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Readercon, Speculative Fiction, and Diversity

17 Jul 2016 10:51 PM | Anonymous
Boston hosts three major speculative fiction-related cons every year—Arisia in January, Boskone in February, and Readercon in July. They are all annual celebrations of SF, fantasy, horror, and slipstream. Of the three, Readercon is the more ‘academic’ in that most of the panels discuss literary or scientific aspects of the field, rather than fan-based and media material.

This is a series of tweets I made after returning from Readercon. This is the fourth year I’ve been invited to attend Readercon as a guest and consider it an honor.


Some thoughts re #Readercon & diversity. This was my 4th & there were definitely more POC attendees & panelists 1/

But there was too little diversity on any of the panels I was on. Mostly white faces on stage. 2/

There seemed to be more gender balance on panels than in the past, which is good, but not enough. 3/

I though the mods on my panels all did a good job - I didn't experience any 'splaining where I have in the past. 4/

I was grateful for an audience member for talking about race & the female protag. The panel would have been richer w/a WOC on it. 5/

I felt uncomfortable at the omission, though I had nothing to do with org the con. The way panels are staffed may need to be changed 6/

#Readercon panels are chosen thru guests given a HUGE questionnaire to fill out. I think it ends up being a self-selection process BUT 7/

I have no idea who gets invited, but it makes sense if more POC were on the list, there would be a greater representation on more panels. 8/

Which leads to richer conversations & more consideration of intersectionality & how that affects SF&F. #Readercon 9/

I appreciated the diversity of views & comments in the panels I participated in, but it wasn't enough. #Readercon needs more. 10/10

And if that means I'm not on program next year in favor of a POC, that's more than OK. #Readercon#Diversity makes it better for all. 11/10

Over the past four years, I’ve definitely seen a greater focus on diversity in the invited faculty and on the individual panels. In past years, I have been on and been in the audience for panels where a majority of white male panelists monopolized conversations. I think it’s a holdover from when SF was very much a man’s world. In addition, panel moderation is a challenging skill, especially when there may not be much pre-planning among panelists.

This year, there was significantly greater gender balance on the panels I took part in and the moderation on those panels was more effective than it has been in the past. Conversations were richer and included more voices. I know Readercon has done a lot to give moderators resources and information on their roles.

And while there was more diversity among attendees this year, it didn’t seem to translate to diversity on panels.

One of the roles of speculative fiction is to focus a lens on what our society is struggling with currently. There is no doubt that identity is an issue that is defining our time. There is no greater example of this than examining the Nebula award winners for this year. Nearly all the winners of this prestigious award were woman, including women of color and LGBT women. And many of the stories touch on issues of feminism, racism, and the intersection of gender roles, gender identity, and society.

If speculative fiction itself is changing, then so must the conferences and conventions that celebrate it. As I said in one of the final tweets, diversity of voices, opinions, and experiences will make the discussions richer for all of us and help shape the speculative fiction of the next century.

So, would I recommend attending Readercon? Absolutely. Without hesitation. Panels I participated in included discussions of futurism’s blind spots, why women become protagonists, whether humans will colonize Mars, and what one book would I save from an apocalypse. There were panels on tired tropes in genre fiction, a short story clinic for the novelist, dystopias and utopias, how language influences thought, the SF of human biology and many, many more. In addition there were readings and intimate coffee hours with writers. If you are a writer of speculative fiction or a reader/fan of the genre, attending Readercon (and any of the other area cons) can be a feast for the imagination.

Given the changes I’ve seen over the past 4 years, I suspect that future years will include more diverse voices and a greater awareness of the importance of those voices.

LJ Cohen is a novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, & relentless optimist. After 25 years as a physical therapist, LJ now uses her clinical skills to injure characters in SF&F novels. She lives outside of Boston. Her 6th novel, the 3rd book in her Halcyone Space series, Dreadnought And Shuttle, was published in June, 2016. LJ is a member of SFWA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and Broad Universe. http://www.ljcohen.net contact: Lisa@ljcohen.net


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