Nigerian sff author and 2022 Hugo finalist Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki announced yesterday he was granted a visa to attend Chicon 8 after a second interview with the U.S. Embassy staff in Lagos.
The Chicon 8 committee issued a press release today:
Chicon 8, the 2022 World Science Fiction Convention, is delighted to announce that leading African SF author and 2022 Hugo Award Finalist Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki has been granted a visa and will be attending the convention in person. Details of Mr. Ekpeki’s convention appearance can be found in the Chicon 8 schedule.
Mr. Ekpeki is one of the rising global stars of science fiction and a leading figure in the rapidly expanding African SF field. His story “O2 Arena”, first published in Galaxy’s Edge magazine, has already won a Nebula Award and is now nominated in the Best Novelette category for the Hugo Awards. He has also been nominated in the Best Editor, Short Form category.
Mr. Ekpeki’s application for a visa was initially rejected by the U.S. Embassy in Lagos despite widespread support for his appearance from across the field. In addition to Chicon 8’s letter of invitation and other documentation, Mr. Ekpeki crowd-funded the full cost of his trip in a single day.
Mr. Ekpeki was granted a successful second interview by the Embassy after urgent appeals from Chicon 8 and many individuals. According to Chicon 8 Chairman Helen Montgomery, “we are delighted that Mr. Ekpeki was able to successfully re-apply for his visa. Our thanks go to Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and everyone who expressed their support for Mr. Ekpeki privately and publicly throughout the process”.
Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki wrote today on Twitter:
@miminality @File_770 @jasonsanford @drfionamoore @locusmag @effjayem @RimiBChatterjee @LaNovellaSerena @ABrooksdeVita— Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki is CanCon22 #ICFA44 GoH (@Penprince_) August 31, 2022
And everyone who added their voice to the clamour or contributed in any way. Thanks! ????????????
Sarah Avery, in a comment on File 770, added more details about a part of the overall effort she was aware of, getting help from Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen and his staff.
Many people wrote to their elected representatives. The only person I know for sure heard back is me. I have heard that some of the people organizing ChiCon got Senator Tammy Duckworth interested. I gather other people had different avenues they were working on, too. I hope people who know more will tell those stories.
I cut and pasted Mike [Glyer]’s letter, added a couple of paragraphs, and sent it to my whole congressional delegation. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) replied. He could write a letter of support if Ekpeki made a second application for the visa, because the previous decision could not be overruled, and if Van Hollen’s office received a bunch of specific documentation about the case.
I got in touch with Chris Barkley, whose post here was the reason I knew about Ekpeki’s predicament in the first place. Barkley started working with Ekpeki on the documentation. We all had some questions, so we followed up with an assigned member of Van Hollen’s staff. (The staffer has asked not to be identified, so I’m using they/them pronouns for them.) Everybody thought we had the weekend to get the paperwork ready so the letter could be written.
On Friday, Ekpeki got word that his reapplication appointment would be on Monday. Suddenly, that letter of support had to reach the embassy before Monday’s start of business hours in Lagos, which is several time zones ahead of DC. Barkley tried to reach the staffer and learned they were scheduled to be out of office for meetings all day. As far as we knew at the time, nobody else advocating for the visa was having better luck than we were. It looked like the only way forward was to get some live human to commit to sending that letter of support before the weekend. Because Barkley doesn’t live in Maryland and didn’t have a constituent’s claim on the rest of Van Hollen’s staff, I phoned every number I could find that had any connection with the senator’s office.
Of course, legislative staffers are awash in death threats from fascists these days, so you can’t get a live human on the first try. I left voicemail messages everywhere and made a cordial, courteous, but flagrantly undeterrable pest of myself. Basically, I did what I remembered from Indivisible’s advice back in 2016.
Ekpeki and Barkley got the documentation finished in a hurry. Barkley sent it all with a fresh email to the staffer who was our point of contact, imploring them to make time for that letter of support before the weekend.
I was preparing to phone All The Numbers again, when the point of contact staff person phoned me. Their colleagues had tracked them down because of my previous round with All The Numbers. They stepped out of a meeting in progress to tell me they had the news and would work on the letter of support over the weekend. It’s true what people say about the overtime legislative staffers put in. I confirmed that they had Barkley’s latest email and everything they needed.
On Sunday, they emailed Barkley and me to confirm that the letter had gone to the embassy in Lagos and been received.
Monday, Ekpeki let Barkley know that the second appointment had seemed to go better than the first, but it was still unclear what the final answer would be. So I emailed the staffer asking if one more nudge was possible. I didn’t hear back on that one.
This morning, Barkley texted me with the jubilant all-caps news: HE GOT IT! HE GOT IT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!
Chris Van Hollen is a person who can hear about a situation like Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki’s and say, yes, that’s a kind of problem senatorial power should address. I owe my thanks especially to his staff member, because they looked at that initial email and said, yes, this was the kind of thing they wanted to bring to the boss’s attention. Many, many people who wrote their representatives would have pushed as hard as I did if their representatives and congressional staffers had given them any opening to work with.
And if I ever hit a wall of official indifference about something really important, I hope I have an advocate as determined as Chris Barkley.
[Cartoon by Teddy Harvia.]
Don’t mess with The Sandman. 🙂
Chris Van Hollen is one of my Senators. A thank you is in order and will be sent.
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