A Disoriented Con Reporter At Large: WisCon 36 (Thursday Edition)Posted: May 31, 2012 | |
So, it’s been a bit silent on the blog front this past week. I know. I am a bad person. But in my defense, I was at WisCon 36.
What is WisCon, you ask?
I believe I will let Andrea Hairston, writer/professor/drama queen and one of WisCon 36’s Guests of Honor, say it for me:
“WisCon is my/our home planet
A moment in great time
Where we dream and scheme, sing and shout
Unravel our torment
Renew our sense of wonder
Burst into the future”
(Impolitic by Andrea Hairston and Debbie Notkin, Aqueduct Press, pg. 3)
If that’s too esoteric for you, I’ll try again. WisCon is a now-36-year-old Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. There are parties. There are readings. There are panels where people talk about women in comics and racial diversity and de-gaying and privilege and social justice and the Hunger Games and X-Men and the Power Rangers and Buffy the freakin’ Vampire Slayer. As you can no doubt tell, WisCon is full of awesome. It is also the home of the DAMN TIPTREE AWARD.
The DAMN TIPTREE AWARD, also known as the James Tiptree Jr. Award, is an award given to a work of speculative fiction that best expands or explores our understanding of gender. It was created by Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler at WisCon in 1991. It’s the most badass of all badass awards. Trust me. It’s been won by DAMN fine authors like Gwyneth Jones, Geoff Ryman, Mary Doria Russell and Maureen McHugh. It was named for James Tiptree Jr., Sci-Fi author extraordinaire, who was eventually revealed to be Alice Sheldon (a woman writing under a man’s name? GASP). If you win it, you get to wear a Tiara.
[You also get a check for a thousand dollars, a piece of original artwork, lots of chocolate, and you are serenaded by the entire WisCon membership]
Like I said: the most Badass of all Badass awards.
I’m a Sci-Fi/Fantasy nerd. I’m also a feminist and a general social justice geek (Have you noticed the blog content? Yes?). So WisCon for me is…indescribably joyful. Your brain explodes with the general brilliance on display. Or, at least, mine does. When I went to WisCon last year for the first time, my reaction was “Where have these people been all my life?” It felt like all the best friends I had never met had just showed up in the same place, and they were all interested in the same things, and they all spoke my language…(let us note that I was too shy to speak to any of my newly found best friends. But they were still my new best friends).
It was rather incredible.
So obviously, I went back this year (WisCon, fortunately, takes place in my hometown, which makes it much easier to get to). And I planned to BLOG from WisCon. Hem. That did not happen. Obviously. Why I believed it would be possible for me to go to the Con for twelve hours a day AND present a paper AND blog at the same time is completely beyond me. Particularly since even my shortest blog posts take two to three hours to write.
Yes, I’m pretty damn delusional, why do you ask?
And then after the con, I was so exhausted that I basically went *SPLAT* on the floor of my bedroom. For three days. And every time I tried to imagine how I was going to fit the enormity of all the con’s awesomeness into a blog post, I started freaking out and just went *SPLAT* on the floor again.
I have a very supportive floor, okay? She and I are very close. She understands my pain.
Actually, you know what? I’m just going to purloin Myriad‘s brilliant analysis of the effects of WisCon:
But I have finally scraped myself off the floor and crawled over to the couch, burning with the desire to write my damn Con report. Because I cannot keep this awesomeness to myself, my friends. It must be shared with the entire world (or my regular readership, otherwise known as the FBI robots who keep the internet safe). For what other purpose have I been put on this earth?
(The Other Cat’s response to this is: “To pet me.”)
Because I would like to avoid going *SPLAT* again anytime soon (I love the floor, but I think she and I need to take a break, if you know what I mean (she’s getting a little clingy…)), I’m going to post my Con report in several parts. The plan is:
Part one: Thursday recap
Part two: Friday and Saturday recap
Part three: Sunday and Monday recap
with a possible
Part four: Conclusions.
YES, it shall be long. But Space-Babe demands it! She thinks that I should leave no detail out, no information un-recorded. The awesomeness of my Con experience, Space Babe proclaims, must be shared with the masses (Space Babe seems unaware that there are no “masses” reading my blog. But at least I’ll keep the FBI and CIA amused!)
By the way, before you ask: Space Babe is the official mascot of the James Tiptree Jr. Award. She flies through the galaxy, fighting injustice, oppression and outdated portrayals of gender roles in speculative fiction. She’s also the fearless leader of the Secret Feminist Cabal (also known as the WisCon membership).
And she’s a BADASS.
So, you know. I do whatever the hell she tells me to do.
Officially, WisCon starts on Friday. Unofficially, it begins on Thursday, when the Guests of Honor give a reading at Madison’s resident feminist bookstore, A Room of One’s Own
I went to the GOH reading last year, and there was no way I was missing it this year. Even if I had a giant paper for the Convention to finish writing.
Because I, like a total idiot, decided to propose a paper for the Academic programming. And then the WisCon programmers accepted the aforesaid paper. To which my reaction was:
“Oh, shoot. I didn’t think that would happen.”
By Thursday, I was freaking the frack out. I had threatened to empty my savings account to run away to the Bahamas (which shows you the extent of my desperation, since I hate the beach). I had already pulled one all-nighter (my mother nearly called the cops when she saw me up at six in the morning). I was frantically re-outlining the second half of the paper while muttering things like “Monsters ugly! Maidens pretty!” and “It’s all about CYBORGS!”
[As you can see, I’m not the brightest Tanning Bulb in the Academic Tanning Bed]
But I was going to go to the GOH reading if it killed me. So I hopped on my bike and proceeded to nearly get run over by a mail truck. Which was fun.
I was also bringing my younger brother (R.) to the GOH reading because he loves A Room of One’s Own and never misses an occasion to go. Also – what else would you do with your younger brother except bring him to a Feminist Sci-Fi fantasy conference?
(You don’t think twelve year old boys would kill to go to WisCon? You need to take some Vitamin DUH, my good sir/ma’am)
Anyways. When I stopped by my father’s house to pick my brother up (divorced parents are a logistical challenge), he was not ready to go. Why, you ask?
He didn’t like the way his pants folded over his shoes.
I’m not kidding. We could not leave the house until the pants problem was solved and I had to spend the next ten minutes reviewing pant options and discussing how to pair pants with shoes to avoid bunching.
As you can see, R. was in the WisCon spirit of defying outdated gender norms. I was very proud.
I was less proud when we arrived at A Room of One’s Own and he tried to make off with the store’s entire stock. Possibly I was annoyed because I was trying to make off with the store’s entire stock myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love my brother. But let’s get our priorities straight, okay? When it comes to books, there is no family loyalty. Particularly when we saw that N.K. Jemisin’s The Shadowed Sun was out.
It’s a minor miracle that R. and I made it to the reading room without either of us emptying our bank accounts. Or offering to do dishes for A Room of One’s Own forever if they let us steal their books. Or killing each other.
The Guests of Honor this year were Debbie Notkin and Andrea Hairston. The Space Babe demands that I give you important background information, so here it is:
Debbie Notkin has been on chair of the WisCon Committee twice, and is the chair of the James Tiptree Jr. Award motherboard. Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy, who initiated the award, have both said that it never would have come off the ground without Debbie Notkin’s tireless work behind the scenes. She’s been a Sci-Fi and Fantasy acquisitions editor for Tor Books and a SF/F bookstore owner.
Debbie Notkin also does body image activist work with photographer Laurie Toby Edison: together, they’ve created two books Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes and Familiar Men: A Book of Nudes. They also run the body image blog Body Impolitic. Some of Notkin and Edison’s favorite posts were reprinted in the book Impolitic! (the Guest of Honor book published for WisCon by Aqueduct Press) and let me tell you, they are brilliant. Simply brilliant.
Here’s a random sampling:
On transgender rights: “The right to live in a body that suits you is surely one of the most basic right a human being can have.”(Impolitic, 122)
On the prevalence of stories about people in wheelchairs who “walk again” on TV: “Our culture desperately tries to believe that if you take care of yourself, you will live a really long time and never get sick. Seeing disabled people makes us afraid that we might not live fit and forever. Wheelchairs and the people in them become the bogeyman, the goblin who will be you if you don’t watch your health. To fight the cultural fear, we build myths about people who “walk again.” (Impolic, 118)
[Start reading Body Impolitic. The Space Babe Commands it.]
I know Debbie Notkin by sight, if not personally, because she’s one of the busiest people at WisCon. I swear, she was everywhere last year – I couldn’t have avoided her if I’d tried. When Ellen Klages was auctioning off a naked photograph of Debbie Notkin this year, she joked: “It shows Debbie naked and asleep. You will never see Debbie like this at WisCon. Naked, yes, but asleep, no. That woman does so much. So for anyone curious: this is what Debbie looks like asleep.”
Since Notkin is not a writer, she decided to read the obituary she wrote for her mother’s funeral. Later, a friend of Notkin remarked how typical it was of her to use the spotlight to talk about someone else rather than herself. Notkin’s reading was lovely and moving and surprisingly funny. I meant to take notes, but was too busy listening.
Con reporter FAIL.
Debbie Notkin was followed by WisCon 36’s other Guest of Honor, Andrea Hairston. Andrea Hairston is the director of Chrysalis Theater and a Professor of theater and Afro-American studies at Smith College. She writes plays that have been produced at Yale Rep, Rites and Reason, the Kennedy Center, StageWest and on Public Radio. She’s received a fuckmetric ton of playwriting and directing awards. In 2011, she received the International Association of the Fantastic in the Art’s Distinguished Scholarship Award. I knew her before WisCon because I read her paper on Octavia Butler (“Octavia Butler: Praise Song to a Prophetic Artist”) when I was preparing an essay for a conference; Hairston is one of those rare breed of people who actually does academic work in speculative fiction (for which I am deeply, deeply grateful).
Her first novel, Mindscape, won the Carl Brandon Parallex Award, and was on the Phillip K. Dick Award shorlist and the James Tiptree Jr. Award shortlist.
Her second novel, Redwood and Wildfire, came out last year and promptly won the James Tiptree Jr. Award for 2011. Which makes Andrea Hairston the first person to ever have won the Tiptree award in the same year she was WisCon’s Guest of Honor. The Tiptree Jury and the ConCom are made up of completely different people, so the confluence of events was not planned AT ALL. Which makes it all the more exciting.
Andrea Hairston was wearing the most amazing purple hat/tiara/thing (I don’t know what it was, but I want it), and she read from Redwood and Wildfire with musical accompaniment by Pan Morigan. Redwood and Wildfire is, among other things, about the role of African American performers on the stage and on-screen at the turn of the 20th century. In the section Hairston read from, Redwood, a hoodoo conjure woman and actress, is playing the part of a “savage” in some kind of Safari adventure movie when the lion the studios have hired for the scene breaks out of her cage. As Hairston announced the title of her book, she said:
“If you like what you hear, buy the book”
And someone from the audience shouted:
“If you don’t like what you hear, buy the book.”
Which had everyone laughing.
But frankly, I don’t know how you could help but like what you heard. Hairston’s reading was wildly engaging – she’s a consummate performer, and she draws the audience into her work. She had us roaring with laughter with the slightest raise of her eyebrow. Even my brother, who is usually quite fidgety, leaned forwards in his seat, rapt with attention. At the end, he turned to me and asked: “Can I read it after you?”
To which I said: “As long as you don’t try to steal it.”
(spoiler alert: he did try to steal it)
We made it out of the bookstore without stealing any books (but it was tempting) and then headed back to our house.
And then my brother’s bike broke just as it started raining. And not in a “we can just put that chain back on” sort of way. In a “the handlebars are now turned completely backwards” sort of way.
However, my brother and I are resilient. Resourceful. Romanesque. Resolute. In the spirit of WisCon and working through things, we walked through the damn storm, discussing science fiction and feminism all the way. My brother graciously let me blather on about my paper, and pretended to find my whole discussion of monsters and maidens fascinating.
After dropping R. off at my father’s house, I biked to my mother’s house (ah, the logistics of divorce) and then spent the rest of the night (and I do mean: The rest of the night) freaking the frack out as I tried to write my darn paper.
But that’s a story for another time.
NEXT TIME! More tales of WisCon and the Secret Feminist Cabal! Specifically: the tale of Friday and Saturday, which involves a lot of me freaking out, the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and a ton of panels about Women in Comics and Female Villains and other awesome things.
The Other Cat will also make an appearance in my Next Post. Because she helped me write the Damn Paper.