K. Tempest Bradford, David Anthony Durham (L), Eileen Gunn, Anil Menon, Cecilia Tan.
[Greatest Hit from Readercon 12.] At various sf conventions, we‘ve been to more than one panel during which the panelists try to figure out why there seem to be so few writers of color in the field. As an alternative, we have invited several panelists to discuss what an sf field more enticing to writers of color might look like
All panelists are persons of color except Gunn who was introduced as someone who's done a lot for diversity in the field. Unless noted, all questions are from Durham. Everything is a close paraphrase unless in quotation marks (exact) or stated to be uncertain. For sake of my hands and time these were only minimally expanded, so all clarifications and questions welcomed.
Q for Bradford: give snapshot of where think things are re: racial representation in SF: what's written of interest, how are people responding to it?
Bradford: recently started guest-blogging on Carl Brandon Society blog, start listing short stories by people of color month-by-month (May, June, July up earlier this week; since then March and April are up). Used to do for women for another site, when did for CBS found that instead of 5-10 in all markets, only 6-7 May, 2 for June & July. Could be missed some, but at same time seems to her that just wasn't seeing a lot of SFF by writers of color as reading markets. Obviously genre's changing, more writers of color being encouraged to write after life-long reading, definitely growth but still a lot of work to do on editorial side, getting editors to realize that perhaps reason don't connect to stories by writers of color because haven't been forced to engage with. Nisi Shawl's collection _Filter House_, first writer of color to win Tiptree, lots of white readers didn't connect with because her stories scream, "I am a black woman and this is my story."
Tan: response: would've thought that SFF readers would respond best to that kind of thing, as editor love voice that presents something outside the status quo.
Bradford: I would have thought so too, one of reasons drawn to genre, but not seeing it. Put up list on CBS blog of markets that explicitly say are looking for different voices.
Menon: q to Bradford, something about reasons given by people who didn't like things
Bradford: someone reviewing Shawl's book, got impression that didn't like because wasn't written to speak to him, many books written to speak to mainstream readers, which is white male.
Gunn: re: Shawl's stories: vocabulary in stories that white Americans don't always use, not dialect, but rich layers of meaning that might not understand black culture enough to get all of, though still meaningful at surface level, mean paying attention not zipping through. Richness especially with interactions between people. Not written for white people, written for everybody. Like writing stories for engineers, make compromises in how say things.
Q for Gunn: what think can be done to help largely-white editorial body out there to be more inclusive?
Gunn: that's personal, some people want to be inclusive, to publish good fiction, or goals that aren't either. No one prescription. Skilled editors feel like they have their chops, they know what they're doing, instincts. Thinks that editorial instinct isn't going to keep working, world is changing and work will keep getting narrower. But can't just say "do this, right thing" for people who are making instinctive decisions. What they can do is read out into that world, read more stories by people of color, e.g. Tempest's list, find writers who are interested in and expand awareness of, find who have that instinctive affection for. Also educate self about cultures.
Bradford: J. Hartman, Strange Horizons, first bought Shawl story ("Momi Watu"?), impetus to learn more about culture set in, then also better understanding of stories subsequently sent to SH. Just like with readers, understand things about cultures and people by reading.
Q for Menon: speaking of expanding borders & perspectives, just returned from specfic workshop in India modeled after Clarion West, first of kind in India. Tell us more. Always curious about how much diversity is out there beyond American and Euro-centric perspective.
Menon: principle is that method more important, Clarion West actually machine for generating writers (paraphrased). Absent in India, no environment to support writers, basically working alone. Asked someone at Clarkesworld how many stories bought from India, maybe 3 in year, no reason because online submissions, English-speaking writers. Not a problem in mainstream literature, workshops etc. So did experiment, set up workshop in specfic, lots of applications. Real learning experience: enthusiasm of students tremendous. Indian Office of Technology (?) sponsoring, may be a Clarion India, bring people over to teach.
f/u: Menon (I think) mentioned to him "Creative Industrial Complex" , workshops cons etc. Tempest mentioned to him that POC don't always want to take part in that but still exist. What does that mean, going forward?
Bradford: lots of writers, fans of color not part of "mainsteam" CIC, have own. Interesting because lot of this brought up because of Bujold comment and subsequent outpouring. We all knew we existed because we had our communities online. Sometimes don't always have the means to come to conventions, sometimes don't want to because only X person there, everybody knows who I am and not the good kind either. Would like for us to be more part of mainsteam CIC because means can help change it, add more richness to field. Still more work to be done. Think # of POC in this room more than ever seen before at Readercon. Wiscon POC dinner, like 30 and wasn't even all of us, was a big big deal, and thinks that Wiscon was better for it.
Tan: won't shock that CBS cabal started at Wiscon, maybe 14 of us went to dinner and think was all of them that year. We felt like there must be a lot of fans out there, where were they? Sociologically speaking fandom grows by who they know. All heard stories walked into cons and felt like all friends that never had in junior high, can we create that welcoming attitude for FOC?
Harry Potter story: went to HP convention, was expecting like most cons overwhelmingly white, "Oh my God full of hot Asian chicks!" Hadn't been in a room with so many other Asian women since college. (Not very many Latino, African-American people.) Went around asking, why are you here, why do you love HP? Many people: one fandom I can be because I'm represented in the book. "It really is that simple. Holy crap." But time had to be right, cf. _Star Trek_. Shocking, online "utopia" where no idea of ethnicity, then get together and hey, we're pretty cool!
Menon: looking at submitted story for workshop: lot of stories set in London, NY; British schoolboys. Asked kids, why writing these stories, why not writing about Indian cities and places they live in? Just as fascinating.
Tan: could be even more to white people.
Durham: if packaged just right.
Q to Tan: her work largely devoid of her ethnicity. Comment.
Tan: her SF largely devoid of direct analogues to present-day ethnicities. Fantasy, thought about taking some of the great Chinese historical fantasy works like _Journey to the West_ (ex of someone who did Ramayana as multibook epic fantasy), not done in English-speaking audience. But part of me says, want to write own stuff, and ethnicity isn't my major issue. Much more with bisexual characters in her fiction, can't push too many agendas & give characters so many things to carry. Probably coming though, been doing sexuality for so many years that probably getting around to ethnicity eventually. Are Asian characters in many of her things but can't tell because throwaway line and haven't made deal. Rice cooker on kitchen counter, skip that unless Asian. Really doesn't point out race because not what story is about.
(Kate makes note to raise hand.)
Durham: interesting, reminded that lot of writers do this, most of them are white, so often no ethnicity mentioned about any character until a black person walks in, and then they're black: default notion that a person is a white person.
Bradford: have conversations a lot about this, that readers will assume that character is white. Have read reviews of her stories where said, don't know why mentioned that character was black, not relevant to the story. Doesn't mean that she can't be black! Character can be black and doesn't mean that whole story is about that, but at same time feel important that if in her head character is black then call attention to it. Sometimes subtle, story in _Sybil's Garage_ ("Élan Vital", which is heartbreakingly brilliant), not the point but likes that people know because she is. Probably should start saying that "white guy walked in", to call attention to whiteness like blackness.
(Kate feels glad that someone else said it.)
Tan: one of things every writer has to struggle with, must sketch so quickly at start because readers form impressions so quickly.
Durham: "I like readers a lot. I encourage them. But they can be strange sometimes too." _Acacia_ spent a lot of time on physical description, Acacians are complected basically like him (website with picture), and UK cover, French cover . . . all white people.
audience (POC): reading series about woman and gargoyle: woman is black, no cues at all (on cover, elsewhere?)
(asked later for author/title, couldn't remember but would check when could)
Bradford: every now and then, mention cover errors to people who are incredulous, but sometimes even when really blatant about it people go with default. Or sometimes not a mistake, because people think can't have a black person on cover.
Bradford: what is a community, what does it look like? one thing is people not allowing that to happen.
Gunn: key she thinks is more people of color producing books. Not to make political pleas, but--book industry is dying so it's hard to make this plea, but if more editors etc, more on covers
audience (POC): if reason that are not more writers of color is lack of information, lack of feeling accepted--solvable problems. But talking about _Filter House_, seems interested in telling stories that are not interesting to white people, seems like intractable problem.
Bradford: don't think intractably unappealing, think a lot of white mainsteam readers never given opportunity to read from different perspective. Genre readers are one step away from Butler, Delany--can be told really have to read--opens up to more. One reason happy re: _Filter House_ winning Tiptree is gives reason to pick up.
Gunn: don't think that _Filter House_ shuts out white people, don't think most books by black people do. To read books by black people is to understand how much I've been cheated. Don' tthink necessary to aim at white people.
Menon: (something didn't hear)
Tan: book industry dying, but storyteling and reading aren't, niches out there, we have to be vanguard that build them
Bradford: finds interesting at Book Expo America, African-American literature section (has been / is? in basement), a lot of black literature is being self-published first with no stigma because community's feeling that mainstream not interested in our voices but we are.
Tan: publishers want you to prove marketability, here's your chance!
As I was leaving, I heard one audience member say they wanted to see Readercon do a Wiscon-style panel, at which they tended to feel very uneducated; this felt a lot more basic.
Also, I don't actually know what the title of the panel is supposed to mean; since it was inherited from the prior iteration, I didn't ask or hear anyone discuss it.