could only find THREE with direct evidence some academic work in the field of English Literature/Writing. Of those:
- Rachel Swirsky: “Swirsky taught undergraduate science fiction and fantasy writing while a teaching assistant at The University of Iowa”
- Sofia Samatar: “In 2013, Samatar joined the California State University Channel Islands’ faculty as an Assistant Professor of English. She taught writing and literature, and also established the institution’s first Arabic class. In the fall of 2016, she joined the faculty of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.”
- Kij Johnson: “She joined the University of Kansas English Department as Assistant Professor of Fiction Writing in Fall 2012, where she is associate director of the The Center for the Study of Science Fiction.”
Now, more generally in fandom, comment sections, blogs etc I’ve met people who teach literature or courses on SFF etc. I should also add that the academic study of literature is a fine pursuit and not to be sneered at. However, I’m not seeing any particular over-representation of academics in Hugo nominations. OK, yes, 2 out of 49 is higher than the general population proportion of English lit Assitant professors but given we are looking at specifically an award in LITERATURE, that figure looks like LESS than I would expect not more.]