Some thoughts on the World SF Blog and the Kitschies Award
Last night I went to the Kitschies Award ceremony, where I was given a special award (The Black Tentacle) for the World SF Blog. The special award was previously given to comics publishers SelfMadeHero, and to Donald Westlake’s posthumous novel Memory, published by Hard Case Crime.
In my short acceptance speech, I said that “I see the World SF Blog as an argument, but one that is turning into a conversation.” And I thanked the Kitschies for choosing to make it a part of their own conversation, of highlighting the importance of talking about, reading, and being exposed to international speculative literature, in all its forms.
I like the Kitschies, which are a sort of mischievous award. They are given to “the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic.” You can – and should – argue with their selections, but it is obvious a lot of care – and love of genre – goes into the selections each year.
So I should have been delighted last night – who doesn’t like awards! – and gratified for this recognition of four years of running the blog, alongside which we produced 2 anthologies of international SF/F and set up a travel fund to help bring people from the “outside” to a major convention – World Fantasy Con, so far.
I wanted to add a lot more on stage, of course. To talk about the importance of diversity in fiction, of how some of the best works I’ve read have been in translation, or coming from outside of the Anglophone world; of how some of the best short fiction today is written, in English, by writers from the “outside”, from places like Malaysia or China or Israel or Nigeria; of how anthologists today can no longer default to table of contents filled with white men without being, at least, called on it; of how gratifying it is to be able to recommend to the occasional editor who asks me, some of those writers I know and admire.
To begin with, I don’t even know why I was feeling uneasy about accepting the award. I was looking forward to coming along and not having any responsibilities, like having to go on stage (my World Fantasy Award acceptance speech was two lines), and just being able to relax and enjoy myself. But I think I know what was bothering me, which crystallised when I stood up on that stage at the Free Word Centre.
I was looking out on a sea of white people. Of familiar, talented, friendly and wonderful people, yes, editors and publishers, agents and writers. Who were, predominantly, British (obviously) and some Americans. And outside, the receptionist – the one black woman at the event.
Of course, the debut novel award went to Karen Lord – a black woman from Barbados – but she couldn’t be there. And the shortlist included one translated novel, too. The Kitschies try very hard to be a more inclusive award, and it’s hard, with so few international authors published in the UK.
But it bothers me, because how can I accept an award for promoting, or trying to promote, diversity, when it is not present in the body of the judges? And it is not present in British genre publishing, and was so glaringly missing from the audience last night?
There are writers of colour, working in speculative fiction, in the UK. Not many, and not, more importantly, much visible. And most can be found in short fiction, in the sort of thing, in fact, which the Kitschies do not give an award to. But if we want to encourage dialogue, and create an environment when people even want to engage with speculative fiction, then it must begin, I think, with questioning not just the point of this – or any other – award, but of the environment in which it is given and discussed.
I love the people organising the Kitschies, and the events that they organise through the year. I’d dearly love to see one dedicated to the unseen faces of speculative fiction in the UK – a commitment to diversity as a public face, a way of encouraging a discussion that is badly needed in SF as much as outside of it. And it occurs to me that I would be dishonest to accept the award without talking about it, despite my fear of being seen as ungrateful or discourteous.
On the contrary: I see the awarding of the Kitschies to the World SF Blog as an opportunity, as a way of fostering discussion, and so I am doing what I – hope – the Kitschies wanted me to do: I’m continuing this argument, and hoping that it becomes a conversation.