Leave Diversity Alone

So, this week I want to be real with you guys and bring up a potentially controversial topic – diversity in literary awards. Specifically, the Hugo/Nebula awards, granted annually by the SFWA for the best works in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Some of you who read and write within the genre may remember an unfortunate campaign by a group called the Sad Puppies, a bunch of conservative (largely) dudes who aimed to maintain the majority white male track record for Hugo/Nebula-nominated authors. The Sad Puppies campaign started in response to the increased recognition of women and other minority authors in this genre.

Now, I’ll lay out my thoughts on the subject and welcome you all to comment as you will. Firstly, I think confining any genre to one demographic makes absolutely no sense. Not only does such tunnel vision oppose equality, it also restricts the consumers of such literature to a far smaller range of talent.

Secondly – and I wholly recognize this could be a bit controversial to touch upon- I have witnessed somewhat of a bias toward projects by writers deemed as minority. For example, without naming names, I have read several works from the past decade published in one of the top SFF magazines in the world and many recognized for Hugo/Nebula nomination and win – all by PoC (that term never sat well with me due to the similarity to ‘colored’, but many seem to favor it, so I’ll leave it) – all of which didn’t really seem to tell a real story or even have much of an SFF theme. Instead, these pieces read more like vignettes – literary enough in their structure, but without any obvious inciting incident or conclusion. Simply put, these works read like a narrative that follows the protagonist through the streets of New York City (common setting for SFF shorts, it would seem) and, oftentimes, were so abstract that it wasn’t entirely clear what was supposed to be happening. That said, while I might be missing an overarching, immensely deep message here…I failed to see how these stories made the cut when I’ve known a handful of rejected stories (by white authors) with clear plot structure and obvious SFF theme.

In any case, my point is that, while bias may exist, sometimes it’s necessary. Historically, the SFF genre has been largely white male dominated. Think about it – besides J.K. Rowling (who happens to be white, so the female bit might be canceled out for some), can you name many female fantasy authors? For sci-fi, does anyone come to mind throughout the past 150 years apart from Ursula LeGuin and Mary Shelley? Moreover, I myself can’t name off the top of my head many African-American or Latino authors of SFF…and I am pretty excited to see more folks from those demographics with an interest in this genre being granted the opportunity to shine. While not all necessarily see their work bound to the same strict rules as those considered white/male, at least their voices are finally being better represented in sci-fi and fantasy. On the other hand, male (and even many white females as well) can look on the bright side: If your work is rejected for publication in a top (or any) magazine, it might not mean your work is shabby. It just means that others’ work are finally being given the spotlight in this arena.

All that said, the multi-Hugo winning “Broken Earth” series by N.K. Jemisin is next on my list for an indulgent read! That worldbuilding looks simply riveting.

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