Authors: Elizabeth Hand
Elizabeth Hand (b. 1957) is the award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy titles such as
Waking the Moon
, as well as the thrillers
. She is commonly regarded as one of the most poetic writers working in speculative fiction and horror today.
Hand was born in San Diego and grew up in Yonkers and Pound Ridge, New York. During the height of the Cold War, she was exposed to constant air raid drills and firehouse sirens, giving her early practice in thinking about the apocalypse. She attended the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, where she received a BS in cultural anthropology.
Hand’s first love was writing, but many Broadway actors lived in her hometown of Pound Ridge, and by high school she was consumed with the theater. She wrote and acted in a number of plays in school and with a local troupe, The Hamlet Players. After college, writing stories became her primary interest, and the work of Angela Carter cemented that interest. Hand realized that she wanted to create new myths and retell old ones, using a heightened prose style.
Hand’s first break came in 1988 with the publication of
. In this novel, Hand explores the City of Trees, a post-apocalyptic Washington, DC. The story focuses on a psychically enhanced woman who can read dreams and her journey through the strange city with her courtesan twin brother. The book’s success led to two sequels:
. All three novels were nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award.
Beginning with the James Tiptree, Jr. Award–winning
Waking the Moon
, Hand wrote a succession of books involving themes of apocalypse, ancient deities, and mysticism.
Waking the Moon
centers on the Benandanti, an ancient secret society in modern-day Washington, DC. that also appeared in
New York Times
In 1998, Hand released her short story collection
Last Summer at Mars Hill
. The title story won the Nebula Award and the World Fantasy Award. Most recently, she has published two crime novels focusing on punk rock photographer Cass Neary—the Shirley Jackson Award–winning
When Hand isn’t writing stories of decadence and deities, she divides her time between the coast of Maine and London, with her partner, UK critic John Clute. She is a regular contributor to numerous publications, including the
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Hand is the oldest of five siblings in a very close-knit family. This photo shows them in 1967, on one of their camping trips to Maine and Canada. All five kids, then under the age of ten, shared a canvas tent with their parents. From left to right: Brian, Patrick, Elizabeth, Kathleen, and baby Barbara. “Maine imprinted on me during this time, which is why I've lived there for the last twenty-five years,” Hand says.
Hand in her driveway with her beloved family dog Cindy shortly before leaving for college in Washington, DC. “Note the skirt, made from a pair of massively embroidered jeans; my favorite red velvet beret, which my mother gave me for Christmas and which disappeared under dark circumstances a few years later; my Mom’s suede jacket (I added the denim cuffs); and needlework belt with my initials on it, made by my grandmother Hand. You can’t see them, but I was also wearing my lace-up Frye boots.”
In her journal, Hand once wrote, “I am being haunted by a town.” The town was Katonah, New York, which she transformed into Kamensic Village, the setting or background for much of her fiction. This photo from 1975 shows the train station where characters Lit and Jamie Casson make their escape at the end of the novel
Hand recalls: “In 1976, I was hitchhiking in Putnam County, New York, with my friend Katy. A guy our age picked us up, we drove around and hung out for a few hours, and he then dropped me back at my parents’ house in Pound Ridge. It was only after I got home that I realized I’d left my journal in his car.
Flash forward to 1999, shortly after
was published. I was visiting my folks in Pound Ridge when the phone rang: I picked it up and a voice asked, ‘Is this Elizabeth Hand?’ It turned out to be the guy who’d picked us up—he’d seen a copy of
in his local bookstore and remembered my name (which was in the journal). And, when he went back and read the journal again (which he’d done back in 1976 as well—hey, I would have, too), he realized that some of the people and places I’d written about in the journal ended up in
Hand in proto-punk mode with some friends at their second New Year’s gathering at the Hotel Empire in New York City—at the time a “total dump” (just the way they liked it). Left to right: Michael, Oscar, Julie, Elizabeth, and Steve. Hand says: “The red blodge by my nose is actually my crimson fingernail and a cigarette. I was a chain smoker, also an early do-rag adapter. Oscar inspired Oliver in Waking the Moon; the book was dedicated to him.”
Hand in the early 1980s.
Hand read Samuel R. Delany’s
when it first came out in 1975, and it was a huge influence on her early works, such as
. In spring 2012, Hand visited Washington, DC, and saw her dear friend Rafael Sa’adah, who had an amazing surprise in store: one of the original manuscripts of
, which he’d acquired from a book dealer. Hand says, “Raf unwrapped it for the first time and we went through it page by page. Like entering a literary Tutankhamun’s tomb.” Hand took many photos of the text, including this shot of the novel’s epigraph, which she has always loved.
Thanks to my brother Brian, for the inspiration for Icarus. Also, profound thanks to Geoffrey Chester of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, for his technical advice. Any errors of fact or judgment contained herein are, of course, the author’s.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
“Last Summer at Mars Hill” copyright © 1994 by Elizabeth Hand. First appeared in
Fantasy and Science Fiction
, August 1994.