UConn Magazine: The Secret Life of Dexter Gabriel — aka P. Djèlí Clark

In which the separate worlds of a sci-fi novelist and a history professor collide.

Headshot of Dexter Gabriel

(Peter Morenus / UConn Photo)

n May 2016, UConn history professor Dexter Gabriel was trudging up a hill, robes swishing around his ankles and cap in hand, en route to receive his Ph.D. hood at Stony Brook University in New York, when he received an email addressed to P. Djèlí Clark.

The message congratulated Clark on his novelette, “A Dead Djinn in Cairo,” which had just been published on the sci-fi website Tor.com. It was Clark’s biggest publication to date.

Gabriel grinned, a thrill running through him, and slipped his phone back in his pocket. He approached the stage — the first in his family to receive any degree, let alone an advanced one — and received his doctorate of philosophy in history; but when he sat back down he kept surreptitiously checking his phone.

What were people saying about the story, about Clark? Did they like it? Did they hate it? “It was kismet, fate, the way it turned out,” says Gabriel. “I mean, this was Tor. Tor! On the day of my hooding!” Tor, that famous name Gabriel grew up with, the one printed on the spines of his favorite fantasy and sci-fi books, would now publish the work of P. Djèlí Clark.

A few days later, settled back into his Washington, D.C., apartment, Gabriel set about making some late-night coffee. He sipped the warm brew, then sat down at his desk and woke up his computer, its bright light streaming onto his face. He took a deep, satisfied breath.

And P. Djèlí Clark began to write.

Read on for more.