Monday, June 6, 2016

Aqueduct Press readings at WisCon 40

Three groups of Aqueduct Press authors read this year at WisCon. We all read in Conference 2--and for the first time in that room were furnished with a mic, which we dutifully used. I reaped a lot of compliments for the readings (as, I hope, did the individual authors) and often heard people marveling at the sheer variety in voices and stories. Given that that's a part of the point of Aqueduct's existence, such comments gratified me immensely.

The first group read, on Saturday afternoon, under the title "We Sing the Body." This is an expression that is usually taken metaphorically, but in this case it applied literally as well as metaphorically. Nisi Shawl, who read from Everfair (forthcoming from Tor in September), began, as is her wont, with a song sung a capella, and taught the audience (and her fellow authors) to sign the refrain along with her. Pan Morigan followed by reading from unpublished work and, accompanying herself on banjo sang a song from her forthcoming album, Storm Hand. Andrea Hairston read the opening pages of her novel, Will Do Magic for Small Change. And I talked about and read Chapter Zero in The Waterdancer's World (a novel forthcoming from Aqueduct in October).

The second group read on Sunday afternoon under the title "Definitely Not Damsels," immediately following the first group, in the same room.  Jackie Hatton read from Flesh & Wires (which Aqueduct published last fall). Mary Anne Mohanraj read from "Webs," a story forthcoming in the July issue of Asimov's. Eleanor Arnason read a short tale from Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens. And Lesley Hall read from her delicious, on-going regency pastiche, The Comfortable Courtesan (available here).

The third Aqueduct Press group read on Sunday, under the title "Elsewhere." Susan diRende read from "Unpronounceable," which Aqueduct released in April; Brit Mandelo read from "The Pigeon Summer," recently published online at (available online here); Nancy Jane Moore read from The Weave (which Aqueduct published last summer); and Sarah Tolmie read from Two Travelers (which Aqueduct has just released). Prompted by a question from the audience, the reading finished with a discussion of... editing (!).

Sunday, June 5, 2016

About the wonderful time Arrate had at WisCon

WisCon 40! What can I say.

This was my third year attending a gathering I dreamed of long before I could see it for myself. And WisCon 40 has been particularly special for a number of reasons. For starters, the Guests of Honor -- Sofia Samatar, Justine Larbalestier, and returning GoH Nalo Hopkinson, whom I had been really excited about since they were announced last year. I’m also happier and more open to the world than I’ve been in a while. I engaged with all sorts of people around me, and it was beautiful. I made friends! All of whom live on a different continent to mine, but that is secondary.

Timmi, Andrea, Pan, and Nisi after a full-room Aqueduct reading
Some of the panels and readings I attended were the best time I’ve had in a while, too. The panel on code switching, with Nisi Shawl and Andrea Hairston, among others, was good fun and packed with ideas to keep developing for months to come. The incredible panel remembering Octavia Butler, moderated by Sofia Samatar, had us all laughing and tearing up and nodding a lot. Being able to gather together and cherish the many meanings of Octavia Butler’s legacy for both the audience (whom Samatar invited to participate by suggesting topics for discussion) and a panel of authors I love was a real privilege (and it made my anarcha-feminist science fiction book club in Brighton really jealous). I attended two of the three Aqueduct readings, which always have an intimate feel to them, and the Science Fiction Destroys the Gender Binary! reading at Michelangelo’s, which was a varied, consistently good showcase of short fiction by non-binary writers.
The now legendary Octavia Butler panel: Sofia Samatar, Nalo Hopkinson, Lisa Bolekaja, Nisi Shawl, and Walidah Imarisha

Something particularly special about this year for me is that I was a panelist for the first time ever anywhere. Jaymee Goh moderated with great skill and unbelievable energy for a Sunday both of the panels I took part in, one on SFF in translation and one on SFF by women writers around the world. For the first panel I joined S. Qiouyi Lu, author and Chinese-to-English translator, in discussing some of the challenges and joys of our work. Rachel S. Cordasco made a summary of the panel for the Speculative Fiction in Translation website.

How could I miss it
The second panel featured Justine Larbalestier, Jackie Hatton, Emily Jiang, and me, and it involved our taking turns at telling everybody in the room about our favorite SFF from Australia, Japan, China, Finland, Spain, Argentina, and elsewhere. Isabel Schechter live-tweeted both panels (thank you!) and is planning to write up summaries of them, so do visit her twitter account on @MsUppityness.

Sketch of our translation panel by Mat Defiler
I feel really pleased (and relieved) about the warm reception both panels had, the fact that I can pick up a mic and not panic, and the possibility that both translation and international SFF may thrive at WisCon in following editions. Building bridges between English- and Spanish-language SFF is pretty much my goal in life, and seeing so clearly that I’m not alone planting those seeds in such an extraordinary community fills me with wonder about the future. As I type, Jaymee Goh is suggesting that #InternationalSFF be an regular twitter conversation. It feels great to see things moving.

And then there were also the non-panel fun times. I danced and glowed at the Floomp, got my first pair of earrings in exchange for a haiku, hung out with rad authors and booksellers, ate dessert and shed a few tears (no surprises there) during the GoH speeches and Tiptree award ceremony, and celebrated my birthday with a bunch of good people who made me feel so special despite hardly knowing me. I even got a book (Sofia Samatar’s new novel The Winged Histories), the most amazing cosmic hoodie from the clothes swap, and a paper bag full of ridiculously nice improvised gifts (Beer and chocolate? How did they know!). Kath got me a cool snake earring on behalf of Aqueduct, because they're the best.

Jaymee Goh, moderator extraordinaire, et moi.
In some aspects I still feel a bit like an outsider at WisCon, perhaps for purely geographical reasons, perhaps because I’m not very knowledgeable of the many changes that long-term attendees are perceiving, and which some active members of the community are currently commenting on. But I feel deeply grateful for the space WisCon provides, for the room for improvement and discussion, for all the volunteers that make it happen year after year. Personally, WisCon 41 can't come soon enough.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The WisCon Chronicles, Vol. 10: Social Justice (Redux)

I'm pleased to announce the release from Aqueduct Press of the tenth volume of the WisCon Chronicles, Social Justice (Redux), edited by Margaret McBride, in both print and e-book editions. WisCon 39's Guest of Honor speeches by Alaya Dawn Johnson and Kim Stanley Robinson inspired the theme of this volume. In her speech, Johnson delivered a cri de coeur: "We need diverse stories, we need a million mirrors of different shapes and sizes. Not just so we can see ourselves. So that they can see us through our own eyes." Robinson exhorted: "We now need to institute global justice and equality for all, for two reasons that bond together into a single reason: It's the right thing to do morally, and it's the survival thing to do."

In her introduction, McBride quotes Grace Paley: "Although writers may not want to be in charge of justice or anything like that, to some extent they are if they really are illuminating what isn't seen."

The volume includes the texts of Johnson and Robinson's speeches, as well as the keynote speech Julie Phillips delivered at the Tiptree Symposium in December 2015, and essays by Cheryl Morgan, Takayuki Tatsumi, Nisi Shawl, Johanna Sinisalo, Kathryn Allan, Ian Hagemann, Sandra J. Lindow, Ajani Brown, and others.

You can purchase this volume from Aqueduct now, at

WisCon 40 panel report-- "Our Stories Matter"

One of my favorite panels at WisCon 40 was "YES, Our Stories Matter: Encouragement and Support for Creators with Marginalized Identities." It was held on Friday afternoon at 4, in a small room (University C), moderated by Jaymee Goh, featuring panelists Susan Simensky Bietila, Alex Jennings, Mark Oshiro, and Riley. More people attended than WisCon's programming mavens anticipated (I imagine that most of the time, estimating attendance for a particular panel is a crap-shoot), resulting in attendees standing against the back wall and sitting on the floor in the aisle.

The panel's topic was one that many of us have been thinking about for a long time now; certainly it's one that writers and other creators attending WisCon are likely to be grappling with or have in the past grappled with. What strikes me as new about the subject, though, is an accumulating understanding of and greater consciousness all around that people with marginalized identities are likely to meet with an additional set of obstacles when attempting to sell and otherwise disseminate their work. For most of my life I found it difficult to articulate this problem without finding myself thrust into a scripted defensiveness. Founding Aqueduct Press allowed me, for the first time, to escape that script. I'm more pleased than I can say that many, many people are now getting it. And I was delighted to find that the discussion afforded by this panel was both practical and sophisticated. Here's the official description, taken from the Pocket Program Book:
Marginalization affects our success as creators, oppression impacts our ability to create and can grind us down. At the same time, encouragement can come in many ways, from reader comments to supporting each other as marginalized creators. Let's discuss issues like: Why do you keep creating? When do you know you've touched someone with your art? How do you recharge after a setback? How can we support each other within and between different marginalized groups? When it feels like the whole world is telling you that your story doesn't matter, where do you find the strength to pick up the pen?
The notes I took are, I'm sorry to say, sketchy, perhaps because so much of the discussion was rooted in very particular experiences I felt I couldn't abstract generalizations from lest the lack of context introduce distortion.

First: I found the composition of the panel a great advantage. Sue Bitelia drew on her experience of her long struggle to get around the barriers confronting her in the 1960s when she began her career as an artist, an experience that at many points resonated with the experiences of the three younger members of the panel--offering, I think, some hope, since Sue has, after decades, achieved gratifying recognition. Alex, Riley, and Mark, working in twenty-first century media as they are, face different circumstances but are, in the main, grappling with some of the same issues Sue had to take on to pursue a career in art. The one generalization I can safely make is that for all of them, engaging in some degree of Do It Yourself has been essential. This makes great sense to me, of course, not only because of my having founded Aqueduct Press (a prime example of DIY, if I do say so myself), but also because when I was 19and still composing music I understood that organizing performances without official sanction was the best chance I had of getting my music performed and heard. (This only stopped working for me when I lost all confidence in myself as a composer; many of this blog's readers will be familiar with the story of how I lost confidence, which I described in my WisCon 32 GoH speech.)

Perhaps the most striking moments of the panel came when the panelists discussed networking. For decades now, "networking" has been offered up as the most important thing young creators (or even academics) can do. But as one panelist noted, networking with people who have said horribly racist things on panels is horrifying. Conventions--including science fiction conventions-- often (usually?) serve up boundaries and obstacles creators with marginalized identities can't escape. "The whole weekend at most conventions are a nightmare for me of one bad experience after another," one panelist said.

I should also point out that Sue, Alex, Mark, and Riley all noted the importance to them of feedback from individuals who appreciate their work. Creators who are out of the mainstream for one reason or another don't receive the public notice mainstream creators do; that makes extra-institutional (and here I'm using "institutional" so broadly as to include reviews in periodicals) feedback of greater import than it might be. (Which is a hint, by the way, for all of us to make the extra effort to offer that kind of support when we can.) 

 Finally, I'll end by confessing that my notes come to an abrupt halt with the intriguing phrase "leveraging with language." I have some memory of what this refers to but not enough confidence in that memory to try to expand on it. If anyone who attended that panel is reading this and can expand on it, please do so in a comment. The more illumination we have on this subject, the better.