Changing the Conversation

The latest Outer Alliance podcast is all about Worldcon. The guests on it are Nnedi Okorafor and her daughter, Anyaugo, Jim Hines and Sofia Samatar. As usual it is hosted by Julia Rios. I think it makes some very good points.

Nnedi talks about getting people to read outside of their comfort zone. Hopefully that’s a message that regular readers here don’t need to be told.

The segment with Jim and Sophia starts off by exploding what one might call the Among Others stereotype of fandom. It is very clear from the enthusiasm shown for that book by Hugo voters that very many people did indeed “find their tribe” at SF conventions in exactly the same way that Jo Walton’s heroine, Morwenna, does. However, it is by no means a universal experience. Jim, Sophia and Julia all say that they had to work at becoming part of the con-going community. Most of you probably think that I have been a part of fandom forever, and I did attend my first con in 1984. There were some great things about it, including getting to talk to John Brunner & Julian May, and making friends with a young lad called Neil Gaiman. However, the convention itself felt very insular to me, and I didn’t go to another one for 11 years. Had I not met Kevin at Worldcon in 1995, I might never have gone to another con. And without Kevin’s support I’m sure I would have not been accepted into fandom at all, given how unpopular I made myself with fanzine fans.

Thankfully, I did find an entry way to the community, and I have made very many wonderful friends as a result. The OA discussion has similar stories to tell. And the point to take away from that is that we don’t want people to have to work hard to become accepted, we want them to feel at home from the start.

I was very impressed that Julia pressed her guests to think of ways that conventions could become more welcoming, especially to minority groups. As Jim says on the podcast, it is hard. Bringing in a diverse range of guests is all very well if you are a big con and have the money. Putting on interesting panels is much cheaper, but if you have limited panel space and your challenging discussions are poorly attended because most of your attendees are straight, white dudes then they become hard to justify.

I don’t want to be making excuses here. Everything in life is hard. But if things are hard then making them happen will take time and effort by someone. Simply being outraged on the Internet won’t make much difference. Saying that “they” should fix things is all very well, but if “they” are mostly straight white dudes then they probably don’t want to. Things change when “we” do things to make them change.

Finally I’d like to thank Julia and her guests for presenting a very different view of the recent Worldcon to the one I have got from social media. Worldcon isn’t perfect, far from it, but it is good to know that people of color and QUILTBAG people can go to it and have a great time. Hopefully more of them will do so in the future.

11 thoughts on “Changing the Conversation

  1. I don’t think I need to be told to read out of my comfort zone, but it is nice to be reminded every now and then. It is so easy to slip back into only reading the familiar.

  2. Mildy puzzled because Among Others has nothing to say about fandom or being accepted into it at all. The book ends with Mor planning to go to a convention, she doesn’t actually go there in the book. She “finds her tribe” in the local library.

    1. Ah. It’s a while since I read it, but my recollection is of the characters heading to Worldcon in the manner of Christians greeting the Rapture. There’s no question that it will be anything other than a blissful experience. But you are right, she finds Fandom before she attends her first convention, and that absolves the convention itself of the need to be welcoming.

      1. I’d also note that she warms to some people at the library more than others, and one of her “people” is the non-sf interested librarian. It really is quite a subtle book which never offers neat answers to anything.

          1. I didn’t take that away from it, and I’m really not part of the tribe. I also don’t think it getting critical acclaim is somehow a sign involving nostalgia. No doubt to some segment of core genre. But outside of that, the book speaks of many other things and very eloquently.

          2. Point taken, Jeff. You’ll only take that away from it if you identify as part of the tribe. And the book is very impressive in many ways, so I’m not surprised it gets critical acclaim. Its winning a Hugo, on the other hand, is mostly about nostalgia.

  3. Thanks for this post, Cheryl. I enjoyed Among Others quite a lot, and I can understand the points some of the people in this thread are raising about it, but to me it did really read like Mor found her people in SF fandom. She doesn’t go to the convention in the book, but the implication is that she will, and that furthermore, it will be wonderful when she gets there. I’d love to see fandom be the sort of community that is actively inclusive to all kinds of people, the kind of community that affords many others like Mor the chance to find friends and feel a sense of solidarity. My goal with this podcast, and with most of the outreach I do, is to achieve that for all kinds of people who might come to fandom from very different backgrounds. I don’t think that working for that devalues the experiences that others have any more than I think that same sex marriage somehow devalues other relationships. As Jim said, there’s room for panels about Heinlein and Asimov, too! We’re not calling for them to disappear completely. Personally, I had a great time at WorldCon, and I spent large chunks of it with other QUILTBAG people and People of Color, so that was excellent, too. I just want to keep the dialogue open, and find ways to invite everyone who’s interested to join it.

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