Over the past several years I’ve been privileged to work with a (then) new black female SF novelist – K. Ceres Wright – to renew an acquaintance with Steven Barnes that hails from 1978; to exchange tweets and emails with K. Tempest Bradford and Nalo Hopkinson, to join the Black Science Fiction Society and discuss stuff with Jarvis Sheffield, to read and promote (and get called out by) N. K. Jemisin, to discover, watch and publish a review (by Ceres) of Destination Planet Negro, written and directed by Professor Kevin Wilmott, and, in the deep mists of time, interviewed Chip Delany and been befriended and mentored by one of the greatest SMOFs of all time, Elliot K. Shorter.
And that has been the extent of my engagement with black science fiction. It is probably more than some, but it is not nearly enough.
I’ve progressed from the belief that science fiction (both the fan community and its publishing enterprises) have been open and accepting of people of color, but I’ve now come to the understanding that such was the case idealistically, but on a practical level, it has not had the desired outcome.
Fandom (and publishing), I think, have been engaging with an approach that is similar to the way I first approached seeking contributors for Amazing Stories: open the door, put out the welcome mat and expect (hope) that a wildly diverse crowd will enter.
I, and Fandom, believed that its stated values and willingness to accept would be more than enough to encourage like-minded individuals to participate. After all, the over-riding identity is FAN, not one’s ethnic/cultural background. Fannishness transcends all of those petty differences, right?
On the publishing side, we are confronting a situation in which presumed market forces and the understandable desire of a business to stay within the known limits of what it believes is profitable, have stifled the willingness to engage with fiction that does not hail from a white, male, European background. Unfamiliarity with the terrain, rather than being received as new and innovative, is viewed as potentially off-putting and unsaleable.
Out of self-preservation, many authors of color have gone the indie and/or small press route; their works are available where they otherwise wouldn’t have been, but most of those efforts fly under the radar of the SF mainstream.
On the fannish side, far too many years of not seeing similar faces at conventions has led to the self-reinforcing beliefs that conventions are largely not welcoming to POCs and that POCs don’t engage or are doing their own thing (there are several black-oriented annual conventions).
This is, of course, changing; 2016 was a watershed for the recognition of black authors (and female black authors to boot) and everyone involved is to be congratulated for these opening moves towards true acceptance and real engagement with diversity. I expect good things to flow as a result.
But my own personal experience alone demonstrates that it will not be nearly enough to get to where we would all like to be. More is required.
To that end, I have spent some time this week (those following Amazing know how curtailed my time has become) in reaching out to black-owned SF communities – Milton Davis and MVMedia (Dieselfunk, Sword & Soul: Milton is the Hal Clement speaker at Boskone 54 this coming year) and Fiyah!, a relatively new magazine publishing black speculative fiction.
The purpose of the outreach was to let them know that I encourage them to use what resources Amazing Stories has to promote themselves, their authors and their works. I would be extremely happy if some of their number chose to contribute to Amazing, but my primary message is that Amazing is going to become a place that actively seeks their participation and welcomes them.
Along the way I am trying to compile a list of black SF/F/H publishers and authors, communities and conventions that will be published on the website as a resource. If you’d like to send in a resources, please feel free.
These efforts will not be enough. In fact, I hope that they are seen as the least significant of all such efforts as I encourage others in the field to take advantage of this opportunity, represented by the Nebula and Hugo award wins for several outstanding authors of color, to do as much as they can to demonstrate, in deed and not only in word, that our community really does stand behind its ideals.
If you are a black indie author, run a small press – or work with one – are a member of a black SF-oriented community, operate a convention or reading series or lecture series, or are just a fan, please feel free to avail yourselves of the promotional and community efforts here at Amazing Stories; were looking to include you in our news round-up, our new releases promotions and our review programs. Well probably find you, eventually, but there’s no point in waiting.’