Interview: E. Lily Yu

E. Lily Yu is the author of On Fragile Waves, which received the Washington State Book Award, and Jewel Box, which is forthcoming in 2023. She received the Artist Trust LaSalle Storyteller Award in 2017 and the Astounding Award for Best New Writer in 2012. More than thirty of her stories have appeared in venues from McSweeney’s to, as well as thirteen best-of-the-year anthologies, and have been finalists for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Sturgeon, and World Fantasy Awards. “The Father Provincial of Mare Imbrium” is her fourth story in Uncanny, a beautifully crafted tale of suppressed research, set in a Jesuit lunar colony.


Uncanny Magazine: “The Father Provincial of Mare Imbrium” is a story of religion and science, set on a remote lunar colony. What was your starting point or inspiration for the story?

E. Lily Yu: I think I am not the most reliable respondent in this case, although there isn’t an alternative. What I would have said a week ago is that I was struck suddenly by the idea of Jesuits on the moon, an idea that felt entirely natural and appropriate, likely as a result of reading Teilhard de Chardin and a longer-form project I recently finished; that I wrote several pages of the story sitting at a Barnes and Noble signing table, in between conversations with curious browsers; and that, when I realized the depths of my ignorance, I reached out to Br. Guy Consolmagno for fact-checking and correction. This narrative is not quite correct.

I became an admirer of Br. Guy perhaps five years ago, while reading Krista Tippett’s Becoming Wise, which excerpts a beautiful interview she conducted with Br. Guy and Fr. George Coyne. I had the honor of meeting Br. Guy at Dublin Worldcon a few years later and hearing about the difficulties of fundraising for the Vatican Observatory.

While drafting a note about the story this week, I looked up the full interview with Krista Tippett, in which the host and guests repeatedly mention that Jesuits first mapped the moon, and that over thirty lunar features are named after Jesuits as a result. So, I think perhaps a splinter of an idea embedded itself under my skin without my noticing, years and years ago, and only worked its way out now.

Uncanny Magazine: I love that one focus of the story is the censorship of the Brothers’ research and the way they have to work around that. Navigating power dynamics is a recurring theme in your fiction. What draws you to this theme? What other themes or motifs do you find yourself drawn to repeatedly?

E. Lily Yu: Frankly, I hadn’t noticed. I tunnel in darkness like a mole under a garden, and could not tell you what patterns there are in the flowers I uproot at the end of long digging. When some future graduate student etherizes, pins, and labels my stories, I suspect I will be as surprised by the results as anyone else.

In this case, I had been recently irritated by learning about the Catholic Church’s suppression of the research and writings of Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Uncanny Magazine: What was your favorite part about writing this story? What was the most challenging part?

E. Lily Yu: They were related: the deadline came rushing up, the story remained mostly undone, and at the last minute, without any deliberate or conscious efforts on my part, the pieces of the story clicked into place like the tumblers in a lock. That was a gift, and I remain deeply grateful for it.

Uncanny Magazine: I enjoyed the description of the various pastes served at dinner on the lunar colony—if you were a researcher there, what food would you miss the most?

E. Lily Yu: All of them!

Uncanny Magazine: What research did you do for “The Father Provincial of Mare Imbrium”? Did you turn up anything interesting that didn’t fit into the final story?

E. Lily Yu: It’s a rare event, but the process with this story was the reverse of what the question suggests. To give an example, another story, “The Wretched and the Beautiful,” was cast off perfectly, like a molt between instars, from a ten-year book project that became On Fragile Waves. So much research and thinking had already been done that the story formed naturally of itself. The same thing happened here, as the result of two long-term projects that I can’t say much about yet.

Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?

E. Lily Yu: Publishing timelines are so long that writers tend to be years into their next project when the last one is released. Erewhon is publishing Jewel Box, a collection of new and old stories, sometime in Fall 2023. I have two completed non-book projects sitting quietly in someone’s inbox. And I am working on my first work of nonfiction, a collection of essays on creativity and faith.

Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!


Caroline M. Yoachim

Caroline M. Yoachim is a three-time Hugo and six-time Nebula Award finalist. Her short stories have been translated into several languages and reprinted in multiple best-of anthologies, including four times in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Yoachim’s short story collection Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories and the print chapbook of her novelette The Archronology of Love are available from Fairwood Press. For more, check out her website at

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