Story Time Reviews “Valedictorian” by N. K. Jemisin

Story Time Reviews remembers the joy of listening to bedtime stories. Today Story Time Reviews “Valedictorian” by N. K. Jemisin read by LeVar Burton. For those who prefer the print version, you can find it in the December 2014 (Issue 55) of Lightspeed Magazine.

Image of a royal blue mortar-board with yellow trim and yellow tassel representing Story Time Reviews "Valedictorian"

Where to Find the Story

“Valedictorian” © 2012 by N. K. Jemisin. After: Nineteen Stories of Apocolapse and Dystopia, edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow. It also appears in N. K. Jemisin’s collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?

The February 3, 2020 episode of the reading lasts 56:21 minutes. It is available on the LeVar Burton podcast, Apple podcasts, and Stitcher.

The Story

A brief description: A smart, stubborn high school student sets her own rules in a near-future dystopia. 

This short story (5939 words) takes place in a complex future many years after a devastating war. Spare and powerful words describe a layered society and characters with conflicting desires.

Zinhle, a senior in high school, lives inside a “Firewall” with people like her. She excels in school and despairs that none of her classmates or teachers challenge her. Everyone strives to be mediocre because when graduation comes, there will be change. Her desire to be herself, to never do less than her best, drives the story. 

The characters in this story are recognizable and intriguing. Even the ones who only appear for a paragraph. 

The antagonist is strong and presents a compelling argument. So compelling that Zinhle and the reader have a lot to think about.

The Author 

Photograph of N. K. Jemisin taken by Laura Hanifin 2015.
Portrait of N. K. Jemisin by Laura Hanifin, 2015

N. K. Jemisin is a N.Y. Times best-selling, multiple award-winning author and recipient of a 2020 MacArthur Fellowship. She began writing at 8 years of age, but didn’t write for publication until after she turned thirty.

Sadly, readers weren’t ready for her first published book, an inclusive fantasy, The Killing Moon

In 2016, her novel, The Fifth Season, won the Hugo. That made N. K. Jemisin the first black person in history to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel. (Well-deserved, but shameful that the genre and the world had waited so long to honor black authors.) The next two novels in The Broken Earth trilogy, The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky, won the Hugo for Best Novel in 2017 and 2018 (respectively). She is the first person ever to win the that award in three consecutive years.

Read what N. K. Jemisin has to say about how this story came about.

The Voice Talent

LeVar Burton is an Actor, Director, Educator & Cofounder of the award-winning Skybrary App, host and Executive Producer of PBS’s Reading Rainbow and lifelong children’s literacy advocate.

What can I add? Most of you are familiar with LeVar through his roles on Roots or Star Trek or on Reading Rainbow. He’s an exceptional ad entertaining reader. 

He doesn’t always read the story how I would, but his voice talent always compels me to stay with him to the end. He never disappoints. 

My Opinion

Wow. Burton’s intro to the story is spot on. The story makes you think. And I love that. 

It speaks to me about oppression—on a personal level, on a diversity level, and on an admiring writer level. 

The story has a depth that N. K. Jemisin reveals in the slow peeling back of layers. Then, as a thinking reader, there are more layers to explore once you’ve finished the story. 

It’s a story you can read many times and glean deeper insights each time.

I love stories that entertain me and challenge me to think. 


Do you read short stories? Where do you find them? Did you listen to or read this story? Story Time Reviews “Valedictorian” by N. K. Jemisin as read by LeVar Burton. Story and voice talent get 5 out of 5 stars. Let us know if you agree or disagree by commenting below.

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