This letter is my personal response to the issues raised about the WFC 2020 program panel descriptions and reflects only my opinions and not those of the WFC 2020 Committee or the WFC Board. We will be issuing an official press release in a few days to outline our steps toward making amends for our grievous mistake with the program. New program descriptions have been posted.
When the first social media posts were tweeted offering criticism about this year’s program descriptions, I replied to several with an apology from the WFC2020 Twitter account. I stopped tweeting and communicating about this issue when I determined my efforts would be better focused on putting a plan in place to resolve the problems and the offenses we committed—offenses that, while unintended, still hurt and offended many panelists and attendees. I recognize that my silence has caused people to doubt that the leadership of Virtual WFC 2020 is listening to the feedback being offered. Therefore, I’m offering this letter in the hopes that people will recognize that we are listening, we are taking to heart the criticisms, and we are responding with action.
I am the chair of this event and these mistakes—any mistakes—are my responsibility. I have an amazing committee who are working impossible hours for this convention, and they are under my leadership. The missteps and offenses are on my shoulders. Though it is scary to take on fights I didn’t know existed, I have made a personal commitment to learn, to change my perspective, and to do whatever I can to help bring about change not only at WFC2020, but also in the society in which I live. I am deeply sorry for the insensitive and offensive language of the panel descriptions we published in our initial program. I am keenly aware that we have hurt and injured the very people whose participation and presence we hoped to make significant at this World Fantasy Convention. My personal goal was to have 2020 be the most inclusive, diverse WFC in the organization’s history. I and my committee will continue to strive to achieve that goal.
I am not defending the mistakes we’ve made; however, I want to clear up some misunderstandings about what happened. To put together the program, we first sent out a questionnaire to every person who expressed an interest in being a panelist. We asked them what topics they would like to discuss. Most of the panelists replied with broad topics, such as, “afrofuturism, trauma, diaspora,” etc. We did not ask them to describe the topics, only to name them. So, while each topic was suggested by a potential panelist, the descriptions were written mostly by the program committee—which, yes, is comprised entirely of white people.
If my understanding is correct, it is not the program topics that are in question. It is the descriptions that are insensitive and offensive.
I want to be completely transparent that in June/July I was advised that I needed to ensure our program committee had more diversity for the insights and perspectives this would provide. I didn’t ignore the advice. I tried to recruit people of color for the programming committee, but my recruitment attempts failed. I don’t blame those who I invited—putting on a convention is a lot of work with no pay and little recognition. Other con-running tasks demanded my focus, so I did not continue trying to recruit new members for the programming committee, though I certainly should have. I also didn’t give the attention to the program that I should have. This was a huge mistake, one that makes me wish for an H.G. Wells time machine so I could have a do-over. But that’s science fiction; reality demands I try to rectify the mistake now.
Here’s what we have done to rectify the insensitive program descriptions.
· I have contacted every panelist invited to participate in the panels and asked them to share their ideas for what they’d like the discussion to include. Many have replied. Some have even offered to rewrite the descriptions themselves. Two panelists chose not to participate and withdrew from the convention.
· I have contacted 4 respected professionals in the SF/F genre and asked them to review the program (including the descriptions offered by panelists) and advise us on needed revisions. One replied that her workload didn’t allow her to spend the time, but she offered encouragement. The other three agreed to help. I offered to pay them for their time, and all three refused payment. I don’t want to name them, because I don’t want to draw them into the current conflict, but all three are recognized and respected in the genre. Two are African American and one is a writer and a sensibility advisor. I have since received advice from all three on the panel descriptions.
· We’ve received suggestions from attending panelists and BIPOC and LGBTQ+ attendees for additional panels. We’re adding several, including one called “Black Horror,” which is going to be a great discussion.
· Prior to the current conflict, we sponsored the membership of 48 people of color through a program I initiated when the Black Lives Matter movement gained prominence in public awareness earlier this year. Three of the recipients of those sponsorships have since withdrawn from the convention; three new recipients have accepted in the past few days. My family has sponsored some of the memberships for people of color; we did this because I am committed to our goal to make this WFC the most diverse in terms of panelists and attendees and make it accessible to more people of color. I am still hopeful this convention will be reflective of the diverse population of fantasy and horror writers and aspiring writers that comprise the genre.
· We have revised the offensive panel descriptions, combining the feedback from our advisors and the panelists, to come up with descriptions that truly reflect the conversations we hope will take place at the convention. That revised program was published tonight.
The World Fantasy Convention board has also drawn a lot of criticism in the past few days for a history that lacks inclusiveness and even alienates diverse participation. The WFC board awards conventions, and then has very little involvement in the operations. I’ve expressed my concerns to the board, and they are taking steps to clarify their role in inclusive and equitable programming of future conventions. They have voted to add at least one ex officio member to their number to review and provide input to future conventions to ensure that marginalized communities are represented and included, and that their perspectives are accurately reflected. A formal statement from the WFC board will be included in our official press release. Changes need to be made, and I will continue to champion those changes as long as I serve on the board.
I am open to feedback and would like to have conversations with concerned people who email me privately. I can’t promise a speedy reply. WFC 2020 will begin in sixteen days, and there’s a lot of work to be done, so please be patient if my response is delayed.
Chairperson, Virtual WFC 2020