Erasure Comes In Many Forms – A ReaderCon Report

Erasure Comes In Many Forms - A ReaderCon Report

The other weekend ReaderCon happened and, on the whole, I had a great time. I am sad I had to leave early to go to a wedding in the city, but that’s way better than missing everything. ReaderCon is usually a good time, even as much as we snark about multiple references to Proust.

There were a couple of things that marred my enjoyment of the con and I’d been trying all last week to write about them. Instead of trying to temper my anger and aim for tact, I’m just going to be blunt.

The fact that none of Andrea Hairston’s books were in the dealer’s room is bullshit of the highest order. Andrea was a Guest of Honor. You don’t fucking NOT stock the book of a guest of honor at a con where you are a book vendor. How is this not con vending 101?

Andrea Hairston is not here for your bullshit

 

The ReaderCon dealer’s room is called The Bookshop for a reason: almost 100% of the stuff for sale is there are books. Every now and then there might be a T-shirt vendor or maybe a flash of jewelry. But it’s ReaderCon, so it’s all about the books. This makes sense.

Some of the booksellers are publishers who are pushing their own books and maybe the occasional extras by smaller presses who can’t afford a table. Those dealers not carrying Andrea’s books makes sense–they are not her publisher.

Some of the booksellers deal in used books or rare books. They also have some excuse for not selling Andrea’s books.

But to the several vendors who sold current, regular books? You all need to have your asses kicked.

Throughout the con attendees asked these sellers if they had any of Andrea’s books. I know for a fact that one of them, Larry Smith Booksellers, told people that her books are out of print. Which is a lie. When I asked, a guy I can only assume was Larry Smith himself yelled this at me. He was angry–really angry–that I had dared to ask him about this and proclaimed loudly that he only sells new books. Meanwhile, Andrea’s most recent book came out weeks ago. Guess that’s not new enough for him.

As an aside, the selection of books on offer by Larry Smith and the other general book vendors is hardly any better than what I can find in the Barnes & Noble. So what value are they adding to ReaderCon, exactly?

If you can’t be bothered to order the books of a guest of honor at the con and you’re rude as hell to con attendees? You shouldn’t get to vend at ReaderCon. And I’m filing a report with the con chair to that effect this week.

In addition to that indignity, the newest issue of Locus contains this:

Alaya Dawn Johnson wasn't even there

That’s from their article on WisCon. There’s a picture of Andrea (with correct attribution) to the right of these words. So it’s a real mystery why the 2011 Tiptree award winner is identified as Alaya Dawn Johnson, who has not won any Tiptree nor was she at the con at all. Seriously, not at all.

Alaya Dawn Johnson wants you to stop saying she was at WisCon

Ever since I started going to cons I’ve joked about how (mostly) white folks can’t tell the POC at the con apart from each other. I don’t even mean just mistaking one black person for another black person or one Asian person from another. I mean mistaking an Asian-American for a Latino dude (this happened at WisCon).

This happens all the time. ReaderCon was no exception. I watched a guy come up to John Chu at the Meet The Pro(se) party and ask him to sign the issue of F&SF with Ken Liu’s The Glass Menagerie. John was very polite when he said “I’m not Ken Liu.” That was, apparently, only one of the times that people mistook him for Ken Liu at ReaderCon this year. I heard that someone congratulated Sofia Samatar on being the guest of honor. I heard that someone started up a conversation with Mikki Kendall and then continued that conversation with a different black woman later on, not realizing that the shorter, lighter woman looked absolutely nothing like Mikki.

Here’s the thing: at cons, we are all wearing name badges. Thus, it is not at all shameful for you to look at said badge to confirm that you are, indeed, addressing the person of color you think you are. Especially if you have not ever met said person of color. It’s okay. But assuming that the Asian man standing in the room must be the Asian man you’ve heard of and asking him to sign a thing? No, people. No.

Over the years I’ve often joked about this. In fact, in my introduction of N. K. Jemisin at WisCon I referenced this phenomenon for the purpose of making folks laugh. I do sometimes find it funny.

Very often I do not. Because this is a form of erasure. It’s a microaggression with a subtext that says: I do not care to figure out the difference between one non-white person and another. And it makes us feel like you don’t eve think of us as people, but interchangeable entities.

And it needs to end.

Stop erasing our humanity by assuming that any brown person might be any other. Learn how to tell non-white people apart. Check name badges. If in doubt, ask us: “What’s your name, again? I’m good with faces but not names.” Don’t ask us: “Are you [other person]?” Stop erasing our accomplishments by assigning them to other people. Check your facts. And for the love of Seshet, stock our books in the damn dealer’s room!

Writing and the Art of Provocation

Writing and the Art of Provocation

At last year’s Readercon I participated in a panel called Myth, Midrash, and Misappropriation (actually, I was the leader/moderator) with an interesting group of writers and Claude Lalumière. The panel was supposed to be about the appeals and challenges of creating fiction from a religious source and how to avoid or deal with the dangers of cultural appropriation and/or offending people.

I won’t recap the entire discussion for you, but the major highlight of the panel (for me) was when, in his introduction, Claude announced that the purpose of art is to be offensive or to offend people I can’t remember if he initially said offensive or to offend, but this was definitely the core of his argument. Art should offend! He said more than once until he started to backpedal pretty hard in the middle of the panel.

Not knowing much about Claude before that moment, I was unprepared for the douchewankery he brought to the discussion[1]. He was unprepared for how hard I would not allow him to get away with that statement or how prepared I was to challenge him on it. And he was super unprepared for how much the audience was not on his side when question time came. That’s when the backpedaling started.

We spent a good deal of time on the panel unpacking that initial statement and talking about all the ways in which it’s completely problematic (along with all the other problematic stuff he said such as how it’s okay for him to use any religious or spiritual trappings from any culture because he’s an atheist, anyway, and doesn’t believe in them oh and also he is from French Canada so he understands what it means to come from an oppressed, occupied culture). I believe it was Jack Haringa who, after initially agreeing with his understanding of what Claude meant, actually came around to something more like: artists may hope to offend if their message is aimed at a group or idea that they find offensive. Writing with an eye toward pointing out a horrible injustice, say. The ones perpetrating that injustice may be offended — good.

I sort of agreed with that as well, but still didn’t feel it was quite the right way to think about art. In the many months since I’ve poked at the idea more and more, but still hadn’t come up with a better way to think about what Jack was getting at. Then last month someone else came along and nailed it.

NPR’s Weekend Edition interviewed National Book Award-winning poet Nikki Finney, and toward the end of that interview she said this:

Art is about being provocative; art is also about beauty and if you leave the latter out, the former doesn’t matter.

I immediately thought: YES, THAT. That is what we were reaching for around the 600 pound gorilla of Claude’s initial statement.

There is no beauty in being offensive. Offending someone, especially when you’re coming from a place of privilege and oppression, is not the basis for great art, for beautiful art, even if the beauty you’re reaching for is terrible and tragic and real.

Consider the context in which Finney made this statement:

As a young poet, I grew up in the ’60s and early ’70s, when difficult things were being said and shouted and screamed,” Finney says. “I remember saying to myself, those things are very, very important to hear, but there must be another way to say them so that they will truly be heard. I mean, that’s what art is. Art is about being provocative; art is also about beauty and if you leave the latter out, the former doesn’t matter.

I haven’t read any of this woman’s poetry yet, but I want to. I feel like she can teach me the art of saying difficult things. I am often among those who say and shout and scream because that’s important, too. And I know for a fact that engaging in this mode of discourse does result in being heard, because I often have conversations with people who listened and appreciate it. But I’d also like to be adept at that other way she speaks of.

Footnotes

  1. Later, when I related the goings on to others, several people said “Oh, you didn’t know? Claude Lalumiere is a total douchecanoe.” No one warned me![]

New Writers? GTFO

New Writers? GTFO

Speaking of Realms of Fantasy, I was just paging through the new issue when I came across a letter from the editor, Shawna McCarthy, in the back. Here’s an interesting quote:

Without the magazines providing both a training ground and a platform for young writers, the genre publishing industry will be severely hampered–writers without track records have a much harder time finding agents, and should they have sufficient talent to find an agent without a short fiction history, the agent will have a much harder time selling their books to a publisher. All that will be left in the SF and Fantasy section are Old Reliable Writers, which, don’t get me wrong, have survived as long as they have because they are talented and capable, but as with all other things, they will one day pass on and who will be there to keep the industry alive?

I’m sure there are a few people who will debate her point about writers needing a short fiction track record, etc., but I’m more interested in this because of something Realms publisher Warren Lapine said at ReaderCon.

Now, I was not there for this, but my sources are multiple and reliable. Apparently on Thursday evening during a party, someone asked Warren about e-submissions and Realms. The discussion that ensued was described to me as a ‘fight’, with Warren very much against e-subs. When someone said to him that he was basically cutting out a whole generation of younger writers by being against e-subs, Warren reportedly said something like: Why do I need those writers, I’ve got Harlan Ellison in my magazine!

(Apparently there’s a Harlan story in an upcoming issue.)

This attitude is very much at odds, it seems, with the Fiction Editor’s. I don’t know how McCarthy feels about e-subs, specifically, but she doesn’t seem to feel that the presence of an Old Reliable Writer like Ellison is of so much more value than newer writers.

Later in the weekend I myself asked Warren if Realms would be accepting e-subs, and he told me something different. He said something about how if a writer rises up to a certain level, they can send submissions any way they please. I believe the words “Neil Gaiman can submit to me in crayon, if he wants” were uttered. But as concerns lower-level writers, he can’t have them sending in e-subs, that would be a disaster. But if you rise up — say have a book on the NYTimes bestseller list or something — you certainly can.

Again: Old Reliable Writers can do what they want because we want them! Young/New writers? Pfft!

(by the way, this is my last RoF post for the day, possibly forever. I’d meant to post these last week but stuff got int he way.)

Write-a-thon Week 4: BLARG

Write-a-thon Week 4: BLARG

So, the Write-a-thon is chugging along and all and I completed my revision of What Fairy-Like Music Steals Over The Sea and will send it out to Weird Tales shortly. But MAN, this last week was hard!

I don’t remember if I blogged this (I know I Tweeted and FaceBooked it) but I got a call about a month ago from my old job, Laptop, asking if I wanted to return, but in a different capacity: editorial instead of web. I’m now an associate editor whose job includes fact-checking and testing, which is different than what I’m used to but also very exciting.

Luckily, returning to a place I’ve already worked meant that the first week was less about getting to know people and settling in. But I’m learning the fact-checking process for the first time, so it’s been a very full and busy week. Plus, there was the special Clarion West KGB reading and preparing for my salon and… yeah.

But I got the writing done when I could and didn’t burn myself out completely.

Another cool thing that happened last week was an interview I did with Jeff Vandermeer about the WaT went up on Amazon’s Omnivoracious blog. I was thrilled when Jeff asked me to do this and very happy with the way it turned out. Plus, OMG I am on an Amazon blog being interviewed!

In essence, last week was a very good week. Plus, the weekend before I got to see many of my peeps at ReaderCon, which was equally wonderful. My life? Is good.

Four Things Makes A Post (last day of vacation edition)

  1. My full Readercon schedule can be found here. I don’t know that I will actually be reading at the Interfictions 2 reading… or maybe we’re doing the thing where we each read for 2 minutes. I now have something to do on each day. When I’m not on a panel or attending one I’ll probably be hanging around the Prime Books table. There you will find copies of Sybil’s Garage and Electric Velocipede as well as Federations (and whatever else that doesn’t matter to me ;) ).
  2. My Week 2 story was complete in the early hours of Sunday morning. But it has no name, so I can’t send it anywhere. Boo! I hate titles.
  3. Today is the last full day I have to spend with my nieces here in Virginia. We went to Barnes & Noble and I bought them a TON of books. I tried desperately to interest my older niece in good stuff like Delia’s Changeling and Neil’s Graveyard Book but she wanted American Girls books. Save me. I did get her to buy Harry Potter, so that’s a start. I got a thrill when I saw Carol’s Graphic Universe books on the shelves. No Twisted Journeys, though. So I’ll have to send them to her. I have some age-appropriate Tiptree submissions I’ll send, too. I’m turning into the aunt that sends books. Hrm. (I also have a small friend in Texas who is getting some books soon, too.)
  4. Don’t forget that tomorrow is the Federations NYRSF reading. Click the link for deets and location and such.

Readercon

Readercon

I’ll be attending Readercon in a couple of weekends and this time I’m on a bit of programming. If you’d like to find/stalk me, here’s the deets:

Friday, 3PM — VT: Interfictions 2 Group Reading
Delia Sherman (host) with Amelia Beamer, K. Tempest Bradford, Matthew Cheney, F. Brett Cox, Michael DeLuca, Jeffrey Ford, Theodora Goss, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Shira Lipkin, Rachel Pollack, Catherynne M. Valente, Genevieve Valentine
Readings from Interfictions 2: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing, edited by host Sherman and Christopher Barzak and forthcoming in the fall from Small Beer Press under the auspices of the Interstitial Arts Foundation.

Friday, 5PM — Salon E: Off Color
K. Tempest Bradford, David Anthony Durham (L), Eileen Gunn, Anil Menon, Cecilia Tan
At various sf conventions, we’ve been to more than one panel during which the panelists try to figure out why there seem to be so few writers of color in the field. As an alternative, we have invited several panelists to discuss what an sf field more enticing to writers of color might look like.

Friday, 8PM — ME/ CT: Annual Interstitial Arts (IAF) Town Meeting
Ellen Kushner with discussion by Liz Gorinsky, Theodora Goss, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Shira Lipkin, Delia Sherman, John Shirley, Sarah Smith, Catherynne M. Valente
Note: I’m not officially on this but will be there talking about the auction and salons and such.
Interstitial Art falls in the interstices of recognized genres. The Interstitial Arts Foundation is a group of “Artists Without Borders” fighting the Balkanization of art. They celebrate work that crosses or straddles the borders between media, the borders between genres, the borders between “high art” and popular culture. They are not opposed to mainstream fiction or genre fiction, nor are they seeking to create a new category. They are just particularly excited by border-crossing fiction (and music and art), and want to support the creation of such works and to establish better ways of engaging with them. The IAF has had a presence at Readercon from its beginning. In 2007, in cooperation with Small Beer Press, the IAF published Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing edited by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss, and in fall 2009 they will present Interfictions 2, edited by Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak. They are also doing a lot with visual arts. Interstitial Arts is an idea, a conversation, not a hard-and-fast definition-and it’s a conversation you are invited to join.

Saturday, Noon — VT: Federations Group Reading
John Joseph Adams (host) with K. Tempest Bradford, Robert J. Sawyer, Allen Steele, Catherynne M. Valente,
Genevieve Valentine

Sunday, 11AM, Maine/Connecticut: The Future of Magazines, Part 2 (Online) — (part 1 is at 10AM)
K. Tempest Bradford, Neil Clarke, Robert Killheffer, Mary Robinette Kowal (L), Matthew Kressel, Sean Wallace
Are print magazines doomed? (Heck, if newspapers can’t make it …) Or will they survive in their tiny niches? Are there ways to make them more viable? Is that even worth the bother? After all, online magazines are now easy and relatively inexpensive to start — are they the answer?