15 January 2004

A Writer to Notice: Karina Sumner-Smith

I was thinking of writing something about the first issue of Flytrap, an interesting new zine very much worth some attention, when I decided I might also say some things about the thirteenth issue of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, but I needed to read that issue first. Picking it out of the vast pile of to-be-reads sitting on the floor, I noticed it contained a story by the writer of my favorite story in Flytrap, Karina Sumner-Smith, and so I read it and found it to be lovely, a haunting story, one which seems to be a kind of shadow to her Flytrap story "She is Elizabeth Lynn Rhodea", which is even more haunting, a perfectly-modulated study of loss and longing.

I wanted to know who this writer was, since her bio in both zines said little more than, "You haven't heard of me." Well, now I have, I said.

So I fired up the venerable Google and typed her name in. Found her website. Not too many publications, but a few here and there, including one at Strange Horizons.

I read around a bit and discovered, much to my surprise, that Ms. Sumner-Smith is a college student.

Now, being a high school teacher, I try not to judge people too much by their age, since I've seen plenty of students make their teachers look like children. I've also been writing myself since elementary school, though I haven't really accomplished much, and most of my fiction is ... well, a kind word for it would be "unpublished". (The only thing I'm skilled at is playwrighting, but if you think SF is a ghetto, try being a living playwright...) I'm an associate editor at Merlyn's Pen: The National Magazine of Student Writing, where we get to see and publish remarkable work by people in high school and middle school. Youth doesn't preclude someone from being a talented writer any more than old age supposes it.

Plenty of writers who are currently Big Names first published stories when they were in their late teens. It shouldn't surprise me.

But I was surprised. Not by the fact of publication, but by the quality of the work. These are damn good stories. Sensitive, subtle, carefully written, evocative, affecting. "She is Elizabeth Lynn Rhodea" should be considered for any of the Best of the Year anthologies, including the non-genre ones. Subscribe to Flytrap just so you can read it (and Alan de Niro's poems -- de Niro is another writer whose name deserves to be better known).

Let the trumpets sound. We've got a great writer in our midst, folks, and she's got, I hope, many years of writing ahead of her.

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