Saturday, May 10, 2014

Project Hieroglyph and people of color

-->Last week at the Day of Latino ScienceFiction panel sponsored by UC-Riverside, I was one of a half dozen Latino spec lit authors who gathered for a small but precedent-setting event. The fact that six, culturally connected authors composed the entire panel was its own phenomena, given the white ceiling all of us have faced in our publishing lives. I’ll play the card now—Racism. A.k.a. prejudice, exclusion.

It’s in the news. In the NBA, in the #WeNeedDiverseBooksCampaign with its 87,000 posts, and on the “Get rid of the poor Hispanics. White power” signs some idiot posted last week near by a bilingual elementary school a few blocks from my house. (Some Denver Post readers commented, “Is that really racist?” And others said the signs fell under “freedom of speech” or were just “political opinions.” Facebook provides American examples of PoC being denigrated or shot to death, every day.

That racism, deliberate or unintended, is present in sci-fi and spec publishing is an extension of something white America has neither defeated nor rid itself of. PoC don’t always bring up the question or use the word among Anglo audiences, but it pisses us off, not only that is exists, but that many Anglos don’t recognize it.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign began this month in response to “the whitewashed lineup of guests at the BookCon convention in NYC, the end of this May. Out of that a couple (?) of panels were added to accommodate a few PoC authors, including Chicano author Matt de la Peña. That it took a Tumbler campaign of 23,275 people to force the issue is an indication of the BookCon organization’s previous white-blindness.

From the Campaign website, comes this: “The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign will reveal further news and action plans at 10:00 a.m. during the BookCon diversity panel in room 1E02 at the Javits Center, 655 West 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan.” That such is needed is a fact about publishing in general in the U.S. If you haven’t joined the Campaign, do so, no matter your ethnic background.

Last year at WorldCon’s sci-fi/fantasy convention in San Antonio, I along with author Guadalupe Garcia McCall and poet Reyes Cardenas, and others, were invited to speak on panels. The WorldCon organizers haven’t been lauded enough for creating the “Spanish strand,” an attempt to bring more Latinos into their convention, including holding about a dozen workshops devoted to Latino issues. While the attendance fell way short of what might have been, I sent my ideas for what they could do in the future to better effect Latino attendance.

Right before the UC-Riverside workshops, sci-fi author/editor Eileen Gunn sent me a message concerning Latino participation in an initiative called Project Hieroglyph, out of ASU. By my count at the time, of over 300 participants, almost no Latinos had joined Project Hieroglyph.

Eileen Gunn is a good person, not only for providing a blurb for my novel, but for even taking the time to do so for an unknown, first-time, Chicano author of an alternate-world novel with a Chicano protagonist. (She wrote, the book is “a polyglot tornado of words, in which magic realism meets punk and develops an attitude. Dizzying!”) Eileen is respected in the sci-fi/fantasy world for, among other things, having won the 2004 Nebula Award for Best Short Story and has been nominated for Philip K. Dick, Nebula, and Locus Awards.

The mission of ProjectHieroglyph is to revitalize American sci-fi, away from the dark dystopias currently dominating genre literature—“a return to inspiration in contemporary science fiction.” The Project focuses on issues of reinterpreting technology and science to drive this inspiration, reminding me of a hard-science attempt to deal with social and political manifestations in sci-fi. I wonder whether gloom and doom can be fixed by a new rocket or toaster.

Putting that aside, my answers to Eileen are intended for the white-dominated establishment of American sci-fi, and fantasy. Here are Eileen’s points:

Eileen Gunn
“You're right to identify Hieroglyph as a potential opportunity, and I respect both your wariness and your optimism. The reality of Hieroglyph, in my opinion, is that it will become what the participants make of it. It is waiting for adherents. I think the newer writers who are still discovering their own areas of interest can benefit from it. It offers an opportunity, right now, for POC, including scientists and social activists as well as writers, to get in on their own terms and include themselves.

“I'll be meeting with the folks at ASU next month at Stanford, and I'll be on a panel about Project Hieroglyph at the Nebula Awards weekend in San Jose.

“Are there issues that you, Rudy, and Carl Brandon Society [a largely black sci-fi/fantasy organization] members would like me to address with the ASU folks? Are there issues that could be brought up on the Nebula weekend panel? What are the things that ASU and Project Hieroglyph could be doing that would increase participation by people of color? ((The panel is Sunday, May 18, at 10 am, the Nebula weekend.)”

Okay, Latino spec lit authors and readers—here’s an opportunity. Eileen will advocate for inclusion and participation of PoC. How do we answer her? Send me (or her) comments and I’ll forward them to her. Below, I elaborate on ideas I suggested to WorldCon organizers about their "Spanish strand." (The concept was great but needed adjusting to increase Chicano, mexicano or Latino participation.) The Hieroglyph Project and all future cons would do build on WorldCon’s ideas in their organizational structure and projects.

Project Hieroglyph logo
1. When PoC visit the Project Hieroglyph website, will a Search for “Latino, Chicano, black, PoC, etc.” result in anything? Are there groups or activities dedicated to recruiting PoC members, developing topics to appeal to PoC, or discussions going on among Hieroglyph membership to diversify itself? Yes, these are questions for Anglo members to answer for and about themselves, if they choose to do so.

2. Economics is power. ASU assumedly has funds that will pay for speaker fees, travel expenses, and other monies to promote the Project. Are mechanisms in place to insure that PoC, whether famous authors or not, will be candidates for such funds? The fact that PoC in general, including sci-fi/fantasy lit authors, dominate the lower end of income levels is a reality that needs addressing, especially when funds are distributed.

3. Are there plans for publications like future anthologies not only to include PoC, but also devoted to them? For instance, I don’t think the anthology the Project is producing this year includes any Latino. Hopefully, there’s at least one black author. If we want a future that reflects the diversified U.S. in the 21st Century, it should be evident in the Project’s publications.

4. At the high school and college level, will there be deliberate efforts to recruit Latino and other PoC students? Scholarships, contests, writing cons and workshops specifically designed to aid those students have largely been developed by PoC. If Project Hieroglyph seeks younger fans, it could design some components aimed at increasing PoC membership from schools.

5. When more of the famous spec-lit authors, like Eileen, come forward to address issues of inclusion, other and new authors and fans might follow. David Brin has personally encouraged me in posts about Latino inclusion, but I also talked privately with others who expressed similar views. To diversify the sci-fi world requires the open support, advocacy and participation of many more Hugo, Nebula and other award-winning writers. They have the power and influence to accelerate this process, within Project Hieroglyph and at every sci-fi/fantasy con in the U.S.

A week and a half after The Day of Latino Science Fiction, I remember my impressions from the event. There was a camaraderie of shared exclusion and cultural identity, as well our literary ties. We are accustomed to being by ourselves. If the sci-fi/fantasy world doesn’t change more, it will lead to the creation of a Latino SF/F organization. We don’t join where we don’t feel welcomed. What we don’t get invited to. Where we aren’t asked to speak or to contribute to anthologies. Multinational gatherings are what all spec lit people should want and join. Hopefully, Project Hieroglyph might become that.

[5/17/14 - Their response to my questions, just posted.]

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG, aka author Rudy Ch. Garcia



As someone who has been writing, and sometimes selling, innovative science fiction for decades, I see the problem as being that the corporate structure of publishing hates originality. A typical rejection letter sounds like a rave review for the first paragraph, then goes on to tell you that the marketing department can't figure out how to sell it. American publishers also tend to assume their readers are semi-literate morons. I keep getting opportunities to use my one-liner about keeping one foot in the underground so I can have a place to stand. With Barnes & Noble crashing and Amazon in trouble, the publishers are going to have to change in order to survive -- and some of them won't. Writers have to pay attention, and be ready to navigate the new environment -- which is what I've been doing all along. Project Hieroglyph looks like a honest attempt to help the genre, but their website looks kinda dull. Maybe we need to teach the academics how to not be so boring.

Eileen Gunn said...

That's a clear statement of the problem, Rudy. I would add that we need more Latino/Chicano/mexicano editors as well, because it's the editors who buy the books and stories. We need more interconnection: we need more L/C/m people visibly attending conventions -- writers, artists, and fans. We need you volunteering on convention programs and advocating panels that include L/C/m issues. We need you nominating and voting in the Hugos.

You're quite right that publishing is changing: change offers opportunity, and hungry publishers are looking for new audiences. Be *visible*. Historically, the SF community has been a white boys' club, but that has changed (gradually) over the past 30 years. Enlist the help of women and people of color who have already broken into the field. If you're at a convention, find the people from the Carl Brandon Society, go to their dinners and parties and meet-ups.

Come to WisCon and Readercon, two conventions that support an increasingly diverse SF community. Going to smaller, more welcoming conventions is a good way to connect with editors and other writers.

Rudy, I'm sure that you've heard all this before, and I'm not trying to be a kumbaya Pollyanna. But there is a diversity groundswell in the SF community (as well as a few racist jerks and a lot of people who are simply oblivious to the issues). Find the people who will support you: there are a lot of us. Come to the events that we are at. Let us know if you're new and would like to be introduced to people -- writers and editors.

msedano said...

Thank you, Eileen Gunn, for pointing out the first resort of activism is getting involved and making change from within. Rudy's doing yeoman's service raising the issue. Issue raised. Get involved, become an editor, write and submit, join and show up. Have a plan, work the plan.

Eileen Gunn said...

Anyone who lives in the Bay Area (and is free this Tuesday afternoon at 4 pm): Come to the "Sprint Beyond the Book: The Future of Reading" panel at Stanford University. It's a chance to talk to some of the people behind the Hieroglyph Project.

I realize is an inconvenient time for people with day-jobs, but if you're a student, come on down and participate.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a truckload, Eileen, for your sagely additions. Both you and Sedano point the way to the other "side"--what PoC can do. My post was only to respond to Eileen's original questions revolving around what Hieroglyph might undertake. Yes, "Issue raised," as Sedano says. However, there are other aspects to the issue, and others, unlike Eileen, who think inclusion only comes about when the PoC get moving. For them, expanding on the issue is necessary. Sometimes, using actions like the great #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign. RudyG

Victoria M. Johnson said...

Hi Rudy--
Thank you for this post. I really like the mission of Project Hieroglyph, to move away from the dark, dystopian stories. Those type of books are the reason I stopped reading science fiction. I also appreciate the questions you asked Eileen about inclusion of Latino authors in panels, anthologies, and other writing/speaking/publishing opportunities.

Kathryn Cramer said...

Hi Rudy

We are working on a detailed response to your questions. I wrote a draft this afternoon, but since I don't know the answer to most of your questions about ASU, Ed needs to work on it, too.

The short answer is that we would be delighted, even overjoyed, to have more Latino involvement with Hieroglyph, and indeed more participation by people of color. While we were actively working to recruit writers of color for the first book, now in copy editing and which will be published in the fall, we were less successful than we had hoped.

We in the planning process for future Hieroglyph project, but do not have further book contracts at present.

Our detailed response will be posted to the HIEROGLYPH site before the Sunday panel at the Nebulas. Sadly, I will not be there at the panel. I am at home in Westport, NY.

Kathryn Cramer said...

Ed has posted the HIEROGLYPH response to your post here: