I always thought I’d write this post only if Sirens reached its tenth year.
Ten years feels like a milestone. Like some sort of incontrovertible measure of success. Like maybe, despite the Sisyphean efforts of creating an annual conference, you’d have obviously reached the top of the mountain, gazed in wonder upon all that you’d built, and maybe decided to find some laurels. You know, for resting upon.
But here we are, in our ninth year—and while I find that Sirens has, indeed, reached an incontrovertible measure of success, I also find that we’ve been at the top of the mountain all along.
Many of you know that, in our first eight years of Sirens, we never had more than 106 attendees. While Sirens was always intended to be small, it wasn’t meant to be quite that small. Yet, despite having hundreds of smart, passionate, dedicated attendees over the years, we just could not produce any sort of growth, at least not in attendee numbers.
Until now. In 2017, as I write this, we have 171 registrations. We’ve had to impose a registration cap. The Sirens Studio and the Sirens Supper are sold out. We received a record-setting number of programming proposals. We’ve already had to ask the Hotel Talisa—twice—for more guest rooms. We’re looking for space for next year that can hold more people.
If you’re counting, we’ve reached an incontrovertible measure of success.
But success at Sirens has never been determined by growth. Instead, I find that our growth is reflective of the success we’ve already had, and indeed, success that—as we gaze down from that mountaintop—we’ve had since we first set foot in Vail in 2009. Our growth is, instead, born of something far more important, far more profound: community.
Sirens has always been about voice. From the day we first dreamed of Sirens, our team has believed, deeply, in creating a space for passionate voices to discuss, analyze, and celebrate women in fantasy literature. What we didn’t know was whether anyone would use that space—or whether those voices would coalesce into a community of people who believe, just as deeply, that the remarkable women of fantasy literature are worthy of frank discussion, exacting analysis, and joyful celebration.
And yet, for eight years, since the night we presented the first Sirens Supper and the California contingent danced in the snow, we have been a community. A community that has evolved considerably and continues to do so. One that’s becoming increasingly brilliant, increasingly inclusive, increasingly confident, increasingly vocal. One that believes in itself and each of its parts. A once-a-year respite, where you can repair your armor, replenish your magic, and remember how truly remarkable the women of fantasy literature—from queens to readers—are. That community, and that success, have been there all along.
So, in our ninth year—as so many of you prepare to attend Sirens for the first time—I want to reflect, just a bit, on what Sirens is and what it, at its best, can be.
Each year, as you know, Sirens is dedicated to the diverse, remarkable women of fantasy literature.
Each year, we gather: To bring our individual perspectives, experiences, and identities to conversations about books, about stories, about authors, about publishing, yes, but also about love, wisdom, power, and revolution. To applaud books we love and debate books we didn’t love quite so much. To compare ourselves—and our identities, our families, our challenges, our ambitions—to those of the fantastic female characters who remind us of what we can be.
To speak. To listen. To change our minds. To grow. To wonder aloud and vent our frustrations and declare our hopes. Fundamentally, to create a smart, welcoming, inspiring community from a thousand conversations.
Each year, the spark for many of those conversations, the foundation of our discussion and debate of the diverse, remarkable women of fantasy literature, is our programming. Those dozens of hours of brilliant, thoughtful, earth-shaking analysis presented by scholars, educators, librarians, publishers, and authors, certainly—but also, just as valuably, by readers, students, doctors, lawyers, farriers, mothers, grandmothers, knitters, fighters, and everyday heroines.
But each year, many of those conversations will happen outside our programming. Over tea or a drink. In a hot tub or at the spa. At the bookstore. Those surprise conversations that dare us to be more ambitious, more assertive, more empathetic. Those conversations are Sirens, too.
And each year, many of those conversations will tackle our annual theme. One year, warriors; another, faeries. Then monsters, or revolutionaries. These themes help spark our collective imagination, for everything from presentations to bookstore inventory, informal programs to artwork. They help us discover the breadth of women’s representations in fantasy literature, and the tremendous panoply of real-world women we know. They enrich our conversations, and deepen our connections to fantasy literature, each other, and ourselves.
In 2017, the Sirens theme is women who work magic: witches, sorceresses, spellcasters, mages, illusionists, and more. Think about that for a second: Not only women who have magic, but women who work magic. They might work it quietly or shyly or slyly. They might work it with great purpose or great skill or great pride. But these women have power and they use it.
This theme might speak to you in a number of ways. To me, it’s a ready analogue for power in the real world: something that many women don’t have; something that women are punished for wielding; something that “nice girls” would never use. But to you, the theme might be about talent or training or skill. It might be about creation or innovation. It might be about goals and aspirations and drive. It might be about dreams or quests or bargains. It might be about oppression or revolution or revenge. After all, even in fantasy literature, the word “witch” is so often a slur….
As we approach Sirens, we invite you to give all of this some thought. Some of you are more outgoing, or more self-assured, than others, but we hope that all of you will find a way to add your voice to Sirens. Similarly, we hope that all of you will find a way to listen while others add their voices to Sirens. Our conversations are built on the diverse perspectives, experiences, and identities of our community, and as much as we come to speak our minds and our hearts, we also come to learn as others speak theirs.
Over the next few months, as we prepare for Sirens, we’re going to share all sorts of things: information to help you plan for Sirens, inclusivity posts crafted by members of our community, interviews with our guests of honor, and more. We hope to see you around our online community (Twitter; Facebook; Goodreads), even before we arrive in Vail. And we’re so excited to see you this fall.
Sirens co-founder and co-chair