Diversity panels at genre conventions have on occasion become flashpoints or provided fodder for later controversy, and I regret to say that I’ve read of more bad experiences at these panels than good ones. However, I believe this stems from our inherent nature not to comment on things when they go as planned, while we are compelled to write scathing discourses about our negative experiences. And of course, scandals and controversies tend to go viral—so, sadly, we hear more of the bad than the good. This is unfortunate because the panelists and the conventions hosting them are fighting the good fight. They recognize that there are underrepresented voices. They are creating a forum to raise awareness, promote inclusion, and identify ways to help remedy inequalities. I’m happy to report that the diversity panel at horror’s First Annual StokerCon was a success.
Lisa Morton introduced the panel and the importance of diversity to the Horror Writers Association. Lucy A. Snyder moderated, and the panelists were Ellen Datlow, Shane McKenzie, Sumiko Saulson, Linda Addison, Angela Yuriko Smith, and Greg Herren.
Ellen Datlow heralded Clarion West and Clarion UCSD as being instrumental in educating many diverse writers and preparing them for the field. She suggested that focusing on education for beginning writers is essential, and that perhaps there should be scholarships for minority voices, akin to HWA’s Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley scholarship for female writers.
Linda Addison and Sumiko Saulson referenced Nisi Shawl’s and Cynthia Ward’s Writing the Other. Linda gave examples of her research and efforts in writing other voices, and suggested that writers shouldn’t be afraid to explore writing characters with different backgrounds, as long as they are well studied.
Sumiko Saulson is attending StokerCon as the winner of HWA’s Scholarship From Hell for the new Horror University (a series of workshops held at this convention). She pointed out that not all diversities are outwardly visible, and that if you include the range of psychological and personality differences, even groups of writers that appear alike are much more diverse than we seem at first glance. Sumiko has published a book entitled 60 Black Women in Horror Fiction featuring her interviews with authors, including Linda Addison.
On the topic of how to ensure inclusion of diverse voices in horror fiction, Greg Herren said that there are publishers who have hard targets for diversity in anthologies, and the challenge becomes that you can’t judge a person’s race or culture by their name and it’s not cool to ask people how they identify. Additionally, he pointed out that a designation such as “Asian” is absurd because it technically includes Russians, Persians, and Israelis, not to mention dozens of other individual and greatly varied regions throughout Asia (a sentiment echoed by an audience member). In regards to categorizing people based on their name, Shane McKenzie pointed out that people expect him to be white or Irish based on his name, and might think he’s Mexican based on his fiction, but he is actually Korean. Sumiko Saulson pointed out that she was named after a close friend and she is not Japanese. And Linda Addison said she’d become pretty well published before anybody knew she was black.
Greg Herren suggested that writers look for opportunities to approach schools for readings or lectures and to engage children who might become tomorrow’s writers. He proposed that HWA start a student level of membership that is free (this proposal was met with applause). Sumiko agreed and added that the membership rules and level designations of HWA are challenging to decipher; since we are writers, we should be writing to our audience and consider what would appeal to beginning writers. (Incidentally, I myself have been trying to figure out what the different membership levels mean; I’ve had the membership regulations open in my browser for 3 weeks and I keep telling myself I’ll figure it out later).
One of the overriding sentiments shared by the panelists, and I believe from the attendees as well is that this is a very welcoming crowd. There is an inclusive attitude and general warm camaraderie that prevails at HWA meetings and horror conventions. It was suggested that more local chapter social events, or social media forums might encourage new membership from people who might otherwise feel they don’t belong.
This blog may read a bit like minutes of a meeting, but I think that’s okay, even if it’s not as titillating as reading about scandals, arguments, or faux pas blunders. My purpose was to share some of the highlights and ideas that were discussed and to demonstrate that efforts are being made to include diverse peoples and promote inclusion. I hope we will continue to see these discussions, keep suggesting remedies, and continue to raise awareness among the collective consciousness. I hope more people will share good experiences at these conventions and diversity panels, rather than focusing solely on negative experiences.