HWA on Bram Stoker Award Jury Controversy

Horror Writers of America President Lisa Morton responded on Facebook to the public controversy about a Bram Stoker Award jury member’s political views.

I have asked both HWA’s Board of Trustees and the chair of our Diverse Works Inclusion Committee to advise on a recent situation surrounding a member who is serving on a Bram Stoker Award jury who holds certain political views. After considerable discussion and research, here is the official response:

The HWA does not support discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based on political views. Not only is this form of discrimination specifically illegal in a number of U.S. states, HWA’s Board of Trustees also does not believe it’s in keeping with our principle of supporting and practicing freedom of expression. In specific regard to HWA’s Bram Stoker Award juries, the HWA will certainly act if/when a juror’s personal views have a provable impact/bias against a writer or his/her works.

Thank you to everyone who has voiced concern over this issue, especially those who have taken the time to contact me privately.

David A. Riley announced on his blog last week that he had joined the Bram Stoker Award Jury for anthologies. Some colleagues took issue, asserting Riley is a white supremacist who was once part of the UK’s National Front.

The HWA appointment became news at a point when questions were already being asked of Riley due to his involvement in the relaunch of Weirdbook. Riley reportedly answered in a no-longer-available Facebook thread. The davidandrewrileyisafascist Tumblr hosts a screeshot of the comment, which says in part:

I think I need to put the record straight. Yes, I was in the National Front for ten year from 1973 to the middle of 1983. During that time I never regarded the party as fascist, though it did have minority elements within it that undoubtedly were. …I have never regarded myself as a fascist, and certainly not a nazi. The term ‘white supremacist’ is one I don’t recognise and certainly repudiate. If you saw me associating with my ethnically diverse neighbours in Bulgaria you would not level that at me then. I know this will not convince some people, and, quite honestly, I accept that….

The relationship between Riley’s past political views and organizing activity, and his current views, and whether he should be serving on a HWA awards jury, are now subjects of intense discussion. HWA President Morton’s statement indicates no action will be taken unless “a juror’s personal views have a provable impact/bias against a writer or his/her works.”

Paul St. John Mackintosh’s take on Riley is less negative than most — “The other current genre controversy: The David A. Riley Feud” at TeleRead.

I chose some words carefully there because, as may be obvious, I think the most charitable interpretation that can be put on this is that Riley must have been exceptionally naive to conclude that the NF wasn’t racist or fascistic in its tendencies from the start. I certainly had no such illusions growing up in the UK in the 1970s. Even if there was definite infiltration by more extreme neo-Nazis during the 1970s, the party was founded with the aid of such delightful people as the Racial Preservation Society to oppose immigration and multiculturalism in Britain.

That said, Riley left the NF and is no longer associated with it – to my knowledge at least – or to any active right-wing group, and again, as far as I know, doesn’t project significantly racist views in his current work, even to whatever degree H.P. Lovecraft did in his. (Although for some possible past concerns, see here.) Quite a few significant writers of impeccable left-wing pedigree, including Samuel R. Delany and Charles Stross, are still his friends on Facebook. Maybe they’ll change their minds now, but we’ll see. I’m one too, for now, partly to keep track of what’s going on, but also because after what happened, I feel like making a stand on the issue of personal conscience here….

Plus, if Riley can’t turn around and repent his past follies, what hope is there for any of us? Maybe he hasn’t – but quite enough people seem to have concluded that once a fascist always a fascist, and damned him eternally. And Riley’s verdict on his own past may have been less than 100 percent convincing, but others obviously didn’t wait to read that before condemning him. And for opponents of virulent racism and poisonous attitudes, there are enough all-too-live and current targets to go after, without dredging up moribund and past ones.

Nick Mamatas classifies Riley as a fascist and contends he should be removed from the awards jury.

Some notes on the recent drama in the Horror Writers Association (of which I am no longer a member) and their appointment of fascist David A Riley to the award jury. This is a public post. My FB is not normally public….

1a. Liberals confuse this idea with a broader idea that unpleasant people are unpleasant and thus should be excluded from pleasant activities. This is the core of the slippery slope arguments around no-platforming. If the answer to “Where does it end?” isn’t “Where it begins; with fascism”, the argument to no-platform will never be consistently won, especially in groups like HWA, which have intrinsic and correct allegiances to freedom of expression and diversity of thought. The sad fact of this political juncture is that neither the mainstream liberal or conservative factions are interested in free expression—only the smarter elements of the far left and the less stupid bits of the libertarian right are. Fascism is a particular and singular exception, and even then, the state should not be involved in limiting speech—it’s up to activists to militantly defend creative milieux against fascism….

3. What’s the harm? Editors and publishers submit work to the jury. One need not be HWA members to submit work. I’ve submitted stories by Japanese authors, and my Japanese anthologies as a whole, in past years. Why would I do that if I know that one of the members considers Asians to be necessarily inferior? I was also published in an anthology called CALEDONIA DREAMIN’ with a theme of celebrating the Scots language, a few years ago—why submit work from that book to a juror who belongs to a group that believes that Scottish independence is a trick by EU “string-pullers” and “traitors” in Westminster, and that the Scots language is illegitimate? Fascists make bad jury members for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who ever noticed names like, oh, “Klein” on their bookshelves.

(Mamatas also feels people who quote his post should oblige by plugging his book The Last Weekend: A Novel of Zombies, Booze, and Power Tools.)

Many writers have commented on Lisa Morton’s open Facebook thread. Usman Tanveer Malik and Kate Jonez thoughtfully expressed divergent viewpoints.

Usman Tanveer Malik:

The HWA is a supposedly professional For Writers entity, correct? How can an organization that professes non-discrimination ascertain that a person with a history of fascism will not be biased when it comes to making selections from works of potential merit? Like Nick Mamatas points out, why should I as a writer or editor submit my work to a jury that has doubled down on including and retaining a known white supremacist–esp. when any psychologist will tell you bias and human error creep into every operative system? The bigger the bias, the more unstable the operation and the more suspect the results. Moreover, by excusing the past history of a supremacist/fascist and allowing them a position of power, the message we’re sending is quite clear: we the organization are condoning such behavior and actors of such behavior.

Kate Jonez:

I am just a member so my opinion is just that. I am on the diversity committee and have volunteered for other jobs in the HWA I encourage others to join and work for what you think the organization should be. I would very much like to see a documented racist removed from the jury. I just don’t see how to do it.

Free speech is tricky territory. It always has been. To believe in it, a person has to hear a lot of crap that he or she would rather not. As a private organization the HWA could remove any member or juror they choose. As an HWA member I would very much like that all racists be out of the organization. I’d really like them to be removed from the US… the world.

Like many other organizations the HWA has chosen to support free speech. This forces them to accept situations that many members would prefer not to accept. The HWA can and has removed jurors who can be documented as instigating violence or making threats, but vetting jurors’ political background is outside the scope of a writers’ organization. Who else should be removed? Should the HWA remove people who’ve spoken out against Syrian refugees, anyone who has a negative position on Affirmative Action, anyone been accused or convicted of domestic violence, anyone who has voted against gay marriage? I personally would be happy never to hear opinions from people holding these views. I don’t think people who think this way are capable of making informed decisions any more that white supremacist/fascists are. I believe many HWA members feel the same way. Unfortunately, that’s not how free speech works. How do you get rid of abhorrent ideas and maintain intellectual freedom? I truly would like an answer to this.

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71 thoughts on “HWA on Bram Stoker Award Jury Controversy

  1. The judgment that “some biases are more pernicious than others” is a position of bias.

    Sure, I’m biased against white supremacists.

    There are only two choices: to privilege some biases over others, or to be neutral among them.

    The second is never actually a choice. Stop fooling yourself that it is.

  2. @TheYoungPretender

    That was a pretty wide brush there. I’ve read tons and tons of stories about people nothing like me, people with different skin tone, religious/non-religious beliefs, heritage, sexual orientation, etc., and I’ve loved many of them, not because of the subject or the “box checked” but because the story was great.

    That’s what it comes down to.

    Why do you assume I or the puppies or anyone dislikes the story just because the characters don’t look like me? It’s an awful big assumption.

    I do have issues with, well, crappy stories. An example? Michael Z. Williamson’s Freehold. I saw the book and thought, “Adventure novel with a protagonist on the run from the government!” What I got was preachy-libertarian-private-business-is-amazing-awesomeness. False advertising. I got a fraction into the book and put it down.

    I want a story, not preaching, and I don’t care who’s doing the preaching, really.

  3. I’ll try to give Lois and Sean the benefit of the doubt here that they are discussing in good faith. The point you’re missing is that there is a huge difference between a belief that objects to the worth of a viewpoint and a belief that objects to the inherent worth of a person. I can disagree with the conservative viewpoint and still consider their words and works because I see another human being who can be an intellectual match, someone capable of reason, change, etc. But if your belief is that a person — and thus everything he is and everything he expresses — is inherently inferior, how can you fairly consider his works? They’re tainted automatically because he is inferior. That’s literally the supremacist belief. If you could temporarily put aside your belief in white supremacy there would be no point in having the belief to begin with. We’re not talking about tax rates here.

  4. @Sean

    It’s not an assumption, because you have said so, on numerous occasions in past threads, how you think a lot of recent Hugo nominated work was trash that was there through peoples political biases. And because the puppies have said so, numerous times.

    I’m not your mother, I don’t have to dig up on your words when you deny them, nor do I have to read to you everything Brad and Larry wrote simply because you lack the comprehension to read the words they wrote on the page.

  5. @Tmv

    Very good points, and I agree with them, and, honestly, I don’t know enough about Mr. Riley’s politics and beliefs to say one way or the other. Still, it’s a pretty stiff charge that he can’t judge the works without incorporating the person into the assessment, isn’t it? No benefit of the doubt at all?

  6. “Neutrality is the only ethical option.”

    To stand neutral against fadcism and white supremacy is about as unethical as you can be. Apart from being a fascist or white supremacist that is.

  7. @Sean

    Mr. Riley’s politics and beliefs allowed him to run for office three times and serve as an organizer for the National Front. He stayed active in the BNP more recently. This information is known, you just do not wish to read it – and plus, up the thread, you knew about it well enough to do the whole “aw-shucks, we’re not racist when we say those immigrants should get lost” defense. That you do not wish to know the facts does not mean they cease to exist.

  8. ” No benefit of the doubt at all?”

    No. Absolutely not for a person who has been spouting racism for over 40 years and has been the regional organizer of the brittish Ku Klux Klan. It is not a right to be on a jury. But it is a right for possible nominees to feel that their works will be judged fairly.

  9. To stand against bias is the only ethical choice.

    Dulce et decorum in colle isto mori.

  10. To stand against bias in theory when it means standing for the bias of white supremacy in practice is both unethical and disconnected from reality.

  11. @theyoungpretender

    What I “know” is what I’ve read today in these posts, which I do not accept as fact. The only commentary I read from (purortedly) people who worked with Riley stated that he seemed even handed.

    What do you “know” about him?

  12. Neutrality isn’t.

    The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

    To stand for “neutrality” in the face of bigotry is to enable bigotry.

    To tolerate racism is to help create an atmosphere of hostility toward people of color; to value the equal humanity of people of color, and to act on that belief in a meaningful way, necessitates opposing racism.

    You can’t be neutral. Doesn’t matter what high principles you hold; if you try to hold to a “neutral” stance, then you are enabling the status quo, whatever it is. The idea that racism is just another dissenting view, no worse nor less valuable than the idea that people of color are equal human beings? That’s not neutrality. That’s supporting racism. If that’s your stance, you might as well own it.

  13. Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little:

    Thank you for articulating so beautifully what I’m thinking.

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  15. Only opposition to bias will allow racist bias to prevail.

    By institutionalizing one form of bias, the principle is thereby established that the bias of those in power will prevail.

  16. To stand against bias is the only ethical choice.

    Standing against bias is an impossibility. You have to pick one thing to bias over another. “Neutrality” is just bias in favor of the current status quo.

  17. Society itself is an institutionalised bias for all kinds of things (mostly good things). People have tried to leave it all behind at points, but my impression is it gets old fast.

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