Participant Says World Fantasy Con Program Audience Still Struggles With Diversity Conversation

Panelist Rebecca Kuang came out of the “Borrowing from History: Intention and Appropriation” item at World Fantasy Con 2017 in San Antonio and dispatched these tweets to express her dissatisfaction with the experience.

According to the schedule, the other panelists were Russell Blackford (moderator), Elizabth Crowens, Meg Turville-Heitz, and Jacob Weisman.

[Thanks to JJ for the story.]

13 thoughts on “Participant Says World Fantasy Con Program Audience Still Struggles With Diversity Conversation

  1. I do wish people didn’t get hung up on the percentage of people who are submitting stories. What matters is the distribution that publishers think will sell.

    In context of short fiction, that means that it doesn’t matter how many people are submitting time-travel stories; editors only want to print a limited number of them. Likewise, it doesn’t matter how many people are submitting black-themed stories or stories with Asian settings or stories with female protagonists. All that matters is how many the publishers want to print.

    Unless, of course, the rate of satisfactory submissions is zero, or nearly so. But if that were the case, then the rare story with a woman-of-color protagonist would get snapped up at once. WOC writers would comment on how easy it was to get published–not how hard.

    The question I really can’t answer is how big the audience is for books with various sorts of minority protagonists. It’s clearly much bigger than just members of the corresponding minority groups, though. But it is audience size that ought to determine what sorts of books get published–not the actual distribution of minorities in the population, and not the number of people making submissions either.

  2. Greg Hullender: But it is audience size that ought to determine what sorts of books get published–not the actual distribution of minorities in the population, and not the number of people making submissions either.

    The flaw in your reasoning is an implicit assumption that nothing has kept people from getting connected with written sff (versus movies or TV). I belonged to the world’s largest sf club in an incredibly diverse city, at its peak drawing 150 members to meetings, and over the course of several decades we had no more than half a dozen black members altogether. Just throwing the doors open wasn’t enough. Just having fiction available for purchase online isn’t enough. You’re arguing against the work that will not just change the range of available fiction, but will expand sff’s audience when they finally connect to it.

  3. I’ll jump on

    But it is audience size that ought to determine what sorts of books get published

    more directly. If audience size (and some managers’ purblind view of their taste) were the sole determinant, we might be drowning in paranormal romance (cf a recent comment that there are more women reading than men); fortunately, there is room in the field for books that will be well-liked by smaller numbers of readers. (This is not just a matter of underrepresented minorities; e.g., John M. Ford’s books had a smaller but very strong following.) I wonder whether an advantage of HugeSouthAmericanRiver.com (thank you, Dave L.) is that it end-runs around the fratricidal fight for shelf space, making room for more books that might not be well-served by physical distributors and retailers. (Don’t ask me how that weighs against the loss of browsing; my recent reading has been almost entirely from comments/recommendations, but I wouldn’t argue any sample-of-one to be typical.)

    I should also note that this WFC seemed to me to be significantly branching its official theme (“secret histories”) into “look at all the categories of people left out of the official history”. I can’t tell you how any of those panels went — I got to relatively little program due to waking up too !@#$%^&*!! early and spending chunks of the day drowsy — but I did get to Martha Wells’s TM speech, which was particularly sardonic about deliberate erasures: e.g. a picture of Marie Curie captioned “female lab assistant”.

  4. In context of short fiction, that means that it doesn’t matter how many people are submitting time-travel stories; editors only want to print a limited number of them. Likewise, it doesn’t matter how many people are submitting black-themed stories or stories with Asian settings or stories with female protagonists. All that matters is how many the publishers want to print.

    I want to know why publishers think they have to be so stingy in publishing stories with not-white characters or non-European and/or -American settings. One of the things I loved about Ninefox Gambit was the touches of Korean culture that Yoon Ha Lee infused it with. I am actively anticipating the Black Panther movie because I want to see a superhero movie that doesn’t take place in the United States. Are SFF fans who want to see fantastic tales in unfamiliar cultures really that rare?

  5. I’m also absolutely sure that the usual argument for not publishing, say, two takes on time travel via time machine/vehicle in close proximity applies to actual diversity. Reading Folding Beijing and Binti (two obvious recent examples of diverse stories) back to back isn’t even a little bit like reading two takes on a common trope in too-close succession.

  6. I agree with Mike. There has been an enormous amount of studies saying that just accepting diverse people are not enough. You also have to reach out and show that you are accepting for that to have an effect.

    That is why universities have stated to make sure that photos in ads have a diverse set of people. And it has had an effect on who will send in an application.

    So if you want diveristy, you have to be active and think. Where do you place ads looking for new authors? Where do you make appearances? Who do you usually talk to? If the answer is “the usual”, then things will most likely not change.

  7. On a slightly off topic aspect of this, at Worldcon 2017/Helsinki I spent some time (as Chair (2008-2013)–and now Immed Past Chair of ESFS which handles the Eurocons) talking to the S Koreans, the Japanese and the two Chinese Gps who attended there. It was mainly about setting up an ASIACON/SF Society of Asia (to parallel the only sub-Worldcon/WSFS, regional grouping -the Eurocons (going since 1972 under ESFS)). They have now taken this on board and will in Apr 2018 in Chengdu have a conference re this very matter. So a 2nd regional SF Grouping may emerge from this. best wishes.

  8. @Dave Lally – I assume you mean multi-national, since there are other rotating regional cons (the Westercon being an American example). Either way, that is very exciting. I wish them all success.

  9. Eh yes that is what I mean : tho the Westercon –along with many other (internal) US Cons–remains solely within the US. An Asiacon -if it follows the Eurocon model– should rotate amongst those Asian countries/states (ie from Afghanistan to Yemen and incl Israel (with its annual NatSFCon in Tel Aviv: I-con) and India (with its Indian Assocn for SF Studies annual event)). There is SF activity already in those two (strictly Asian) states. Plus the two states which are in both Europe and Asia :Turkey (a tiny SF flicker in Ankara) and Russia (with its three main annual Cons: Roscon/Moscow, Interpresscon/St Petersburg and Aelita/Yekaterinburg). Oh and BTW in case SF people dont know, confirmed Worldcon 2019/Dublin (15-19 Aug) is followed one week later (100miles/160Km away) by Eurocon2019/Belfast (22-26 Aug). And one can travel between the two by the express train THE ENTERPRISE (!) running since Aug 1947 (see the prev item on Eurocon2019+ the train etc here on File 770). best.

  10. Dave Lally on November 8, 2017 at 12:51 pm said:

    Eh yes that is what I mean : tho the Westercon –along with many other (internal) US Cons–remains solely within the US.

    Canada is not, as of the last time I checked, part of the US. The 1977, 1991, and 2005 Westercons were in Canada. See the Westercon History List for details.

    Westercon, per its Bylaws, is not a solely US convention. It can be held anywhere in North American west of 104° W longitude, or in Hawaii. (Plus Australia if a very unlikely event happens.) Besides the three Canadian Westercons, there was also one Westercon held within walking distance of Mexico (El Paso, 1996) — I know because I did walk over to Mexico one afternoon of the convention.

    Westercon turns out to be more international that NASFiC, even though NASFiC by definition can be anywhere in North America (plus Hawaii, and also offshore US territories like Guam), which includes Central America and the islands of the Caribbean. There have been no NASFiCs held outside of the USA. (Puerto Rico, despite certain politicians’ desire to pretend otherwise, is part of the USA.) There was one NASFiC held within sight of Canada (Detroit, 2014); the view from the con suite windows was across the Detroit River into Windsor, Ontario.

  11. Kevin Standlee: Canada is not, as of the last time I checked, part of the US.

    Hey, we gave them a chance in 1775 and they shot at us! And they’ve grown progressively less interested since then.

  12. Kevin : Tx for that clarification: my info on mainly N America cons (having never been to there-yet!!) is limited. best.

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