The J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction offered a large variety of SF-related resources, awards, events, educational outreach, and other programs.
"Science-fiction writers and readers didn't put a man on the Moon all by themselves, but they created a climate of opinion in which the goal of putting a man on the Moon became acceptable" - James Gunn, New York Times.
Everyone enjoyed equal access to our educational offerings, and we actively encouraged students and scholars from diverse backgrounds to study with us. Click here to see the Director's Diversity Statement.
The center was founded in 1982 as a Kansas Board of Regents Center at the University of Kansas, the first such organization at a major university. James Gunn, then a Professor in the KU English Department, established it as a focus for the SF outreach he offered at KU - particularly what has grown into our many-faceted SF Summer program - beginning in 1969-1970 with one of the first science-fiction courses ever offered at a major university. Mostly an independent research center, the Center eventually was established under the KU Lifetime Institute, now folded into the Hall Center before becoming independent again but affiliated with several KU departments and centers.
Gunn also began his Science Fiction Lecture Series in 1969 as an outreach program, when the University Libraries also made their first major acquisition in the field. Since then, SF has become the KU Libraries' fastest-growing special collection, mostly through gifts. Special Collections provided most of the illustrations for Gunn's Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction, published in 1975 (with a new edition in 2013, and another revised Chinese edition in 2020). Also in 1975, Gunn held his first Intensive Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction, which became an annual event that McKitterick still offers today. In 1979, Gunn presented the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (established in 1973) for the best science fiction novel of the year for the first time at KU as part of a weekend conference devoted to the teaching and writing of SF. Gunn's annual Conference long used a round-table discussion format with associated readings, signings, and more, and we have retained this interactive feature while expanding. In 2004, the Conference tested a presentation-and-dialogue format with much success, and have since made this a new feature. The Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short SF of the year was first given in 1987. In 1985, Gunn first offered his Writers Workshop in Science Fiction, with McKitterick serving as guest author beginning in 1995. He began leading his Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop since 2010. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, presented in cooperation with the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, was presented during the Conference Awards Ceremony from 1996-2004.
In 2005, Kij Johnson first offered her Novel Writers Workshop in conjunction with the center, and recently added a "Repeat Offenders" Novel Writers Workshop. Chris McKitterick and Physics Professor Philip Baringer began offering their "Science, Technology, and Society" course in 2006, also available for KU credit through English and Humanities as an Honors course. The first issue of James Gunn's Ad Astra, a multidimensional journal of fiction, nonfiction, essays, reviews, and multimedia, launched in June 2012 - and is now open for submissions. McKitterick and Johnson have continued to develop and offer more SF Studies courses for KU credit and professionalization.
We were founded as an Endowment-supported organization independent of departmental or college politics, with faculty and other staff from many walks of life. In 1991, Dr. Richard W. Gunn, a retired physician in Kansas City and Professor Gunn's brother, created the first endowment supporting James Gunn's educational and outreach efforts, and his center was renamed the J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center in honor of their parents. McKitterick began building this website the next year. In 2004, the Center began forming a Board of Advisors consisting of luminaries from the SF field, the Center's Directors, and others invested in the future of Science Fiction Studies. Over the next year, we co-founded AboutSF, an educational-outreach program especially serving educators, librarians, and others interested in SF pedagogy and helping get SF into the hands of young people, supported entirely by donations. In 2007, the Center moved for the first time to a physical space at the University of Kansas (where Gunn enjoyed his first and only corner office), and in 2009 opened a small library of SF books and magazines available for browsing and borrowing - also thanks to generous donors. In 2011, KU acquired Theodore Sturgeon's papers, greatly expanding an already strong science fiction special collection available for researchers. In December 2020, our founder - James Gunn - passed away. Over the next several months, the KU English Department began moving ahead with plans to revise the Center's mission to focus on departmental academics and curriculum. In November 2021, long-time Director McKitterick announced the launch of the Ad Astra Center for Science Fiction and the Speculative Imagination to continue pursuing our dream of saving the world through science fiction, making KU the only university boasting two SF research and educational centers.
The J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction was a University of Kansas Regents Center, the first of its kind in the world. We affiliated with many KU departments and research centers, including the KU English Department (where our board of directors - Gunn, Johnson, and McKitterick - have worked), which offered a creative writing option at the undergraduate level and an MA, MFA, and PhD, that allowed academic and creative work in SF. We offered most of our courses for KU undergraduate and graduate credit, as well as for professionalization. In addition to for-credit KU students, we worked with non-degree-seeking scholars and writers to enhance their professionalization in the field, and our affiliated residential SF Summer program had always been the centerpiece of our course offerings. Alumni of Johnson's and McKitterick's courses, writing workshops, and teaching institutes often go on to SF publication or professional and academic careers - alums of McKitterick's Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop have the highest alumni publication record in the field!
During a 4-8 week period in the summer, we hosted a two-week intensive Writers Workshop established in 1985 by SF Grand Master James Gunn and led by SF author and scholar Chris McKitterick since 1995, featuring brilliant guest authors such as Pat Cadigan, Bradley Denton, Andy Duncan, James Gunn, and John Kessel; a two-week intensive Novel Writers Workshop by multiple award-winning author Kij Johnson; a two-week intensive science-fiction literature course especially for teachers; a one-week Young-Adult Novel Writing Workshop; and two advanced "Repeat Offenders" writing workshops (each at least two weeks). The summer courses usually ran on either side of the Conference and Awards Banquet so our residential attendees could have the opportuntity to meet and make connections with other SF professionals, scholars, educators, and fans.
Everyone enjoyed equal access to most offerings under the J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center's umbrella, and we actively encouraged students and scholars from diverse backgrounds to study with us. Many courses offered by Center affiliates were also available to be taken not-for-credit for professionalization by community members (if space is available). Click here to see the Director's Diversity Statement.
Who We Are
Founded by James Gunn - author, editor, scholar, teacher of SF, and SFWA Grand Master and Hall of Fame inductee - to serve as an umbrella for his science fiction activities at KU and beyond. He served the Center's mission from when he established it in 1981 until his death in December 2020. And 13 years before the organization was designated as a research center, he was one of the very first to bring the study of SF to academia.
SF author and scholar Chris McKitterick served the Center since 1992. Gunn named him Associate Director in 2002 when he joined the KU faculty, and he served as Director from 2010-2022.
After nearly a decade of assisting with the summer program, Kij Johnson began serving as Associate Director in 2004. She joined KU as Assistant Professor of creative writing in 2012 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2018.
In 2004 the Center began forming its Board of Advisors, which included long-time friends of the Center, the Directors, and many of SF's leading lights.
In 2018, our first Christopher Gunn Memorial Graduate Research Assistant began supporting the Center's mission.
And, of course, we wouldn't have been able to do anything without the energy and commitment of our students, friends, support staff, and volunteers - a heartfelt thanks to everyone!
We invite you to become part of the Center, as well - like SF itself, the J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center is a community of people. If you're interested in volunteering, just drop us an email. For more information about the Center or any of our programs:
Our physical mailing address:
In Memoria for some of the greats who served the Center here.
Site last updated 6/18/2021