World Fantasy Convention is fucking up again, color me surprised.
The most recent entry in the history of WFC fucking up starts with author Silvia Moreno-Garcia sending a message to the World Fantasy Board (an entity that oversees the con but doesn’t run the specific cons each year) about the lack of diversity in the guest of honor lineup for 2019’s convention, especially after having a decent lineup this year. The response they gave? Well…
You can click to enlarge. Here’s the text pulled from the screenshot:
Thank you for your letter.
You probably know that the Board of the World Fantasy Convention oversees the annual convention, solicits bids, and awards the convention to individual convention committees. While we provide guidelines in many areas including guest selection, decisions that pertain to individual conversions are made by the con-running committee, not the Board.
That said, as a Board we not only encourage diversity we insist on it wherever possible. Convention committees select Special Guests and specially Guests of Honor in order to recognize and my tribute to their body of work within the genre over a significant period of time, usually consisting of decades in the field. Currently we find ourselves in the position of having a limited number of non-white/male authors, artists, agents, and editors to call on to balance the slates. However much we all wish it were different, and however glad we are to see things changing, the fact remains that only recently have a significant number of diverse writers, artists, agents, and editors entered the field.
Thirty years ago we were having the same conversations, but in that case it was about trying to get name women involved. Things have progressed and that’s no longer an issue. When it comes to diversity, we’re pleased with the progress we’ve seen—the 2018 convention may well have been the most diverse World Fantasy yet—but progress can’t always happen overnight. Ten years from now convention organizers will have a much easier task of it than we do right now.
We are also dependent on potential GoHs and Special Guests having space in their diaries – not to mention an interest in participating. A number of people of diverse backgrounds have recently turned down invitations, for a variety of reasons.
We also understand that in the case of LA, they have not yet completed their Special Guest lineup. Indeed, it is quite common for the World Fantasy Convention to announce their headlining guests over the space of a few months.
The same goes for panel participants. Of course you are absolutely right that LA is a vastly diverse city – but if people don’t join the convention, they’re not going to be on panels. WFC panelists are selected from among the attending members to that year’s convention. The more we can encourage writers, artists, agents, and editors of different race, creed, and color to attend, the wider the pool we will have to draw on and the more diverse and rich the field will become.
There is so much wrong here, and if you look at the replies to Silvia’s tweet you’ll find people listing off all of them. There’s one aspect to this that I want to address outside of a tweet thread1, and that is the idea that there aren’t enough non-white, non-male writers, editors, agents, or artists who have been around for long enough to merit a guest of honor nod, but maybe in a decade there will be! This argument, on top of being repugnant, wrong-headed, and gross, is not particularly novel. It’s a variation on a theme I’ve heard quite often over the *counts in my head* two decades I’ve been part of the SFF community. That theme goes:
Black people and/or other People of Color haven’t been part of this community/writing/publishing for very long. It’s a recent thing, them showing up to conventions and getting their writing out there! Why, I hardly ever saw any until like, last year.
I have heard this claim from white people in this genre at least four times that I remember, the first time being around 15 years ago. Think about that. 15 years ago brown people in SFF were brand new. And now today, in 2018, we’re still brand new.
Guess what! When I first started going to cons, Black people and other folks of color were there. And decades before I started going to cons, they were there. Before I was born, they were there. If all these non-white folk meandering around seem like a new development to you, that means you haven’t been paying attention or maybe, just maybe, you haven’t been reading widely enough.
I once suggested a cure for that. And then the Internet told me I was a racist.
Another aspect to this is something N. K. Jemisin brought up in response to Silvia’s tweet:
I am one of the people who turned down a Special Guest invite (for 2020). This is why: a) because as one of this select group that WFC finds desirable, I am BUSY. Cons eat guests alive and I don’t have time or energy for them anymore. That’s the thing abt being a writer from a marginalized group: we have to work harder than privileged folks to thrive. By the end of 2018 I will have published 9 books in 8 years. Lately 4 separate projects in gaming, comics, review, and editing. This is what it takes for us.
And that WFC statement notes that marginalized writers only started getting published in “significant” numbers recently. Whose goddamn fault is that?
So to demand the same standards of marginalized writers — who, I repeat, have had to work amid institutional bigotry and higher expectations — is not fairness. It’s just adding to the burden. Which leads to the other reason I said no to the WFC invite: b) Because they keep pulling shit like this. They keep telling us they want to do better, but they show no understanding whatsoever of what inclusivity really requires — and no willingness to make anything more than reactive, reluctant changes.
This is so on point on so many levels.
First, that when marginalized writers do rise up enough that cons and other entities take notice, they get inundated with requests. This can be a good problem to have as a writer in general, and obviously anyone should be falling all over themselves to have Nora at their event – she’s awesome. But she is not the only fantasy writer from a marginalized background that exists.
And though the person who wrote that email to Silvia tries to act like everyone they asked was busy, I’m gonna bet $100 that they didn’t ask all that many people. They probably asked a handful, at best. The same handful that gets the majority of attention from white folks. The same handful who are very busy with these kinds of requests, with writing, with other projects, as Nora said. Meanwhile, there are folks – both up and coming and those who’ve been around for decades – who are ignored, never asked, or dismissed.
Second, Nora phrases this as a question: “…marginalized writers only started getting published in ‘significant’ numbers recently. Whose goddamn fault is that?” It’s clear (to me) that he answer is: entities such as the World Fantasy Convention and Board.
WFC is not the most welcoming of conventions. At times, it’s outright hostile to people and groups deemed not worthy of sullying the convention halls. This pervasive attitude affects everything from who gets reading slots, who gets to be on panels, who gets to decide what the panels are, and who is “allowed” to come once the convention is technically full2. That’s not even getting into who gets to decide which works get awards – the World Fantasy Award is juried and also voted on by the membership and the winners are determined by some mix of the two. How many marginalized people are on that jury each year? And, of those who are asked, how many are in that handful of people always asked and therefore overcommitted?
WFC is an over-expensive convention by design (to keep it exclusive and discourage fans), which impacts marginalized authors far more than their privileged counterparts. Same goes for newer writers.
Awards and convention attendance don’t determine a writer’s career, of course. However, opportunity, exposure, accolades all feed into success. World Fantasy is a gathering of what we now call Influencers – industry professionals or folks who want to be professionals in the field. Those who can get there have more opportunity to meet and get to know these influencers, which can lead to more opportunity and exposure and etc. It’s not the only con, it’s not the most important one, it’s not a make or break situation. Still, it’s certainly part of the problem, and the World Fantasy Board has done little to nothing to change this. As that email shows they’re waiting for another decade to go by before they address this problem.
As I said before, I’ve been in the SFF community for about 20 years now. And this January it’ll be 10 years since RaceFail. Anyone who is involved in this community, especially as a conrunner, who thinks that there aren’t many writers, artists, editors, or agents of color with a long history in this genre is disgustingly out of touch with the books and short stories that have been published, the discussions that have been ongoing for over a decade, and the guest of honor lists of conventions worth attending. That’s not acceptable.
And as World Fantasy has spent the last decade or so giving us all lessons in What Not To Do when putting on a convention (accessibility issues, racist programming, non-existent harassment policies, terrible hotels, the list goes on), my only question is this:
When are we all going to stop giving the Board or each city’s concom the benefit of the doubt? When are you, attendees of WFC, going to stop giving them money? Stop benefiting them with your influence? How many fuck ups is enough? How many broken promises of “we’ll do better next year?” will you forgive?
- If you want my unfiltered, immediate reaction? My tweets are not kind, filled with profanity, and are an expression of the rage I feel every time we have to deal with this kind of nonsense, which is almost daily. [↩]
- WFC has a pretty low cap for an SFF convention: 750 people last I looked into it. Once they hit that cap there’s a waiting list. It’s been well known since forever that you can get off that list and get a membership even if no one drops out if you’re deemed worthy by whoever is running the convention. [↩]