First, a thank you to Dell Publications for taking swift action following Jeannette Ng’s statements while accepting the 2019 JWC Award for Best New Writer. It was announced yesterday that the award would be renamed to the Astounding Award. (While WSFS adminsters the award – collecting nominations – it is owned and controlled by Dell and any changes to the name would have to at least begin with their approval.)
You can read the editor’s announcement here.
And now the other side of that coin is revealed. Prior to and immediately following the Best New Writer award name change, some have suggested that the Hugo Award name be changed as well. After all, Hugo Gernsback, for whom the Science Fiction Achievement Awards were renamed, had bad paying practices; there are historical complaints from H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. P. Lovecraft, Jack Williamson and Donald Wollheim to name those who are known.
He took on airs and presented himself as sophisticated and superior and it may even be that he used his low word rates to help maintain a lavish lifestyle.
On the other hand, he didn’t reject female authors out of hand (encouraged them in editorials, actually). He himself was Jewish, so it is unlikely that antisemitic thoughts were expressed and as for people of color, though I’ve no evidence, circumstantial evidence suggests that he would have encouraged them as well as he consistently operated in a manner that was designed to grow and spread interest in the genre. If he had recognized that there was a new market to exploit, he’d have jumped right in. His motivation was to grow awareness and acceptance of the genre. How he felt about other social issues remains largely a mystery (but given that he also published Sexology, a magazine devoted to human sexuality in a manner that was extremely provocative and progressive in its time, suggests that the man was more progressive leaning than not).
Getting paid, getting paid on time and getting paid well, are important aspects of being a writer and this field is very oriented towards writers, so maybe (some) instances of bad paying practices do rise to the same level as other social issues impacting the naming of awards. Maybe.
If they do, then there is every reason to contemplate changing the WSFS’s annual awards name, at least to conform to the growing belief that it would be best if our awards were not named for individuals.
I will take one paragraph to offer up my alternative to not naming awards for individuals. Instead of struggling to come up with good sounding names that will remain good sounding for decades to come – the meanings of words has been known to change over time, perhaps we should make the naming of (some) awards part of giving out the award. For example (even though the Best Writer Award’s name has been settled) we could have done this: “This year the Best New Writer Award has been named in honor of Jeannett Ng. Presenting the Jeannett Ng Best New Writer Award this year will be….” Instead of removing names from awards, we now have an opportunity to add names to awards, and to do so in a manner that does not affect future generations and one that specifically addresses contemporary thought.
On the other hand, while “Pay the Writer!” remains the thing to do, it also remains the writer’s option of how much to accept, where to submit and what to expect. I have had well-known authors who can expect to receive a premium rate for their work offering me content for nothing – because it suited their purposes to do so. Likewise, I have been rejected for rates I’ve offered other well known authors. I wasn’t offended, I don’t think the authors were either.
Most of the authors having issue with Gernsback over payments had either accepted those rates for earlier submissions, or continued to submit after settling their hash, or agreed to the terms following argument and discussion. Hey, even after accepting the rates I got from NBC for licensing, I still bitched and moaned. But I also cashed the checks.
For obvious reasons I don’t think we ought to change the name of the Hugo Awards – especially now that one of the related awards has been named for a magazine that competed with Gernsback’s. If it’s balance we’re looking for – rename the Hugos as the Amazing Awards (though with the magazine on-going under that name, I understand a reluctance to do so. Fandom is not in the business of commercial endorsements).
I think though that the real justifications for keeping the name as it is are the following: our Hugo awards were and remain primarily focused on written science fiction and Gernsback is properly credited for popularizing that. He was also responsible for tilling the soil that led to the creation of Fandom. These are the two major aspects of these awards that come together at Worldcon – the literature and its fandom. Absent evidence pointing to past societal sins, and despite those pay issues, I think it remains appropriate to keep his name on it.
Though I wouldn’t object, at least not too strenulously, if the decision is made to change it along lines previously discussed.