Thursday, May 11, 2006

WisCon 30 or Bust!

Truth is, it probably neva woulda occurred to me to attend a science fiction conference if I hadn't edited Dark Matter. Truth is, I probably woulda continued being one of the countless unknown blackfolk who have been reading in the genre, among a whole lotta other genres, going to our favorite bookstores, browsing the shelves, plunking down good money for whatever floats our boat and taking it home like countless other readers. Neva once sitting up one day and thinking, "Gee, I wonder if I should register for a science fiction con? Wonder if __________ will be there, signing books?"

Maybe we in a bookclub, maybe not. Maybe we check out a few local author signings and such when we see a listing in the local paper or whatever. Maybe not. Maybe we don't go no further than our PCs, purchasing our books online. Far as I know, don't nobody currently keep accurate track of where blackfolk book dollars go, so we could be beaming them up from Scotty, far as anyone else knows...

What I do know is this: like the romance industry, black readers (particularly, black women readers) have been reading in the sf/f genre long before the book industry started publishing works with black faces on the cover. These unknown readers have contributed to the bottom lines of numerous writers, established and otherwise, but you rarely see them walking around in fandom. 'fo fact, there are so few of them, that folk actually know -- or, correction, think they know -- them all by name. Sort of like my experience in college, when any unknown blackfolk on campus had to be one of my relatives or friends--couldn't possibly've been one of the Negroes in the now 62% black city that just happened to be curious about what lay behind the gorgeous iron black gate erected to protect the predominantly white college built in the middle of the 'hood.... Lawd knows that in my recent science fiction con experiences, I've been mistaken for a couple of folk that I have yet to meet myself...

It's like the legendary Carl Brandon, now the namesake of the Carl Brandon Society
or the new TV One ads, I see black people...

Don't know about you, but over the years I'd been to a few other writers cons, including the National Writers Union's local and national conventions and Romance Writers of America, but I didn't even know about the MidSouth con in my own hometown until years after I'd moved. Point is, we ain't too common and I can speculate all day about why, but what I really want to do is encourage you to check out WISCON, because if you don't never go to but ONE science fiction conference in your big, beautiful life, then let it be, let it be WISCON 30, because this year is going to be amazing.

WisCon takes place annually in downtown Madison, WI over Memorial Day weekend (May 25-30) at the Concourse Hotel. It's considered"The World's Leading Feminist Science Fiction Convention," and is attended by a lot of cool and interesting women and yes, men (got to say that because some folk see 'feminist' and read 'man hata' and 'crazy') . Now, I ain't saying there ain't no crazy folk there (LOL!), I'm just saying that all kinda folk flow through and it is a celebration of science fiction work. This year, they invited back their previous Guest of Honors, including Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, Nalo Hopkinson, Jane Yolen, Pat Murphy, Pamela Sargent, Vonda McIntyre, chile, I could go on and on.

And they got damned good child care, too! For real, with Legos and robots n' shit! I mean really, what kinda feminist gathering would it be without an excellent program track for young readers?

And if that don't sell you, do check out the confirmed GoH list for this year.

I think I attended my first Wiscon five or six years ago, and I've been hooked ever since. It's a good place to gather new books, new scholarship, and new friends and colleagues who share some of your interests. At Wiscon I've had a chance to meet and discuss some of my favorite authors, including Samuel R. Delany and the late Octavia E. Butler (who was scheduled to attend this year), but there are a couple of other conventions I enjoy, like Readercon (held annually in Burlington, MA, usually in July before the Harlem Book Fair) and Diversicon (yay, Diversicon!) held annually in August in Minneapolis.

I know most folk like to get in where they fit in, and it can be a drag to travel to farflung places if you fear you're going to be marginalized, but I think you'd be alright at Wiscon, or Readercon, or Diversicon, where folk actually have fairly intelligent and passionate discussions of the genre and what's happening in our world beyond its pages. Keep in mind that there are literally hundreds and hundreds of small sf/f conferences all over the country each year. You can visit LOCUS, the online trade paper for the science fiction and fantasy genre to get leads on gatherings near you. And of course, there are the international conventions, that are pretty large. I've only had a chance to go to one so far, the World Fantasy Convention when it was held in Montreal.

I'm just gonna bullet some of what I hope to get into at Wiscon. Give me a shout if you have any questions. I do have some pix, but I look real crazy in'em, so I'ma hold off! LOL
And no, don't nobody be walkin' around in costume! Well, maybe a few folk in the vendor's rooms, but really, a gorgeous sari is not actually a costume. So, what I'm saying is, ain't no Wookiees and Xena's wandering around, despite what Walter said at the National Black Writers Conference @ Medgar Evers the set up for his insightful story on meeting Harry Belafonte at a gathering of the minds scheduled in an Atlanta hotel during a fantasy convention. You had to have been there.

Possible panels and readings to check out:

  • Myth of Class Mobility?
    Research indicates economic mobility decreased in the United States between the 1970s and 1990s, and that France, Canada, and Denmark have more mobility than the United States. Software programming used to be a clear career choice for people looking to move into the middle or upper-middle class. But in an era of outsourcing and offshoring, is it anymore?
    Avedon Carol, David D. Levine, Matthew H. Austern, Samuel R. Delany, Victor Jason Raymond
  • Science Fiction from the (so–called) Third World
More and more science fiction is being written in the Third World and other non–Anglo–American places. The introduction of an international SF magazine in English, InterNova (published from Germany), and the publishing of such anthologies as So Long Been Dreaming: Post–colonial science fiction and fantasy (eds. Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan) indicate that such fictions are gradually being acknowledged world–wide. Of what possible use is science fiction to the third world? Of what possible use are the voices of third world/post–colonial SF writers to science fiction as a whole?
N. Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Nkemdili Okorafor-Mbachu, Tea Hvala, Sheree Renée Thomas, Andrea D. Hairston

  • Tearing Down the Walls and Windows
People sometimes ask “Why don’t people of color write speculative fiction?” “We do,” says Nalo Hopkinson, “but it’s unlikely that you’ll find it on the SF shelves in your bookstores." Why don't genre readers recognize novels such as Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day or Devorah Major’s An Open Weave as belonging to our own? Why does even a writer as solidly genre-identified as Octavia Butler find most of her fans from elsewhere?
Claire Light, Candra K. Gill, Sheree Renée Thomas, Diantha Day Sprouse, Ian K. Hagemann

  • SFF and the Classroom
    How do you use SFF in your classrooms? When is SFF appropriate to use? What are some of your tried and true story selections to get your students interested in SFF? What kind of films do you use, and for what reasons? Let's talk about SFF and the art of teaching. How can we make it a better fit in the face of traditionalists?
    Theodora Goss, Elizabeth Barrette, Robert F. Stauffer, Kelly McCullough, Anastasia Marie Salter, JJ Pionke
  • Should we care that independent bookstores are closing?
    What effect do the superstores and Amazon have on small independent bookstores? Why should you care? What can you do about it? Is there any good in Amazon, et cetera?
    Ron Serdiuk, Gavin J. Grant, Susanna J. Sturgis, Lawrence Schimel, Patrick Nielsen Hayden
  • Toward Another Dispossessed Triton
    A recent news article profiled "anti-anti-utopias"—works by Le Guin, Delany, Brunner, et al., where pictures of a possible, positive, yet complicated and real future are shown. It was an excellent example of the positive role SFF can play in outlining a path and vision of a future better than ours. Sadly, however, all of the works noted are 20 or more years old. Dystopian futures—or at least, dark and complicated ones—are still prevalent today, but where are the contemporary works that show, warts and all, a world/society free from the baggage of our current time?
    Nisi Shawl, Janice M. Eisen, Tea Hvala

  • Banned & Challenged Books
    Every year hundreds of books are challenged or banned in schools across the USA, from Judy Blume to Ursula Le Guin to J. K. Rowling. Here in Madison the CCBC (The Cooperative Children's Book Center) provides information and referrals for Wisconsin librarians and teachers to help them deal with such challenges. There are also many organisations nationwide.
    Justine Larbalestier, Kira Franz, Anne Marie Redalen Fraser, Veronica L. Schanoes, Deborah Stone
  • Categorized Awards
The Tiptree Award for gender, the Norton Award for young adult, the Spectrum for GLBT, and the new Carl Brandon Award for SF/F by people of color. These awards all bring attention to quality works that might have been overlooked in the larger marketplace. How successful are they in influencing the tastes of readers? Do these awards influence the marketplace? Are "segregated" awards necessarily a good thing (aside from bringing attention to neglected works)?
Lawrence Schimel, Elizabeth Barrette, Nora Jemison, Jacob Weisman

  • Is Reading Feminist SF a Theory Building Activity?
This idea comes from a question that wasn't asked in the "Judging the Tiptree" panel. For those of us who are already long-standing feminists and feminist SF readers, does on-going reading feminist SF change your understandings of gender? If so, how? If feminist theory is evolving, how do we see that reflected in or reflecting feminist SF? Do you actively seek out feminist sf that challenges your current understandings of gender or stick to readings that are comfortable? Do you even notice the shifts in your thinking? When's the last time you thought about how a book changed your already sophisticated understanding of gender, or do you pay more attention to whether or not you care for a particular book?
Karen Joy Fowler, Cheryl Myfanwy Morgan, Margaret McBride, Joan Haran, Lori A. Selke

  • The Karen Axness Panel: Women Authors You Should Be Reading
This is a WisCon tradition—let's keep it! Panel members will discuss the latest books by female SF and fantasy authors, the emphasis being on new female authors in these fields.
Thomas Ross Porter, David Peterson, David Lenander, Beverly J. DeWeese, Marsha J. Valance

There is also an auction, several awards ceremonies, including the Tiptree Award, an annual literary prize (yes, $$$ and chocolate, too!) "for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender". Authors Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy are the 'founding mothers' - and yes, I don't why I feel like I have to keep saying this, but I will, yes, male authors do win. This year Geoff Ryan's AIR will be honored.

I will definitely swing through to support this program as well:

The Carl Brandon Kindred Award and the Carl Brandon Parallax Award
The Carl Brandon Society is giving out two awards this year. The Carl Brandon Kindred Award will be given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with issues of race and ethnicity; nominees may be of any racial or ethnic group. The Carl Brandon Parallax Award will be given to works of fiction created by a person of color. Come hear more about these awards and the Carl Brandon Society!
Debbie Notkin, M. J. Hardman, Ursula K. Le Guin, N. Nalo Hopkinson, Jennifer Stevenson, Ian K. Hagemann

And it's not too late to contribute to the Octavia E. Butler Memorial scholarship fund administered by the Carl Brandon Society:

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship will enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start. It is meant to cement Octavia's legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan, giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.

The first Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship will be awarded in 2007. We'll announce details of the application process later this year.

Our goal for a fully endowed scholarship fund is $100,000. At this time, we welcome your tax deductible gift of any amount to this fund. Please use the button to the left of the page to donate via PayPal or a major credit card. If you'd prefer to make your donation in the form of a check or money order, please make it payable to "The Carl Brandon Society" and note that it is for "The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund." Then mail your donation to:

The Octavia E. Butler
Memorial Scholarship Fund
c/o The Carl Brandon Society
P.O. Box 23336
Seattle, WA 98102

All Best,


Blogger Tempest said...

Hey, I found your blog. You're officially not safe from me anymore.

See you at WisCon :)

5/20/2006 9:51 PM  
Blogger Sheree Renée Thomas said...

Ooh Tempest, you a mess! Looking forward to seeing you at WisCon since I'm missing you in NYC!!!!

All Best,

5/23/2006 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! Love you blog articles.
A passionate fan for years so I started my own blog :-)

8/17/2006 9:25 PM  

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