Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #50

Juneteenth 2020

By Chris M. Barkley:

“Won’t it be wonderful when Black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” — Maya Angelou

On this, the 155th anniversary of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston Texas, the one word that is uppermost in my mind is…endurance.

Endurance can be the only word that can be applied to my African ancestors, brought here involuntarily, the Native Americans of this continent, and all those others who have migrated or immigrated here from other lands.

For we have endured despite the numerous and myriad attempts by, let’s just say, other, richer, less melanin enhanced Americans, who have done their damnedest to dominate, assimilate, and commit waves of genocidal acts and otherwise erase us from history.

And, for long stretches of our mutual history, they succeeded. But the funny thing about history is that it can never completely be erased or forgotten, especially by those who are the ones being oppressed.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Jubilee Day, started out as a regional celebration in Texas state holiday. Though it was somewhat eclipsed by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s, the celebration began anew in the 70’s, particularly in the American South.

I first became acquainted with Juneteenth in the 1990’s when National Public Radio’s All Things Considered did a lengthy feature story about it. Having grown up in a Catholic grade and high school, I was never taught about the contributions of people of color to American History, with one single exception, the death of Crispus Attucks, an African-American stevedore who was killed by British troops at the Boston Massacre of 1770. He is widely regarded as the very first casualty of the American Revolution.

As I progressed through high school and into college, I discovered even more tidbits of hidden Black History, explorers like Matt Henson, journalist Ida B. Wells, scientists and engineers such as George Washington Carver, Granville Woods, and Willie Hobbs Moore. This was during a time when the hidden figures of Black History were being rediscovered and elevated by revisionist historians at universities all over America.

This was also the era when I discovered sf fandom.

I had been reading sf authors like Bradbury and Asimov since the eighth grade and had discovered the first two volumes of The Hugo Winners (the book club edition) when it was first published  during my sophomore year in high school. 

As I recounted in File 770 over twenty years ago, I was puzzled by the mention of conventions where the Hugo were given out but there were practically no information on how to attend them. Little did I know that I was living in one of the hotbeds of sf fandom at the time, Cincinnati, Ohio.

When I came across a notice of Cincinnati’s annual convention, Midwestcon, in an issue of Analog in the summer of 1976, I persuaded my best friend and neighbor, Michaele Jordan, to come with me to a small hotel less than five miles from our homes.

It just so happened that Midwestcon 27 had a rather high number of professional writers and fans attending that weekend. I not only found myself surrounded by writers whose books I had read, I also were with people, for the very first time in my life, who did not judge me by the color of my skin but by the content of my character.

In the forty-four years since that joyous weekend, I have been to nearly two hundred conventions (YES, I saved ALL of my badges) including twenty-nine Worldcons.

I did notice that unlike today, there were not a lot of African Americans attending conventions in those days. As I made my way around the east coast conventions I did encounter three African-Americans I looked up to and admired from afar.

Samuel R. Delany.
Photo from SFWA website.

Samuel R. “Chip” Delany still walks among us. We met in 1986 when I chaired and organized a one-shot sf convention, Cinclave, which was done in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati. Despite my best efforts, the convention was a financial disaster for me but Chip Delany was a delight to converse with and he graciously signed all of my books. I recently made it a priority to spend some of my COVID-19 stimulus cash on acquiring all of his most essential works. You know them; Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, Dhalgren, Triton, Nova, Distant Stars. A tremendous writer, he was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2014. 

Elliot K. Shorter at HexaCon, in 1980, a convention in Lancaster, Penna. Photo by © Andrew I. Porter.

Elliot K. Shorter (April 2, 1939 — October 1, 2013) was an impressive looking man; an ex-marine MP, he stood at 6’4” he was easy to spot. He won a TAFF race against Charles N. Brown and Bill Rotsler and was the Fan Guest of Honor at Heicon in West Germany, the first Worldcon held on mainland Europe. He was a regular conrunner at many east coast conventions and very active in the Society for Creative Anachronism. When I found out who he was and how accomplished he was, I wanted to be just like him.

D Potter (who died October 25, 2017) was a very tall, funny and effusive soul, who ALWAYS seemed to be having a good time wherever she was. She was an avid and prolific fanzine writer and apazine editor. I never got to know her very well and that was my loss. But I remember her vividly as a welcoming and good soul. 

D Potter at “New York is Book Country,” mid-1980s. Photos by and copyright © Andrew Porter

My time in fandom, has, for the most part, been a very good journey. It has not been without a few controversial moments and bruised toes but overall, there are very few things that I regret doing or experiencing.

My first volunteer effort was a brief stint in the Iguanacon Art Show in 1978. I started appearing regularly on Worldcon panels starting at Noreascon 2 in 1980. I have mostly been either staffing or running Worldcon Press Offices starting with ConStellation in 1983 to MidAmericon 2 in 2016.

In addition, there was the twenty-year odyssey at the Worldcon Business Meetings, wherein I labored to persuade members to change, modify or create new Hugo Award categories. Although I have been the subject of derision and abject scrutiny because of my efforts, I am quite proud of the work I and the like-minded fans who either supported these efforts and gave up their precious time at various Worldcons to come and vote on measures, motions and amendments.  

So, where does fandom stand today?

Goodness knows we can safely say, we are in VERY INTERESTING TIMES. Most cons have been either canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there is no end in sight. 

Add on the uncertain and unsteady leadership in our government, the economic crisis that came as a result of the disease and the incredible social upheaval in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, every branch of fandom has reason to worry about their future endeavors.

Which brings me back to that word.


Fandom has been here before. In 1968. In 1972. In 1980. In 2001. In 2016.

Oh yes, we have been here before and we will endure, as we have always have.

Fandom has never been more diverse, more aware and as WOKE as ever.

On this Juneteenth, I may be wary of what may lie over the horizon but I do know that we, as fans, writers, editors, artists and conrunners are ready to weather almost anything that may be coming.

Right now, our institutions, fan groups and individuals are rallying around the victims of COVID-19, economic distress, police murders and riot damaged businesses. And we didn’t need to be told that Black Lives Matter, we ALWAYS knew that.

More than ever, like the generations of black and other minorities we call our allies and brethren, we cannot be silenced. We will not obey. We will not comply. We will always ask the next question. We will always question authority.

We will endure. No matter what comes next.

“If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” — James Baldwin

Elliot K. Shorter (1939-2013)

Elliot K. Shorter at HexaCon, in 1980, a convention in Lancaster, Penna. Photo by © Andrew I. Porter.

Elliot K. Shorter at HexaCon, in 1980, a convention in Lancaster, PA. Photo by © Andrew I. Porter.

Legendary fan Elliot K. Shorter died from complications of cancer on October 1 after spending his last days in hospice care. Shorter, who once stood 6’ 4” and served as a military policeman with the U.S. Army in Germany, started attending conventions in 1962 and was one of the few African-Americans in Sixties fandom.

The sources of his popularity are evident from Shorter’s platform on the 1970 TAFF ballot –

Always visible at a convention or fan gatherings due to his height and girth, with or without a guitar slung on his back. But the important thing about Elliot is that he is fun! Fun to talk with, sing with, get drunk with, turn a mimeo crank with.

He won that TAFF race over Charlie Brown and Bill Rotsler, in the process becoming one of the 1970 Worldcon guests of honor. Heicon had decided prior to the convention to select the TAFF winner as its Fan GoH.

His was a name to conjure with among LASFSians when I joined the club in 1970 because at the previous year’s Worldcon he had confronted another force of nature, our eminent local genius Harlan Ellison. Decades later James Frenkel recalled that scene at St. Louiscon for —

During the masquerade, some guy with a sword had managed to find a seam in the big movie screen that nobody retracted while costumed people tromped across the stage. $1500 worth of damage to the screen ensued. So Harlan suggested that we all chip in a buck to help fix the screen. With 1600 people there, that would work. And it did, eventually. Of course, it’s hard to make sure there’s EXACTLY enough money for the purpose. There was, in fact, more money passed to the dais. What to do with the extra money?

Harlan suggested that it be donated to the very new Clarion Writers Workshop. He was (of course) an eloquent advocate for this cause, a workshop devoted to fostering the SF writers of tomorrow. Sounded good to me…but not to everyone. That was when Elliot Shorter, a bookseller, a New Yorker, a very, very tall, imposing man of color whose bulk rose more than a full foot over Harlan as he stood up and said, in his surprisingly high-pitched but at that moment quite audible and angry voice, “Now wait just one darned minute, Harlan.” There followed a rather dramatic moment in which Elliot advanced on Harlan, and many in the room held their breath…

Elliot quite reasonably pointed out that people had sent their dollars up to the dais to fix the screen, not to support Clarion, and it wouldn’t be fair to simply take the excess for a different purpose without first asking the assembled multitude if this was what they preferred. After a certain amount of fannish discussion it was finally decided to use the extra money to establish the Worldcon Emergency Fund, for things like emergency screen repair and other possible Worldcon needs. This has come in very handy on occasion, most notably when a Worldcon in the early 1980s wound up with a significant financial shortfall.

Shorter belonged to the Tolkien Society of America, Hyborean Legion, the City College of New York SF Club, ESFA, Lunarians, Fanoclasts and NESFA.

He was among the Founding Fellows named to the Fellowship of NESFA in 1976.

He joined the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) in 1968 where he was known as Master El of the Two Knives. He was part of the Barony of the Bridge (established 1973) longer than anyone else.

He worked on his friends’ fanzines, helping to produce issues of Locus and Niekas. He wrote the beginnings of his TAFF trip report for The Spanish Inquisition (1976) but it remained unfinished.

He served NYCon 3, the 1967 Worldcon, as Sergeant-at-Arms and was immortalized in Jack Gaughan’s NYCon3 Comics. Andrew Porter explains the issue’s cover —

Shorter is shown walking down the ramp holding another NYCon committee member, rich brown. I’m the big guy in the back, with glasses. The others on the ramp, from the bottom, are Ted White, Dave Van Arnam, Mike McInerney, Robin White, and John Boardman.

NyCon Comics

As Parliamentarian of Noreascon I (1971) he perfected the wording of a new rule that allowed mail-in site selection voting for the first time.

He was part of the “7 for 77” bid committee, a slate of East Coast fans who proposed to run a Worldcon in Orlando. They won, but their convention hotel went bankrupt and refused to honor its contract, causing the Worldcon to move to Miami Beach.

For awhile Shorter ran Merlin’s Closet, a bookstore opened in 1979 in Providence, RI which specialized in SF and fantasy.

As a public figure, Shorter operated in dynamic tension between people’s sense of affection and intimidation, which led to many dramatic moments in his fannish resume.

Before the start of the Discon II Masquerade (1974), when emcee Jack Chalker announced “No flash photography,” someone in the audience (by pre-arrangement) stood up and took a photo using a flash. Michael J. Walsh describes what happened next —

Jack looked pained, called out and from either side of the stage came Elliot and one other linebacker sized fan. Into the audience they went, the camera (a prop of sorts) was rather publicly broken, the miscreant dragged up on stage and then off stage. Whereupon loud thwacking sounds were heard along with cries of pain.

“Remember: no flash photography,” said Jack.

Oddly enough there were no flash photographs taken during the masquerade.

Also, as Morris Keesan recently recalled for File 770

My favorite Eliot Shorter moment occurred one evening when I met Eliot and some other folks for supper in Harvard Square, after they had been participating in some sort of SCA event on the banks of the Charles. We went to The Stockpot, a salad-bar-and-soup restaurant, and at the end of the salad bar, there were some loaves of bread, along with knives for cutting slices of bread. Eliot tried using one of these flimsy bread knives, and became quickly frustrated with its lack of effectiveness, and muttering something like the Crocodile Dundee “That’s not a knife. This is a knife.” line, innocently pulled a large, and very sharp, knife from its scabbard on his belt, and used it to cut himself a slice of bread. The looks on the faces of the elderly couple next to him as he pulled out his knife were priceless. They calmed down a little bit when they realized what he was using the knife for, but I don’t think they had fully recovered from the shock by the time we left.

Shorter was fictionalized as “George Long” in the Niven/Pournelle/Flynn novel about fandom, Fallen Angels. Some believe he is also the model for “Shorty Mkrum” in Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

Prior to his final illness Shorter spent the last five years in declining health, suffering the amputation of a foot in 2008, while cared for at VA and other hospitals.

Master El in SCA garb at Black Rose Ball in 2010.

Master El at Black Rose Ball in 2010.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter and Vijay deSelby-Bowen for the story.]

Elliot Shorter Health Update

By Andrew Porter: [Paraphrasing an e-mail by Mark Blackman.] Elliot Shorter has been experiencing some unexplained health issues that taken together show an overall decline in health. After examination at the VA Hospital, it was determined that he has cancer. It has spread to the extent that treatment is more than he can cope with. He is not in pain, but is tired. He is not on e-mail nor phone, but letters can be addressed to him at Harris Health Center, 833 Broadway, East Providence RI 02914.

The time table is uncertain. “He knows and clearly stated, he can’t beat this one. … he sees this as time to quietly enjoy what is left, reminisce about good times past and remain comfortable as long as he has quality-of-life.” Hospice staff will read correspondence to him.

“Do not gift him items; we have begun determining how he wants his current possessions bequeathed and that is taxing as is.  Photos and letters are welcome reminders of the good things he has begun talking about, highlighting what he has valued in the past. If you are concerned about items or gifts given in years past or are remembering something he promised you in the past, contact <camorissette (at) aol (dot) com> … so I may relay this information to El. This information may be shared in the effort to notify those for whom El has been a friend or more.”

Elliott Shorter Update

Master El at Black Rose Ball

It’s been almost a year since my last story on Elliot Shorter. Through Facebook I’ve learned he has been getting around more and been feeling better. Master El looked particularly elegant in his Society for Creative Anachronism attire at the Black Rose Ball on February 6.

During the fall he attended the Bridge Birthday Party in Hope Valley, Rhode Island and even took charge of one side in a board game played with living pieces:

Later in the evening, El climbed the long, steep stairs to the second floor — with the help of the “brute squad” — to take part in the traditional bout of live alquerques (an ancestor of checkers and chess, and one of the oldest known board games). El took one side of the tabletop board, and Josef the other, while a host of local lords and ladies took to the carefully marked-up floor to play out their moves, stylishly sweeping the opposing pieces off the board. Three games were played … and the final score was a tie, with one win for El, one for his opponent, and one draw.

Elliot Shorter Back in VA Hospital

The Master-El Livejournal reports Elliot Shorter returned to the Providence VA Medical Center on March 17 for treatment of a persistent cough and chest pressure, possibly “another MRSA-type infection that is complicating his already existing cold.”

David Klaus comments: “I hope it’s not MRSA, or as it was known at my hospital, ORSA, which along with VRE and C.Diff. are the banes of modern hospitalization and long-term care, requiring patients to be contact-isolated: everyone entering the patient’s room must be gowned and gloved, which must be removed at the door upon leaving the room. (The idea is that anything you pick up in the room will be on the disposable gown/gloves, and shed with their removal at the door.) The patient must be gowned and gloved before leaving the room for therapy or any other purpose (a barrier against spreading outside their room).”

[Thanks to David for the story.]

Top 10 Posts for November 2008

This month’s elections helped boost a few posts with a presidential theme onto a list otherwise dominated by news of Forry Ackerman’s health and his 92nd birthday celebration. Thanks to a tie, this time the Top 10 lists 11 of the most-viewed posts in November 2008, according to Google Analytics…

1. Friends Visiting Forry
2. Pulpcon Torn Apart
3. Jane Badler Joins the Resistance
4. Keeping an Eye on Sea World
5. Now How Will We Know It’s the Future?
6. Bradbury Sets Ackerman Birthday Salute
7. John Hertz Reports: A Very Merry Unbirthday
8. Not a Forbidden Remake
9. Elliot Shorter’s New Location
10. (tie) Forry Riding a Wave of Encouragement
10. (tie) Pournelle’s Job in the Obama Administration

Elliot Shorter’s New Location

Elliot Shorter has been moved to a new facility.

“Elliot is doing very well.  He is working hard during physical therapy, eating well, voted through a mail-in ballot and is in good spirits. An important update is in need though. El has done so well he was deemed ready for placement in a long term care facility. We were hoping a bed would come available at Oak Hill but this did not happen. The first opening came at a very nice facility in East Providence and that is where he transferred today. El placed himself on the waiting list to return to Oak Hill if possible. The new facility is nice, he has a private room. There is going to be some getting used to this change. The address for the new home is: HARRIS HEALTH CENTER, 833 BROADWAY, EAST PROVIDENCE, RI 02914. He is in room 25….”

There is another new post at the Master-El LJ, too.

[Thanks to David Klaus and Andrew Porter for the story.]

Shorter Improving

Mike Walsh posted here that he and Elspeth Kovar visited Elliot Shorter on September 18:

He’s in good spirits. He’s been hearing from folks he hasn’t heard from in … well, decades. High school friends even.

A few days earlier, someone copied me on Mark Blackman’s month-old e-mail with another visitor’s encouraging words after seeing Shorter on August 20. Due to markups from multiple forwards, he wasn’t quite sure who to credit for writing it:

I visited Master El today, and when I walked in he was sitting up in bed, and eating real food!!  Ok so, it was kinda mooshed up, but it was real peas, rice, some kind of meat with gravy, juice, and sherbet. This was the first real solid food he has had since May 1st! Oh, yeah, and feeding himself, not being fed, he was actually able to hold the spoon and getting it to his mouth….

So, anyway, in my not so humble opinion, El is getting somewhat better, getting good care, and is eagerly accepting his physical therapy. Another cool thing is that the relatives of his roommate are actually old friends of his too.

Oak Hill Rehab Center
544 Pleasant Street
Pawtucket, RI 02860
Room 314A

Keep those cards, letters & visits coming, gang, because each one seems to make him stronger.

Elliot Shorter News

On July 21, Chris Morissette (Eloi) e-mailed people a new update about Elliot Shorter:

Elliot has spent the last two nights at Miriam Hospital due to arrhythmia and chest pain. The doctors feel it is under control and he will be returning to Oak Hill tomorrow, 7/22, as long as everything remains OK. I was exhausted when I got in and failed to write. He is in good spirits and continues to ask that people send cards and visit when possible. He asks that nobody be discouraged if he is asleep, he does that a lot and to just say his name to see if he is resting and not deep asleep.

[Thanks to Moshe Feder for the story.]