Ad Astra Center for Science Fiction & the Speculative Imagination
(2022-present, Founding Director)
Chris McKitterick is an award-winning author, editor, educator, amateur astronomer, and backyard engineer. After founder James Gunn, McKitterick was only the second director of the original J Wayne and Elsie M Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction in its 30-year history, which he served from 1992 to 2022. When the University of Kansas recruited him to teach full-time in 2002, he was named Associate Director. In November 2021, McKitterick announced the launch of the new Ad Astra Center for Science Fiction & the Speculative Imagination to pursue our vision of saving the world through science fiction through educational outreach, making KU the only university boasting two SF research and educational centers.
McKitterick lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where he teaches science fiction and writing at the University of Kansas (see his classes here), dwells amid thousands of books, restores old vehicles, watches the sky, and enjoys life with the best kitty and fiancée in the history of ever.
Education and History with Science Fiction @KU
In retrospect, McKitterick's experience and education seem tailored for a life in science fiction. A childhood spent moving from state to state (and living in Korea for a year) taught him perspective about diverse places and people, and being the alien helped him understand the notion of the "other." His earliest idol was spaceflight pioneer Robert H. Goddard, which led to (mostly failed) rocketry experiments.
He earned his BA in English-Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin, but his studies began at the University of Minnesota. Among other topics, he studied astronomy, astrophysics, education, and psychology on his route to SF scholar, writer, and teacher. Early college years focused on science; this led to work as planetarian, astronomy teaching assistant, and observatory assistant-director. Eventually his focus shifted to writing and editing.
After his undergrad years, McKitterick taught at a tiny school in northeastern Montana, when he began publishing professionally. As much as he loved the state's dark skies, endless prairie, and badlands, in 1992 he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, to learn from science-fiction Grand Master and Hall-of-Fame honoree James Gunn. This decision proved pivotal in his life, launching a decades-long relationship with Gunn, the University of Kansas, and the original J Wayne and Elsie M Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction.
There being no better place to study pure science fiction literature and writing in the world - and nowhere to earn a PhD in the field (still true today!) - he pursued the best available opportunity by earning the equivalent of an MFA in creative writing with a strong emphasis in science-fiction scholarship and literature at KU, under Gunn's mentorship, who offered all his science-fiction literature, scholarship, and writing courses during this time. But that wasn't the end of McKitterick's education in SF.
Ever since earning his graduate degree in 1995, McKitterick has continued post-graduate studies. For at least a month each year during the Gunn's annual summer Science Fiction Literature Institute and SF Workshop, he apprenticed under Gunn's mentorship. The summer program also provided the unique opportunity to study under a diverse, ever-changing series of SF scholars and authors, including Brian Aldiss, Paolo Bacigalupi, Stephen Baxter, Pat Cadigan, Bradley Denton, Cory Doctorow, Andy Duncan, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Joe Haldeman, Kij Johnson, John Kessel, Nancy Kress, Geoffrey A. Landis, Ian MacLeod, Jack McDevitt, China Miéville, James Morrow, Claire North, Frederik Pohl, Pamela Sargent, Robert J. Sawyer, Charles Sheffield, Joan Slonczewski, Vernor Vinge, Robert Charles Wilson, George Zebrowski, and many other guests.
Attending Gunn's annual professional workshops and teaching institutes for decades, working with Gunn and other SF experts, engaging in regular discussions and correspondence, plus co-teaching with the best in the field, McKitterick feels more fortunate in his opportunities than he can express. It has been a great honor to work with Gunn, perhaps the world's foremost expert on SF literature and writing. He could not have gotten a deeper or more-immersive education in SF anywhere, at any level of education.
After graduation, McKitterick moved to Seattle where he worked for gaming and high-tech companies - returning each year to study with and assist Gunn with his month-long summer SF program. After seven years away, in 2002 he was recruited to teach writing and SF full-time at KU. He served as co-instructor with Gunn until 2010, when he succeeded Gunn as the center's Director and began teaching his own SF literature, teaching, and writing workshops, courses, and seminars. As Gunn had before, McKitterick now invites the nation's best SF writers and scholars to an annual Conference and to co-teach the workshop as guest authors - and as a side-effect, continues perpetual study in the genre!
In 1995 he was named Assistant Director of Gunn's original Center for the Study of SF. When the University of Kansas recruited him to teach full-time in 2002, McKitterick was named Associate Director. The Board and Gunn named him Director when Gunn stepped down in 2010. After the KU English department revealed plans to take over Gunn's center in 2021, McKitterick stepped down as Director in 2022 to launch the new Ad Astra Center for Science Fiction & the Speculative Imagination.
Since 2002, McKitterick has also served as a juror for the prestigious John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel, and was named Chair in 2018. Though a sometimes overwhelming task - the jurors read upwards of 100 novels/year - serving the Award keeps him current on the state of SF publishing, benefiting not only his SF studies but those of his students, as well.
In 2015, he was invited to attend his first workshop in decades purely as a student: The Schrödinger Sessions: Science for Science Fiction, hosted by the Joint Quantum Institute (a combined initiative of the University of Maryland and NIST). This grant-funded, intensive workshop provided an in-depth "crash course" in quantum physics for science fiction writers through three full days of lectures and discussions with the world's top quantum-physics researchers, guided tours of JQI's labs, and off-campus events with NASA officials and other scientists. In 2019, he was invited to the LaunchPad Astronomy Workshop, another grant-funded workshop for science fiction writers, hosted by the University of Wyoming and led by professors Mike Brotherton (also an SF author) and Jim Verley.
To pay forward the unique learning opportunities provided to him over the years, McKitterick makes it his mission to ensure that KU offers one of the most outstanding, holistic SF educations available anywhere in the world today, and shares as much of his teaching materials as possible here and elsewhere.
Since first seeing print in 1984, McKitterick's short work has appeared in many markets including Abyss & Apex, Aftermaths, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Argentus, Artemis, The Astounding Analog Companion, Captain Proton, Discovery Channel Magazine, E-Scape, Extrapolation, Foundation, Global Warming Aftermaths, James Gunn's Ad Astra, Libraries Unlimited, Locus, Mission: Tomorrow, Mythic Circle, NOTA, Ruins: Extraterrestrial, Sentinels, Sense of Wonder, SFRA Review, Synergy, Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, Top Deck magazine, various TSR publications, Visual Journeys, Westward Weird, World Literature Today, a bowling poem anthology, and elsewhere. A poem of his was also set to music. His newest short fiction, "Ashes of Exploding Suns, Monuments to Dust," was on the Tangent 2018 Recommended Reading List and won the Analytical Laboratories Readers' Award for best novelette of 2018 - his first major writing award.
His debut novel, Transcendence, is available in its second edition through booksellers everywhere, plus as a free download on his website. He recently finished the far-future novel Empire Ship and the first book in The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella, and has several other projects on the burner, including a nonfiction book about James Gunn (with Michael Page), and Stories From a Perilous Youth, a humorous memoir of surviving childhood and the Cold War.
McKitterick was honored to be guest editor (and webmaster) of the special World Literature Today "International Science Fiction" issue, with much internet-exclusive content available online. He also wrote several pieces for the issue and developed the website.
Other publications include astronomy newsletters, science articles, manuals, and advertising materials. He regularly wrote for the Microsoft Windows Server Resource Kits series, where he was an editor, writer, and documentation manager; his contributions to these projects have earned a number of Society for Technical Communication (STC) awards. He's also a regular blogger and online commentator.
McKitterick's teaching began in high school, when he led directed-studies astronomy courses. Since then, he has taught countless tutorials, lectures, workshops, and university courses in astronomy, writing, and science fiction. Before he began teaching his intensive, residential Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop and Science Fiction Teaching Institute in 2010, he apprenticed with and co-taught similar programs with James Gunn and Kij Johnson since 1995. In 2018, he was one of three finalists for the H.O.P.E. (Honor for Outstanding Progressive Educator) Teaching Award, the most prestigious teaching award given at the University of Kansas (presented on the stadium field during the Homecoming game!).
In addition to managing two SF centers, McKitterick teaches several regular-semester courses in science fiction and writing at KU (list of Creative Commons licensed syllabi at the bottom of this page), directs independent studies in SF, and serves on numerous thesis and dissertation committees. He is also a popular workshop instructor at venues around the world.
McKitterick speaks regularly about science fiction and writing for academic conferences, fan conventions, libraries, public events, schools, webcasts, and National Public Radio.
Some highlights include serving as keynote speaker at the 2012 UCO Liberal Arts Symposium XXIV, where he presented "Science Fiction: Mythologies for a Changing Age." In 2014, gave the plenary address about SF for the Southwest Philosophical Society Conference keynote speaker, and in August 2015 he delivered a keynote talk, "Positive Feedback Loops: Science and Science Fiction," at the University of Iowa Medical Scientist Training Program's annual research event. His first Special Guest convention appearance was at Nebraska's ConStellation. In October-November 2019, he was a Special Guest at the China SF Convention in Beijing, where he taught SF writing workshops and spoke at panels and TV interviews. See recent and upcoming appearances on this website.
McKitterick served as nominations director for the Theodore A. Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short SF story of the year from 1992–2016, when Kij Johnson took over the role. Starting in 2002, he has served as nominations director and juror for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel of the year, and was named Chair in 2018. He also regularly serves on outside writing and awards juries.
Connect with Chris
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For student convenience, educational outreach, community engagement, and multimedia interactivity, McKitterick usually posts course syllabi online. Links to syllabi for courses he's taught in the past several years:
Science Fiction Summer
Technical Communication Courses