This past weekend was Readercon 24, the, what, third Readercon I've been involved with? What happened here is that a few years ago rosefox was voted in as Program Chair, and Rose asked me to be a part of the programming committee. After the first year Rose started saying things like "You know I'm grooming you to be my successor, right?" and I would laugh and laugh and say how very silly that was. This year I ended up jumping in with both feet and being way more involved than I'd ever expected. I'm on the ConCom this year, I'm on the Readercon Board, my fiance is involved in both as well, and I was officially Rose's Assistant Program Chair. About halfway through the year I was officially voted in as Program Chair for Readercon 25.
I got into this for a lot of the same reasons I did librarianship. Readercon loves stories. We love the people who make those stories and we love the people who appreciate them with us. What I did not expect, ever, was for convention work to be another way that I can slowly and quietly change the world.
I'm assuming if you're reading this you know about what happened at Readercon last year, and I don't want to rehash it yet again. Part of our response to it all was to publicly state that we were going to run safety-related programming, and we did that by inviting the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center to run some workshops for the concom and at the con for the Readercon membership. We also had several programs on gender and power dynamics, which we've gotten a little bit of flack about. Frankly I knew this would happen, there's always backlash, and that's fine, whatever. If you go read Rose's post about this, you'll see some of the wonderful things we got as well. The fact that there are writers realizing that addressing gender and race and power dynamics in their work can make them a better writer doing more interesting things, that's amazing. There are people who have literally never felt safe at a convention before, and this year at Readercon they felt safe. We had a sign on all of the bathroom doors on the main floor letting our attendees know that the Con Suite bathroom was gender neutral. Such a simple thing, but it lets non-binary people know that a. we know they exist and b. we want them to feel welcome. It's so small, but for someone who hasn't felt welcomed at a con before, that's huge**.
There's been some concern that in our attempts to be more welcoming to marginalized people we're going to end up excluding some of our traditional Readercon base. It's true, we will. Nothing can be for everyone, it just doesn't work that way. It's hugely important to me that we are welcoming marginalized people. If that means we exclude people who would rather be bigoted towards those people, well, I guess I'm not that concerned about it. I was having a conversation with batwrangler this weekend, and talking about my involvement with the Interstitial Arts Foundation, and how I've seen what happens when artists and writers from completely different disciplines end up working off of each other and collaborating together, and it is straight up magic. I think the same is true when we're talking about people with wildly different experiences and backgrounds. If someone doesn't want to even acknowledge those perspectives exist, then yeah, they might have some problems with the way the programming went this year, but I know that looking for and understanding these differences only makes people and their writing stronger. I see it happen all the time, and we're seeing a ripple effect of people gaining new understanding because of our programming. We're seeing people take the safety programming and what we did with our Safety Team responses and look for ways to take that back into their lives, their work, other conventions, and their families. We didn't get everything perfect this year, but it's a goal to strive for, to make Readercon and convention culture as a whole safer. To respond correctly when someone violates our code of conduct, and be willing to to do hard things and stand up and say what's not ok.
Last night Rose pinged me on IM to share some quotes from blogposts, and then said "We're changing the world, you know." I got dizzy. I hadn't thought of it that way but it's true. I love Readercon, I love stories, I love bringing in new people and new perspectives and watching how that changes everything. I love that as program chair next year I get to let Women of Color and queer people and people with disabilities SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES. It's hugely important to me that I'm going to be putting these brilliant people with fantastic voices up in front of a room and letting them tell their stories. They don't need me, the White Lady, to give them a voice. They need ways to let people hear their voices, and that's literally my job. I love this. I can't wait for next year, and I can't believe I actually get to run programming with Kit Reed and Andrea Hairston as our guests of honor. I am so inspired by both of these women and I can not WAIT to see what they do at Readercon 25.
You should join us.
*Confession: the other part about why I went to library school in the first place is because I sort of thought maybe I'd teach high school English, but resisted doing anything about it. Then I was re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Giles mentioned his Masters in Library Science and I was like "THAT'S A REAL THING! I forgot!" and the next day I was looking into programs. I didn't go to library school because of Giles, but I sort of did. Worse decisions have been made.
**I'm not claiming we're the only con that does this, but it's still a step forward to changing Readercon culture.