Reconciliation within the SFF genre, one writer at a time (or finally getting around to the SWFA kerfuffle)

My name is LaShawn M. Wanak, and I am a black female writer.

I’ve been making up stories since I was four years old. I’ve been reading fantasy and science fiction when kids were still in their primers. I fell in love with the whole genre and knew exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a black writer, telling black stories, with characters who looked just like me.

I have been writing professionally now for about 9 years. I’ve garnered some sales. My name’s getting a little known. And most importantly, people are reading my stories and are being touched through them. I’m also learning a lot about the industry I’ve chosen. I’ve seen its wonders, and I’ve seen its darker bits.

I’ve been following what’s been happening in SWFA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America for my non-writer friends) and the hullaboo over an essay that was printed in its bulletin a couple of weeks ago. The internets exploded in reaction, most decrying the essay. I did not respond because a) I haven’t read the essay because b) I’m not a SWFA member. And because I’m not a member, I don’t feel that I have enough experience to adequately respond to the situation. Besides, there are many, many others who have done so, and done it very, very well.

One of those was Nora K. Jemisen, who referenced it in her GOH speech at a Continuum in Australia last week. If you haven’t read her speech, read it now. It’s brilliant. It’s honest. It’s hopeful. And best of all, it calls for reconciliation within the SFF community. Reconciliation. This is a word I would hug if I could. It’s a word I’m used to hearing since I work in a Christian ministry, but this is the first time I heard it used within the SFF community. To use Nora’s own words:

“I do not mean a simple removal of the barriers that currently exist within the genre and its fandom, though doing that’s certainly the first step. I mean we must now make an active, conscious effort to establish a literature of the imagination which truly belongs to everyone. – See more at: http://nkjemisin.com/2013/06/continuum-goh-speech/#sthash.XbLijUKw.dpuf

It got me fired up, because yeah, I can see it, writers using bridges of words to reach those who would never step foot in communities that don’t look like their own. Stories that stretch the imagination, that would represent all cultures, that would stretch minds, put them in other people’s shoes. This is totally what I would say is my calling as a writer.

And then this happened.

Sigh.

Right.

Common wisdom for such things is to ignore it, to let this guy spew his hate and not respond. But what this guy did was not only name Nora, but he then linked it to SFWAauthors Twitter feed. SWFA caught wind of it and took it down, but the damage is done.

This is more than just a troll. This is an attack. It goes completely against what Nora called for in her speech. It is used to tear down, to discount her as a writer, as a woman, as a black person, and as human.

And do you know what that post says to me?

This is what happens if you try to make a difference. We like our organization just the way it is. And we define how women are portrayed in SFF. We like our bikinis. We like our women stupid and dependent on us. And we like them all white, because their prettier and sexier than you—well, okay, we’ll allow Asian girls, because they’re nice and quiet and subservient.. And if you try to say anything about it, we will tear you down, rip your head off, drag your name through shit, because that’s what you deserve, you monkey you. So go ahead and write your stories, little little girl. You can even join. But keep your head down, don’t make waves, and most of all, keep your fat lips shut.

There are many writers, not just black writers, not just women writers, but all sorts of writers, who will not join because of this.

And this is why I am writing this post.

I’m writing this because I don’t know if I’m going to join SWFA. I don’t think I’m at the point of my writing career where it would be beneficial to me, at this point. (David Steffen wrote a post that sums up my feelings quite well.) But if I do decide to join in the future, it would be because there are writers like Nora and Mary Robinette Kowal and Jim C. Hines and Nisi Shawl and so many others who have paved the way before me, fighting to bring diversity to a genre that needs it so desperately. Because they refuse to be silent, because they call out bullshit when they see it. Sometimes they’re successful. Sometimes they’re not. And sometimes, people would viciously attack them.

I’m writing this not just to show my support to Nora (and did I tell you she’s going to be GOH at Wiscon in 2014?) but to support her vision of reconciliation that is so much bigger than any one of us. And the only way for that to happen is for us to write our stories, our own stories, and get them published, and write more stories and get those published.

I’m writing this because I am a black female writer, and this affects me deeply.

If you wish to show support for the vision of reconciliation in SFF as well, there are a couple of ways to do it.

1) If you are a member of SWFA, you can demand for the expulsion guy who wrote that damaging post. It’s true that he can say whatever he wants, but to use SWFA as a platform for such harmful threats is uncalled for.

2) If you’re an writer of color, or a woman writer, or genderqueer, keep writing. Don’t let this guy dissuade you from submitting. There are markets out there hungry for your stories. And if you’re an editor or publisher, please, make these voices heard.

3) If you’re a reader, expand your reading tastes. Don’t know where to start? The Carl Brandon Society Awards page has some good recommendations. This Tor post is also has an awesome list of POC and women authors in SFF.

It will take a while, but I do believe SFF can one day reflect true diversity. I’m doing my part, and tomorrow, you’ll see how. And if you can’t wait until tomorrow, here’s a sneak preview.

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8 Responses

  1. He is more than a troll. He represents 10% of the voting populace of the professional writing organization at the heart of written SF. He is indeed the vox populi of a small but meaningful cultural segment, and he and his ilk have the power to poison the entire genre for everyone else, most particularly everyone not like them.

    He is using HATE SPEECH. He is harming his fellow SFWA members with it, as well as plenty of non-SFWA members. And no-one seems to have the power to shut it down.

    He is not a troll; he is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

    (And Nora’s speech is luminous. Incandescent. I hope she’s saved some for Wiscon. Even if she has to burn us with it.)

  2. *THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE*

    I am SO GLAD you are writing, and I am SO GLAD you refuse to be silenced. Your work is vitally important, and I admire you tons. Your post lifts me up, reminds me to heed Nora’s call and support that beautiful Reconciliation.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. ❤ I'm off to check out your awesome Kickstarter! 😀

  3. I totally support the ideas set out in your post. I am a woman writer, but not a POC. I agree with all my heart that we must all continue to write, tell our stories, complain, rattle our cages and not let misogynistic racist bigots stop up our voices. Nora Jemisen is my hero!

  4. […] Reconciliation within the SFF genre, one writer at a time […]

  5. I am actually considering joining SFWA *because* of this fool. SFWA needs us.

  6. […] As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m doing my part to bring more diversity to the SFF genre. And what better way to do that than a new story! […]

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