World Fantasy Con 2020 Apology for Program Draft Seeks to Stem Participant Attrition

After seeing the complaints voiced about the draft program for World Fantasy Convention 2020 (“Virtual WFC 2020 Program Attracts Criticism”), the WFC 2020 committee directed an apology at several writers on Twitter.

We are sorry that our program caused hurt and concern, thank you to those that commented. We are working with our team and panelists to amend this and will be revising it as an ongoing process.

And they pulled the panel descriptions, explaining on the convention’s Program webpage:

We are excited about the awesome panel discussions scheduled for the 2020 Virtual World Fantasy Convention. We have some terrific conversations planned, and our panelists are amazing.

But some of our original descriptions failed to live up to our members’ expectations. We apologize for offending the very people we hope to include in this year’s convention. We hear you, and we appreciate your feedback. We’re working to revise the descriptions – with the help of some of those amazing panelists! – and will update them here as they’re finalized.

WFC2020 Chair Ginny Smith also responded to File 770’s post in a comment here, saying in part:

We have sponsored 46 people of color to participate in the convention at no cost (so far – more to come I hope), and have worked very hard to ensure that every panel is comprised of people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. The panelist list hasn’t been published yet, but when it is I hope the list demonstrates our commitment to equity and diversity.

But some authors who were going to be on the program have already seen enough to make up their minds.  

David Levine wrote on Facebook and Twitter on October 8.

Very sorry to say this, but I’m going to have to withdraw from World Fantasy Convention 2020. Despite a lot of effort on many people’s part, the recent fiasco with panel descriptions demonstrates that the convention simply doesn’t understand how to operate in a diverse world without stepping on marginalized people. I hope that the World Fantasy Convention ? board recognizes that it has a serious, ongoing problem and takes strong action to change course in 2021 and beyond.

The Writing Excuses podcast hosted by authors Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, and author and web cartoonist Howard Tayler will not provide content for use by the virtual convention. (Note: Sanderson is one of WFC 2020’s Author Special Guests.)

Also, this tweet from K. Tempest Bradford was retweeted by Mary Robinette Kowal, a signal boost with extra impact because it was Kowal who led the effort to bail out the 2018 Worldcon program.

Jeff VanderMeer tweeted on October 7 that after being told what panel he was on, he was bowing out.

Yilin Wang dropped out October 6.

One writer who has not dropped out, Kate Heartfield, still has some misgivings:

There are three weeks to go before WFC 2020 begins. When the revised program descriptions and panel assignments come out, the decision of other program participants to stay or go will be revealed if they have not announced it before then.

Update: Kate Heartfield tweeted on October 9 that she has now withdrawn from WFC2020 program and membership.

Cat Rambo has also dropped out.

30 thoughts on “World Fantasy Con 2020 Apology for Program Draft Seeks to Stem Participant Attrition

  1. It’s almost like if you keep apologising for doing the same thing over and over, it doesn’t count.

  2. How many years running have we seen this exact sequence of events:

    (1) WFC programming is released.
    (2) Multiple panels are ACTIVELY TERRIBLE. They talk about the “mysterious Orient” or they have an almost-all-white panel talking about diversity or they have a panel about women in fantasy with a breathless description that implies this is some new thing we’ve all just discovered or….
    (3) A bunch of people yell at them on Twitter, pull out, or threaten to pull out.
    (4) There are a bunch of frantic apologies, the program gets pulled, and there’s a scramble to fix things.

    I honest to God do not remember how many times this has happened other than LOTS.

  3. I don’t really have a dog in this fight, since I’ve never attended a World Fantasy Con. I considered going when it was in the UK a few years ago, but the membership is very expensive (plus flights, hotel costs, etc…) and it was close in time to Loncon, so in the end I opted for Loncon (which I couldn’t attend either in the end, but that’s a different story). Besides, World Fantasy had a certain reputation even back then.

    It seems to me that the main problem with the World Fantasy Con is the World Fantasy board, which has a very specific and outdated idea of what a con should be like. Which is their good right, except that the name “World Fantasy Con” and its stated reputation as a professional event for professional people are at odds with what the con really is, a somewhat old-fashioned affair where overwhelmingly older and white people talk about Lovecraft and Spicy Oriental Zeppelin Stories and big name authors and editors hang out in bars.

    So the World Fantasy board has to decide what they want. Do they want to have their Lovecraft and Spicy Zeppelin panels with problematic descriptions or do they want to have a more modern and inclusive convention?

    There is room for both types of convention – after all, both LibertyCon and Wiscon exist and serve their respective audience. But if the board opt for 1, they shouldn’t be surprised if many people, including the professionals they so desperately try to court, stay away in droves.

  4. Let’s keep changing the WFC; let’s bar anyone born before 2000, make it so it’s friendly for everyone except those who built the field. Oh, and bring in awards for comic books and furry fandom and…

  5. @Andrew

    That is not helpful.

    Also, you’re evidently not listening to a word anyone is saying. You might want to read K. Tempest Bradford’s long report on this, found here. It’s pretty eye-opening.

  6. @Bonnie, thanks for pointing out the link to Bradford’s report, which I am sure has already been shared on File 770 but I missed it. It has inspired me to contact the leadership of my yarn guild and suggest that we need a grant program to cover membership dues for persons in a financially precarious position.

  7. Nancy Sauer: The link is in last night’s Scroll, but it was a good idea to add it here in comments.

  8. In 100 years people will still be reading and inspired by Lovecraft. In 10 years most of the complainers about this Con will be rightfully forgotten.

  9. Chris Mallory: In 100 years people will still be reading and inspired by Lovecraft. In 10 years most of the complainers about this Con will be rightfully forgotten.

    Hopefully in 10 years the WFC Board will have finally gotten its shit together and moved into the 21st century. 😐

  10. Chris Mallory says In 100 years people will still be reading and inspired by Lovecraft. In 10 years most of the complainers about this Con will be rightfully forgotten.

    Inspired by Lovecraft? I see little in that author, a racist to the core, or his dreary fiction that has much to inspire anyone. The WFC critics are much more inspiring group who are trying to make things better rather than being stuck in the past honoring someone who doesn’t deserve to be.

  11. Vox Day linked to this post today, and consequently there are some cowardly jugheads who think their drive-by trolling under fake accounts is somehow going to be posted.

  12. I didn’t realise we were rating the quality of criticism not on its contents and merit but on the theoretical decade-later notability of its authors. An interesting idea, I’m sure.

  13. “Vox Day linked to this post today, and consequently there are some cowardly jugheads who think their drive-by trolling under fake accounts is somehow going to be posted.”

    Seems like someone suffers from white fragility. There’s nothing ‘trolling’ about being astounded at how these events are blowing up due to political correctness run amok.

  14. jim: There’s nothing ‘trolling’ about being astounded at how these events are blowing up due to political correctness run amok.

    Since you haven’t seen the comments in question, you’re not in a position to decide whether or not they were trolling, are you?

    Also, “political correctness” is not actually a thing. That’s just a code phrase used by a**holes and bigots to mean “how dare people object to racist / sexist / homophobic behavior?!”

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  16. Given that there is a TV show currently airing called “Lovecraft Country” I would think that it’s self-evident that people are still being inspired by Lovecraft. There’s also Ruthanna Emrys’s “Innsmouth Legacy” series. “Harrison Squared” by Daryl Gregory. Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald”. Charles Stross’s “Laundry Files” series. N. K. Jemisin’s “The City We Became”. People creating in reaction to Lovecraft are still being inspired by him.

    And of course political correctness is a thing. It is an Orwellian attempt to hide truth using concealing language. A prime example is trying to stop people from saying “illegal aliens” in favor of “undocumented immigrants”. The people involved are not citizens, hence “aliens”, and are violating the law by being in the U.S., hence “illegal”. The politically correct term incorrectly conflates aliens with immigrants, since many immigrants are citizens while no aliens are, and tries to conceal the fact that these aliens are breaking the law simply by their presence.

  17. Not to be a pedant (just kidding I am totally here to be a pedant), but “political correctness” isn’t Orwellian. It first found its way into the English language via translations of Chinese Communist texts, where you really do have to watch the way you speak and write and voice dissent, lest you be arrested or punished or whatever happens to you in China in the 1970s when you find yourself on the wrong side of the party.

    Neil Gaiman famously said that “politically correct” was shorthand for “showing other people respect.” Asking a convention, especially a large one, to not use language and thought processes that cause other people harm and/or makes them feel disrespected should not be that big of an ask. If nothing else, the “politically correct” terms are often generally the most neutral terms, which is what we want a convention to be. Can you imagine if a con hosted a panel on “How illegal aliens are portrayed in sci fi”? Even if all they did was talk in flattering terms about Superman for an hour, saying that you’re talking about “illegal aliens” says something about you and your stance, whereas saying “undocumented immigrants” (or just “immigrants”) doesn’t.

    Just to finish off with a full circle of pedantry, immigrants are aliens, whether here legally or not, at least in terms of legal definition. An immigrant is “any person not a citizen or national of the United States.” Merely to say someone is an “alien” is not a comment on their status. So you might as well call them immigrants, since that’s what they prefer, and….the words are synonyms.

  18. @jim

    That’s not what “white fragility” means. Throwing around terminology you don’t understand and can’t use properly isn’t a good tactic. Irrelevance has no sting.

    @Hyman Rosen

    Given what people generally try to defend by calling any criticism politically correct, I think you and I have very different ideas of what is truth.

  19. Now in the right thread:

    Both “illegal alien” and “undocumented immigrant” might be considered misleading.

    As best as I can determine, a large percentage of immigrants present in the United States without governmental approval entered the United States legally, and then overstayed their visas – which is not a criminal offense (but rather a civil one). John Derbyshire, science fiction fan and writer on mathematics overstayed his visa to the United States for several years and suffered no penalties, for example (in fact, he was later able to become naturalized). Another significant percentage of immigrants present without governmental approval were brought to the States as young children, and cannot be considered to have committed a crime themselves. To call either visa-overstayers or people who immigrated as children “illegal aliens” falsely suggests that they broke a law by entering the United States, so “undocumented immigrant” seems more accurate.

  20. The legal code of the United States uses the term “alien” to mean a person who is not a U.S. citizen or national. There is a very long list of aliens who are deportable. There are various criminal penalties; in particular, there are criminal penalties for aliens who re-enter after having been deported.

    Perhaps we should call them “deportable aliens”. In any case, you may certainly petition your government officials to change the rules for who may stay and who must go, but until the rules are changed, various classes of illegal aliens do not have the right to stay in the United States, regardless of who has gotten away with it. Changing terms to obfuscate that is Orwellian.

    Political correctness is Orwellian because in 1984, the promulgators of NewSpeak believe that by controlling the language people use, they will be able to control their thoughts, so that they cannot commit thoughtcrime because the concepts would be literally inconceivable. Certain people seem intent on using 1984 as a manual rather than a warning. That boot stamping on a human face forever is just fine as long as it’s their boot.

    It’s nonsense, of course. Language is organic, and people will develop language for their concepts. Neither does forcing people to use language change anything, as the “white vs. Black” people will discover. It’s the attempt that’s frequently foolish and deplorable. (Not always; “Ms.” was genius, for example.) The result works itself out in the end.

  21. Hyman Rosen on October 12, 2020 at 8:26 pm said:
    The legal code of the United States uses the term “alien” to mean a person who is not a U.S. citizen or national. There is a very long list of aliens who are deportable. There are various criminal penalties; in particular, there are criminal penalties for aliens who re-enter after having been deported.

    You do realise that you have just said that (as is obvious) there are plenty of aliens who are not liable to be deported?

  22. Hyman Rosen on October 12, 2020 at 8:26 pm said:

    Political correctness is Orwellian because in 1984, the promulgators of NewSpeak believe that by controlling the language people use, they will be able to control their thoughts, so that they cannot commit thoughtcrime because the concepts would be literally inconceivable.

    Newspeak expressly is described by Orwell has having a limited literalism that aims to stop people from looking at broader meanings:

    “The word free still existed in Newspeak, but only to communicate a lack of something, e.g. “The dog is free from lice” or “This field is free of weeds”. The word could not denote free will, because intellectual freedom was no longer supposed to exist in Oceania.”

    Nothing in newspeak was about considering the wider ramifications of language or how words have additional connotations. Rather newspeak expressly sought to suppress that and insist on highly limited, legalistic like meanings.

    For example in non-newspeak, we can see that “illegal alien” has multiple conotations. A person using newspeak will, on the other hand, insist on a very technical and limited reading of the term. As the term doesn’t appear in 1984 we would have to imagine how a Party member might introduce the term but I would imagine it would be something like this:

    The latest edition of the Newspeak dictionary of Oceania uses the term “alien” to mean a person who is not a citizen of Oceania. There is a very long list of aliens who are deportable. There are various penalties; in particular, there are penalties for aliens who re-enter after having been deported.

    ^^ That’s an example of Orwellian.
    Rejecting the kind of newspeak teams like “illegal alien”, intended to both limit meaning and enforce an ideological position is the opposite of Orwellian.

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