The J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction offered and supported a large variety of SF-related resources, awards, events, educational outreach, and more.
"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 director McKitterick'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 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, then folded into the Hall Center before becoming independent again but affiliated with several KU departments and centers. For decades we operated as an Endowment-supported organization independent of departmental or college politics, with faculty and other staff from many walks of life, inside and outside of KU.
Gunn 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, and his protegés retained this interactive feature while expanding the event. The Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short SF of the year was first presented at this event 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 own Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop 2010, and has offered it ever since, adding a "Repeat Offenders" workshop for his alums. 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, and recently added her "Repeat Offenders" Novel Writers Workshop for alums. Chris McKitterick and Physics Professor Philip Baringer began offering their "Science, Technology, and Society" course in 2006, also available for KU credit as an Honors course. The center helped launch 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 open for submissions. McKitterick, Johnson, and other affiliates have continued to develop and offer more SF Studies courses for KU credit and professionalization.
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 for the Study of Science Fiction 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 helped found 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 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 moved ahead with plans to revise the center's mission to focus on departmental academics and curriculum. To solidify Jim's and our legacy while continuing to pursue our dream of saving the world through science fiction, in November 2021 long-time Director McKitterick announced the launch of the Ad Astra Center for Science Fiction and the Speculative Imagination, 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 KU English (where our board of directors - Gunn, Johnson, and McKitterick - have worked), which allows academic and creative work in SF-adjacent areas. 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 Gunn, Johnson, and McKitterick's affiliated residential SF summer program had always been the centerpiece of our yearly activities. 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.
Everyone enjoyed equal access to offerings under the 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 director McKitterick's Diversity Statement.
Who We Are
Founded by James Gunn - author, editor, scholar, teacher of SF, 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. A dozen years before his 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 from 1992-2022. 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 served as Associate Director from 2004-2022. 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 stakeholders and long-time friends of the center, the directors, and many of SF's leading lights. They were the only ones empowered to approve changes in director positions or other significant changes.
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 for several decades of service to the SF community! Like SF itself, the J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center was a community of people. For more information about the Center or any of our affiliated programs, contact director McKitterick:
In Memoria for some of the greats who served the center here.
Site last updated 6/18/2021