At its heart, the Ad Astra Institute for Science Fiction & the Speculative Imagination is a community:
Educators and practitioners of science fiction, a unique genre of storytelling that allows both writers and readers to explore new realities, address difficult questions about humanity, and understand the current world with greater nuance.
Creators of speculative literature, with a strong drive to explore the genre by writing it, and to help others do the same by offering coursework, workshops, and writing programs in the university and in the speculative-fiction field.
Fans and champions of the genre, believing that science fiction and speculative literature can be enjoyed at any level and still have the potential to change the world.
Organizers who've run SF conferences and events for decades, bringing together many voices under one roof to study and celebrate our field with like minds.
On this page you can meet some of the people who are Ad Astra, and learn a little about our history, philosophy, and vision - we're storytellers, teachers, students, and fans of SF with hundreds of cumulative years working inside science fiction!
Chris McKitterick (he/they) has lived in seven states and two countries, but calls Lawrence - where he's taught science fiction and writing at KU and several SF educational programs - home. His "Ashes of Exploding Suns, Monuments to Dust" won the AnLab Reader's Award for best novelette, his debut novel was Transcendence, and he's published short fiction, essays, and poetry widely since the 1990s. Current projects include Ad Astra Road Trip, Empire Ship, Stories from a Perilous Youth, and more.
Among other careers, he has worked in gaming, tech, and astronomy before landing in education. He's a popular speaker, Campbell Award juror and chair, ran the Sturgeon Award for decades, and served almost as long as director of James Gunn's original Center for the Study of Science Fiction. He's run 1930s carbon-arc movie projectors and printing presses, and restored all kinds of machines. He sees surviving his youth as evidence of quantum realities.
Chris is engaged to be married late in 2023, and spends much of his free time helping care for a menagerie of animal friends while occasionally rehabilitating wildlife. He believes that, if we pay attention, the little animals with whom we share the world can offer a great deal of wisdom.
Kij Johnson (she/they) is a writer of short stories, novels and occasional other things. Her first sale was in 1987 to a small Minnesota magazine, Tales of the Unanticipated; since then she has sold more than fifty shorter works of fiction, as well as poems, nonfiction, and game materials. Her books include The Fox Woman (Tor, 1999); Fudoki (Tor, 2003, a finalist for the World Fantasy Award); the short story collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees (Small Beer Press, 2012, a finalist for the World Fantasy Award); The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe (Tor.com, 2016, winner of the World Fantasy Award); and The River Bank, a sequel to Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (Small Beer Press, 2017). There was also a Star Trek: The Next Generation book with bestseller Greg Cox, Dragon's Honor.
She is a three-time winner of the Nebula Award (2010, 2011, and 2012) and the World Fantasy Award (2009, 2017, and 2019), winner of the Hugo Award (2012) as well as the French Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire (2017), the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award (1992), the Crawford Award (1999), and others. Her short stories include award-winners "Fox Magic," "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss," "Spar," "Ponies," "The Man Who Bridged the Mist," and "The Privilege of the Happy Ending." She's been translated into seventeen languages, and her work has been optioned for Hollywood twice.
Here's a good list of her fiction that is available online, some here on this website, some not so much.
In the past, she's had all the cool jobs: managing editor for Tor Books, Collections and Graphic Novels Editor for Dark Horse Comics, Continuity Director and Creative Director for various worlds at Wizards of the Coast/TSR, a subject matter expert for Microsoft, and a manager for user educations groups in several tech companies.
Currently, she lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with a cat, Jurat.
Desirée Neyens (she/her) first got connected with Chris, Kij, and the Lawrence SF community in the summer of 2014 when she participated in the Intensive Science Fiction Institute on the SF Novel. In the years that followed she participated in the Institute two more times, took an assortment of SF classes from Chris and Kij, and became involved with planning and orchestrating the annual ConQuesT benefit auction.
Professionally, she works at the University of Kansas where she changes jobs every few years to keep things interesting. In addition to being a staff member she is also an instructor for a few Leadership Studies classes, which are, by far, her favorite part of working in higher education. Well, that and the tuition assistance.
Desirée has earned a Master’s degree in Library Science, a Master’s degree in English, and is currently working on a PhD in Library Science. She currently lives in Lawrence, KS with her spouse, an assortment of critters, and entirely too many houseplants (according to her spouse).
Since 2022, Logan has served Ad Astra as our all-around research assistant, helping manage and record presentations for our "Science into Fiction" series of talks and workshops, researching SF in STEM and academia, and more.
Affiliated faculty of the Ad Astra Institute for Science Fiction & the Speculative Imagination work in many disciplines across the University of Kansas and other organizations all across the world. In addition to Ad Astra directors Chris and Kij, many other SF and creative writing professionals contribute their expertise through our talks, events, and educational offerings.
Stay tuned to meet more of our growing team!
History: Ad Astra staff and faculty have been involved in science fiction studies - literary, scholarly, and creative - for decades. We got started running conventions, conferences, writing workshops, and academic and educational research centers in the early 1990s.
Ad Astra is the spiritual successor of James Gunn's original Center for the Study of Science Fiction, established at the University of Kansas in 1983. Our directors began working with Jim in 1992 and served as directors of his center from 1995-2022. Like so many small university-based organizations, shortly after Jim's death (a profound loss for those who had worked with and loved him for so long), our little chosen-family center was subsumed into a college department. So in 2021 we founded the Ad Astra Center at University of Kansas to serve as an umbrella organization for our ongoing workshops and other educational-outreach programs, and to continue sharing our vision to "Save the world through science fiction." In 2023, a new KU rule interfered with our ability to operate effectively within the university, so we re-established Ad Astra as an independent, not-for-profit Institute. Freed from university politics and administrative constraints, we're finally able to build the comprehensive, not-for-credit educational program we've always dreamed of!
Philosophy: Our vision to use SF as a tool and mode to help make the future a better place is something our director has been working toward since grad school. Inspired by his mentor, SF Grand Master James E. Gunn - who also believed that speculative narratives might be our best hope of helping humankind avert self-imposed disaster - he created a youth program to get SF into the hands of young people in 1996 (formally established as AboutSF in 2004). We believe that the power of the arts grows empathy - necessary for creating a livable and hopeful future for all those who will live there. The arts touch our hearts and souls, narratives bring us closer, and the fresh perspectives of SF deepen our empathy so The Other becomes someone we can care about.
Practically: We're reaching for that goal by building a comprehensive program that brings together creatives, educators, and fans of speculative fiction with scientists and technologists to study and create work that changes the world. We encourage the "two cultures" - STEM and the arts - to work together to prepare the broader public for what's to come, bridging the divide between fields by showcasing cutting-edge science and tech research while helping creatives engage with forces rapidly re-shaping our world. Through a rich series of expert talks, creative workshops, masterclasses, teacher-education and public-interest courses, social-media and blog outreach, video and textual inspiration, and more, we seek to educate and enrich creatives and the broader public alike.
Most of our offerings (except the intensive Science Fiction Summer residential workshops) are available in-person and live-streaming, and much of that content will be posted to our YouTube channel, and social media, and we also share a great deal of our materials on this site. We actively encourage people from diverse backgrounds to participate - part of why we offer our talks and other events online - to enable people from around the world to participate whether or not they're local or have the ability to attend in person or in real-time, and to bring people from diverse backgrounds together to collaborate in the creative process.
We also offer scholarships to enable people of all economic situations to have equal access to our classes.
The Ad Astra Institute is a registered not-for-profit educational and research organization, and we have applied for 501(c)3 classification, so your donation might also be tax-deductible. If you wish to support our activities by making a charitable donation to help others attend the workshops who might otherwise not be able to, or to support our educational outreach, contact McKitterick (email@example.com). We can accept checks or Zelle, and PayPal (which takes an additional fee).
We also partner with Farbeyond Books - a fantastic spec-fic bookstore - which donates at least 50% of all sales to Ad Astra, so if you have books you'd like to donate, let us know.
Thank you so much to our donors and supporters! You make all this possible.
Stay tuned for lots more coming soon. In the mean time, Ad Astra!