A few days ago Steven Barnes, Maurice Broaddus, Tananarive Due, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Tonya Liburd, and Nisi Shawl were kind enough to let me record their conversation about Fireside Fiction’s reports on blacks in speculative fiction. The discussion centered specifically on what SFWA can learn from the report in order to improve/expand existing efforts as well as things it should or shouldn’t be doing.
The Subject Under Discussion
For those unfamiliar with the report, you can find Antiblack Racism in Speculative Fiction: #BlackSpecFic: A Fireside Fiction Company special report (2015) here, and the follow-up 2016 #BlackSpecFic Report here.Both reports are accompanied by a wealth of essays by black writers.
Here is the central fact they present. Black writers are underrepresented in fantasy and science fiction short fiction magazines. The 2015 figures: 2039 stories in 63 magazines, of which 38 stories were by black authors, in 2015. The report noted the flaws (I’ll talk more about some of the reactions later) but it was a pretty good effort at analysis no one had done before.
In preparing for the conversation, I went not just through the reports, but the accompanying essays and some of the pieces inspired by the topics that had been raised. One of the pieces of data I acquired recently that wasn’t answered earlier was the results of the survey SFWA administered in 2017 to its members: information about the composition of the organization’s membership. Here it is from the survey, administered during the middle of this year.
Answer Choices Responses
White 85.40% 778
Hispanic 0.77% 7
Black 0.99% 9
Asian 2.09% 19
Pacific Island 0.00% 0
Mixed Race 3.07% 28
Indigenous 0.11% 1
Prefer not to answer 7.57% 69
Other (please specify)* 25
(The answer to “Other” ranged from the serious to the not-so-serious.)
For the sake of very broad comparison, American demographics as of July 2016 (according to Wikipedia) were 13.3% African American, 17.8% Latino/Hispanic, and 61.3% white. Like the magazines when it comes to publishing black writers, SFWA’s population skews much whiter than figures might lead one to assume.
I’m very grateful to the participants for a discussion that was illuminating, informative, and always interesting. I tried to assemble a group that could talk in an informed way and come from different perspectives.
I asked Liburd if she would be our representative of a newer writer, someone who’s hit many of the barriers. At the same time, she has her editorial experience from working with Abyss and Apex. Barnes and Due come from the perspective of long experience with the speculative fiction community. Shawl was one of the people who contributed an essay to the issue. Johnson and Broaddus are both established black writers who work with short fiction.
My apologies for the not-so-great quality. This was recorded via Google Hangout and I do not claim to have anything but the most rudimentary video skills. I ended up converting it to .mp3 file, which is available here:
This was a terrific conversation. I was scribbling notes down throughout most of it. In a day or two I’ll post those notes and action items, along with an account of what’s happened so far, but today the focus should be that discussion.