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Inclusivity at Sirens: Justina Ireland

Sirens is about voice: the voices of each individual attendee, how those voices come together in conversation, and how those conversations create a community. At Sirens, we want everyone to have an opportunity to use their voice, whether that’s as part of our programming schedule or late into the night over tea.

But we also know that building a space for those conversations—a space where everyone is willing to speak and, equally important, where everyone is willing to listen—is not so simple. So often, we as a society build barriers that prevent people from speaking, and so often those barriers are based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, or other identity—and so often those barriers also help others ignore those voices.

This year, we are featuring a series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard.

Sabrina Chin and Amy Tenbrink, Conference Chairs


When people ask me about literary conferences worth attending the first one that springs to mind is Sirens. Often people will ask me why. Are there great workshops? Do the panels crackle with personality? Is the food good? And of course, all of these things are a yes. But Sirens also has the one thing going for it that so many other conferences don’t: a keen eye for intersectionality.

Intersectionality has become quite the buzzword of late, but few people realize that it refers not to identities, but rather to how systems of oppression impact those identities and that those impacts are situational. So, for example, all People of Color face racism, but the shape and tone of the racism is dependent on race and situation. And People of Color may also face ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and a whole host of other oppressive forces as well. Basically, intersectionality is about recognizing that oppression doesn’t work in any one way, but rather works in many different ways based on the situation.

The term intersectionality was originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how both feminist and Black equality movements tend to leave Black women behind, failing to recognize that the aperture for social justice movements must be widened to include the myriad ways systems of oppression impact marginalized groups. Meaning: we can’t just address sexism. We must also address racism, ableism, homophobia, and any other prejudice that is used to categorize and limit the ability of all people to live a happy and healthy life.

This is what is great about Sirens. It’s rare to see such a weighty (and complex, since our brains are trained to think in binary from an early age) conversation happen alongside discussions of  fantasy literature. And not just in a couple of tokenized panels. A glance at the schedule shows this dedication to inclusivity. The panels always address multiple identities, and not just as a separate diversity panel. Instead, social justice is baked into every panel, all of which feature a multitude of identities and experiences. I always learn something new at Sirens, and even the casual conversations can feel like a revelation.

And this intersectionality is what makes Sirens so great. Attending Sirens is like having a good meal after years of living off of crumbs. Your identity will be respected and embraced, your opinion valued, and you will learn so much it will feel like a weekend of machine gun epiphanies, each one more amazing than the last.

Sirens is the best conference around, and I say that as someone who has been to quite a few conferences. You will leave nourished and satisfied, with a head full of ideas that you maybe hadn’t considered before. And isn’t that what a great conference is about?

 


Justina Ireland is the author of the teen novels Vengeance Bound and Promise of Shadows. She enjoys dark chocolate and dark humor and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark. She lives with her husband, kid, and dog in Pennsylvania. You can visit her online at www.justinaireland.com.

 

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Inclusivity at Sirens: Kate Larking

Sirens is about voice: the voices of each individual attendee, how those voices come together in conversation, and how those conversations create a community. At Sirens, we want everyone to have an opportunity to use their voice, whether that’s as part of our programming schedule or late into the night over tea.

But we also know that building a space for those conversations—a space where everyone is willing to speak and, equally important, where everyone is willing to listen—is not so simple. So often, we as a society build barriers that prevent people from speaking, and so often those barriers are based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, or other identity—and so often those barriers also help others ignore those voices.

This year, we are featuring a series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard.

Sabrina Chin and Amy Tenbrink, Conference Chairs
 


 

I’m Kate Larking, reading and writing enthusiast, and I am one of the few people who has had the pleasure of attending Sirens every single year. I have been on the literary convention circuit for ten years, nine of them spent visiting Sirens each and every October. It’s quite the commitment, given the Canadian-American exchange rate and the international travel fares. But is it a pilgrimage I gladly make.

Sirens is more than a conference that focuses on women and other marginalized identities in speculative fiction. Sirens has become a community—a family—to me, my writing, and my reading. I’ve developed into the person I am because my wonderful experiences there, above all other conventions. If I only have the opportunity to attend one conference a year, I would choose Sirens—no contest, no comparisons needed.

Sirens’s growth this year has far surpassed expectations. After all, since I’ve been attending, the conference has held steady at a certain size. But for the 80% more new people, I am exhilarated—so many new voices, new experiences, new reading recommendations, and new friends to make!—and yet terrified. Sirens has become a safe place for me where I can be challenged to grow. I’m afraid of what may happen to the literary sphere I love. But the actions of the coordinators, assembling a group to write on intersectionality to ensure a lovely and lively community while at Sirens, gives me hope.

So let me illustrate to you what Sirens means to me:

When I was asked to write an article on intersectionality at Sirens, I immediately felt unqualified. Anyone would, after all. Each and every one of us is a single person among the world’s population. But I have come to understand that I am a cross-section of identities.

I am a cis white married lesbian mother, and a born-and-raised atheist Canadian. I am under the influence of depression more often than I—well, anyone—would like. This identity contributes to everything I do and everything I experience. Primarily, everything I create and everything I read.

My main creative project at the moment is the queer space opera webcomic, Crash and Burn. I work with a non-binary illustrator, Finn, and together we challenge existing prevalent queer narratives. We work hard to retain control over the comic, which means self-publishing, hand-selling at conventions, and speaking up about queer identities both in real life and fiction. The more I work on the comic and interact with readers in public spaces, the more aware I am of microaggressions and the weight they carry. Each time someone makes an insensitive statement (or asks a question) about the comic or us, the heavier it is to carry on through the day.

Actual statement at a convention: “Queer space opera? Who thinks of this stuff?”

It doesn’t stop at dialogue. The derogative and challenging rhetoric continues online, in review channels and in award nomination roundups:

Actual review excerpt: “I notice that the artist found it necessary to note that ‘they’ is/are ‘agender,’ and uses the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them’ in the preface; I do wonder why not use ‘xe’ and ‘xem’ as in the work? It would feel fitting—unless Finn is more than one person.”

As a queer person, working creatively in the face of these hurtful assumptions and comments can be difficult (understatement). On one hand, you want to create more, and assert the presence of these queer identities more. On the other hand, you are exhausted, frustrated, irritable, furious, and still trying to maintain a professional and affable exterior as required at a conference or convention. But it isn’t a queer person’s job to act as a sole ambassador and educator on their identity.

To combat these microaggressions and identity-challenges, we’ve deployed a few marketing tactics:

  1. We put “Queer space opera” on our biggest banner.
  2. Finn made a misgendering jar—like a swear jar but queer. Misgender one of us, pay a dollar (all proceeds go to an LGBT-supportive charity).
  3. We deployed flags from various queer identities represented in our work on the table, as a queer shorthand, to make that representation visible to those identities.

The banner does its job, I have to say. People see us across the hall, come over, and hear what we are about. And we love these passionate, enthusiastic, welcoming readers. They are kind and generous; they listen to our voices and learn from the context of our discussions of what they might need to Google and read up on later.

It works in other ways, too. Other people glance at the word queer and self-select away from our table. More often than not, it’s caregivers guiding their young charges away from us, as though we are more offensive than the scantily-clothed, misogynistic portrayal of women in comics at the table next to us. (In all honesty, we expect to meet the kids in person in a few years when this happens.) So while we’re fine with people self-selecting out, some of those would-be microaggressions become full-fledged aggressions.

Actual statement at a convention: “I want to let you know that I am not buying this because it is queer.”

I’m sharing these anecdotes because I want to make something very clear about these conventions versus this one:

Sirens is different.

One thing that unites us at Sirens is that we love developed, complex voices in speculative fiction. We embrace worlds that are different from our own and seek out the experiences of those who live within them. At Sirens, we don’t attack character identities in our discussions, criticize cultures, or apply an arbitrary-binary the character may or may not belong in.

The reason we read, the reason we gather, and the reason we discuss is to open our eyes, challenge our identity-based perspectives on the world, support representation and those represented, and grow together. And when we go home, we are stronger, wiser, better-informed, supported and supportive in our community.

 


 
Kate Larking is a book buyer for an independent bookstore. In her off hours, between binge-watching anime and leveling-up game characters, she writes speculative fiction for both young adult and adult markets. Her queer space opera comic, Crash and Burn, was a finalist for the 2016 and 2017 Aurora Award for best English Graphic Novel. She cofounded Anxiety Ink, a community of writers dealing with the stress and challenges of writing. She resides in Calgary, Alberta, with her wife, daughter, and six pets.
 

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Inclusivity at Sirens: s.e. smith

Sirens is about voice: the voices of each individual attendee, how those voices come together in conversation, and how those conversations create a community. At Sirens, we want everyone to have an opportunity to use their voice, whether that’s as part of our programming schedule or late into the night over tea.

But we also know that building a space for those conversations—a space where everyone is willing to speak and, equally important, where everyone is willing to listen—is not so simple. So often, we as a society build barriers that prevent people from speaking, and so often those barriers are based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, or other identity—and so often those barriers also help others ignore those voices.

This year, we are featuring a series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard.

Sabrina Chin and Amy Tenbrink, Conference Chairs

 


 

I first came to Sirens in 2012 because a fellow literature-loving friend needed a roommate, and I had a flexible schedule. I was hesitant at first, because of the way it was pitched to me: As a conference “for women in fantasy literature,” which sounded like a place not for me since while I am many things, a woman is not one of them.

“It’s small and intimate,” she said. “You’ll like it,” she said. And she was right. (She usually is.) (I’ve been back every year since.)

“What is someone who’s not a woman doing at a lady conference?” is, it turns out, a bit of a trick question, although people ask some variation of that question with a depressing degree of regularity. Sirens isn’t a lady conference: It is a conference celebrating women in fantasy, and one where people of all genders participate in the conversation and work to push it further. It is a place where for a few days, cis men don’t get to be the center of the universe.

One of the things I love most about Sirens is that it is a place that is challenging. It is a place where I feel comfortable asking difficult questions, and it is one where the lens is turned back on me, as well—Sirens is the place that it is because we expect more of each other, on both a personal and institutional level.

For some attendees this is a novel and discomfiting experience, especially those in positions of relative privilege who may feel unsettled when confronted with world-shifting realities. While Faye referred to “taking off armor” in her discussion of experiences with diversity and inclusion at Sirens, this goes deeper than that—it is not simply that Sirens is a week where (some) attendees feel comfortable and confident, but also that taking off your armor leaves you vulnerable. Tender. Soft.

At some point during the weekend, it’s likely someone will say something that upsets you because it disrupts your worldview. Someone will critique a book you adore from the position of an experience you don’t share—as for example a co-panelist did on a religion panel I did several years ago. Someone will comment that a character archetype that feels very intimate, that speaks to you, comes laden with oppressive baggage you were blissfully unaware of. Someone will make a comment about the barriers holding underrepresented people back in publishing, will ask why we have to work four times as hard for half the recognition, and it will sting.

Perhaps it will sting because you’ve never thought about this issue before, or in this way, and it hurts to be confronted with the fact that diversity sometimes comes with hard truths. Or maybe you thought this would be a fun weekend of fantasy, and you weren’t expecting to be confronted with harsh realities. Your first instinct may be to lash out, to find a way to minimize the pain you’re feeling, to make this a problem for another time.

But that’s not what Sirens is about, and you will be shortchanging yourself if you take that route. When my co-panelist criticized a book I’d just professed to loving in front of a room full of people, my first reaction wasn’t to shut her down, but to take up the challenge. I wanted to learn more. And I did, because she spoke about how her experience of religious themes in the book differed radically from my own. Because a Hindu, a Jew, a Christian, and an atheist sat down to have a conversation in front of a room full of people, unafraid to contradict each other, our understanding of faith and literature was cumulatively enriched.

Learning is hard. Sometimes learning is scary. And Sirens is indubitably a place to geek out about books and celebrate our mutual love for the people who aren’t cis men who write and read and love and star in fantasy literature but it is also a place of learning. We develop programming because we want to share our thoughts and enthusiasms with the world, and we attend programming because we want to learn something fascinating about a text or issue; one of my panels this year is about gender and witchcraft, and I’m deliriously excited about all the things I hope to discuss, from reading The Mists of Avalon after hearing the truth about Marion Zimmer Bradley to how N. K. Jemisin explores gender in The Fifth Season. I’m hoping to learn things from my panelists, and I hope the audience does too. Along the way, panelists may challenge each other, or get challenging questions from the audience, and that will make the discussion stronger, more inclusive.

If diversity is the presence of historically underrepresented groups, inclusion is the belief that we have equal footing, a right to speak and a right to be heard—in any contexts, but particularly when we are wounded. Sirens creates a space for having conversations about those wounds, even if they are sometimes sticky and uncomfortable, as they spill from panel to dining room to after hours next to the fire to next year’s conference. For those who haven’t been in diverse and inclusive spaces before, it can be a bit of a shock—and for those who have been in environments where lip service and buzzwords define these issues, it can be awakening to realize that “diversity and inclusion” isn’t just a phrase but a way of being.

Even as a member of several underrepresented groups at Sirens, I must constantly acknowledge that I am not exempt from challenge. My experience isn’t universal, nor is it applicable across sociocultural backgrounds, and I hold privilege, not least as a white person, even as I am also on the receiving end of oppression. Even as I warn others to prepare to shift their worldview, I warn myself, as well—someone may say something that hits a tender point of my own, that forces me to expand my understanding, that questions an internalized belief. This is a dance, a give and take, not a one-sided dynamic.

This applies to microaggressions as well—the seemingly small instances of oppression that get tossed off without thinking, making members of underrepresented groups feel uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the casual racist joke, the reference to someone disliked as “crazy,” a flip comment about someone with ambiguous gender. When you belong to one or more underrepresented groups, you spend a great deal of time in a complex calculus of deciding whether individual instances of oppression are “worth it” to deal with. Do you correct the dinner guest who refers to you by the wrong pronouns when you’ll likely never see that person again? Do you patiently tell the TSA officer that he’s pronouncing your name wrong? Do you swallow it, for the thousandth time, when people pointedly exclude the disability community from public discourse? Or do you speak up, be “that person”?

Sirens is filled with “those people” and that is why I keep returning—but it is up to the attendees of Sirens to support “those people” and cultivate an environment that fosters conversation and exchange.

 


 
s.e. smith is a Northern California-based writer with a focus on social justice issues. smith’s publication credits include The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Teen Vogue, Bitch Magazine, Vice, and In These Times, along with entries in several anthologies, including the upcoming (Don’t) Call Me Crazy.
 

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Sirens Newsletter – Volume 9, Issue 7 (June 2017)

In this issue:

 

2017 MILESTONES SO FAR

Last week, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink wrote about Sirens’s unprecedented growth, elaborated on this year’s conference theme of women who work magic, and waxed poetic on our nine-years-in-the-making community: “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.” Read the full post here.

 

INCLUSIVITY AT SIRENS

This month, we also kicked off an important series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard. In our first post, Faye Bi shares her Sirens experience and offers some food for thought for new and returning attendees: “[Sirens] doesn’t feel like battle, when so much of my daily life does. That’s a feeling to ponder, but also one to protect.” Read the rest of her post here.

 

REGISTRATION UPDATE

At this point in time, Sirens is sold out for 2017.

To individuals who have submitted programming proposals, a reminder that you have until July 9, 2017, to register and be paid in full for this year’s conference, after which the registration that we are holding for you will be made available to the public.

We’ll continue to post updates on registration availability on this blog, on our Twitter, and on our Facebook page. If you are still seeking a registration, we recommend that you check back on July 10. Please also watch our Twitter for announcements of any individuals seeking to sell their registrations.

 

PROGRAMMING

After the presenter registration deadline of July 9, we’ll be revealing this year’s presentations in small batches on this blog and on the Accepted Programming page! If you proposed programming and missed the email with the result of your proposal, please email (programming at sirensconference.org) right away. Thank you again to everyone who proposed programming this year!

 

HOTEL

This year, we have already had to ask the Hotel Talisa to make additional rooms available at the discounted Sirens rate twice! We are pleased to report that, as of last Monday, there are again discounted rooms in our block—but we strongly recommend that you book yours as soon as possible. You can find reservations information here.

 

ATTENDING AUTHORS

If you are a published author attending Sirens this year, let us know! We’d like to make sure we have your books available in our bookstore—and if you’d like, a place for you in our author signings. Please email Amy at (amy.tenbrink at sirensconference.org).

 

BOOKSTORE DONATIONS

Speaking of our bookstore, a few years ago, we began operating our own bookstore as a fundraiser for Sirens. This gives us the opportunity, in many ways in defiance of the commercial market, to stock our bookstore exclusively with fantasy books written by, or featuring, amazing women.

In many ways, our bookstore operates like any other bookstore: we acquire new books for sale just like anyone else. But in two ways, our bookstore is different. First, the Sirens community frequently donates new books, just to make sure that the bookstore includes them in its inventory; sometimes these attendees work for publishers or are donating books that they’ve written, but often, these attendees simply want to help make our bookstore as amazing as possible. Second, we have a used section of our bookstore where we offer gently used fantasy books for $5 each. That section of our bookstore is stocked entirely through donations.

If you would like to donate books to our bookstore, please send your books to the following address, to arrive no later than August 1, 2017. (And remember, if you’re shipping only books, the USPS media mail option is terrifically cheap, but terrifically slow, so please leave time for your package to arrive.)

Sirens
c/o Narrate Conferences
P.O. Box 149
Sedalia, Colorado 80135

 

BOOKS AND BREAKFAST

Sirens veterans know that we select a variety of popular, controversial, and just plain brilliant books related to our theme—and invite attendees to bring their breakfast on Friday and Saturday mornings of the conference to discuss. Here are this year’s selections:

Friday, October 27

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves
This Strange Way of Dying by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Saturday, October 28

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter
Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
The Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman

For 2017, we’re spotlighting three books per month, so you can plan your reading and join us! Check out our post on The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Slice of Cherry, and The Land of Love and Dreaming here.

 

AMY’S BOOK CLUB

Sister Mine

For June, Sirens co-founder Amy Tenbrink read Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine. Read her review, coming out later this week, over on the blog and on Goodreads.

 

READ ALONG WITH FAYE

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

This month, Faye read Emily Croy Barker’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic in pursuit of the 2017 Reading Challenge, which she recommends for readers who “like reluctant heroines…[and] can stomach unlikable protagonists.” Check out her review on the blog and on Goodreads.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT…


Interesting Links

 


Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).

 

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Inclusivity at Sirens: Faye Bi

Sirens is about voice: the voices of each individual attendee, how those voices come together in conversation, and how those conversations create a community. At Sirens, we want everyone to have an opportunity to use their voice, whether that’s as part of our programming schedule or late into the night over tea.

But we also know that building a space for those conversations—a space where everyone is willing to speak and, equally important, where everyone is willing to listen—is not so simple. So often, we as a society build barriers that prevent people from speaking, and so often those barriers are based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, or other identity—and so often those barriers also help others ignore those voices.

This year, we are featuring a series of posts addressing diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality at Sirens in order to highlight voices that are both vital to our community and are too often unheard.

Sabrina Chin and Amy Tenbrink, Conference Chairs

 


 

Back in 2009, I followed a link from Sherwood Smith’s LiveJournal post to learn about this conference featuring women in fantasy literature. It was called Sirens, she’d announced, and she was a guest of honor, along with Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore. Sherwood alone would have convinced my broke little college-student heart to book my flights, but Tamora Pierce as well, the creator of my childhood idol Keladry of Mindelan of the Protector of the Small books? Did it matter that I’d never attended a convention or conference before? Or that I knew nobody at all except Sherwood?

It’s been nine years since I first attended Sirens. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about myself—as a reader, a woman, and an immigrant of Chinese heritage who grew up in eastern Canada and now lives in New York City. Back then, I was fresh out of my teen years and switching college majors from engineering to anthropology, and I certainly hadn’t read a book for fun since high school. (Thanks, Sirens peeps, for introducing me to the works of Suzanne Collins and Gail Carriger that year!) Nowadays, I’m a book publishing professional with almost seven years of publicity and marketing experience. I have my habits, preferences, and biases. I am introverted, discerning when it comes to my reading material, unafraid of sharing my opinions, and comfortable in my own skin.

Over the last nine years, I’ve also learned lot about the world. I’m shaken up by rage-inducing injustices happening around me every day, but I still must find the strength to leave my house, go to work, and generally be out in public. I’ve perfected my resting bitch face (sharp mouth, distant gaze), my purposeful walk (no stopping, look up directions ahead of time), and my snappy comebacks (only used in a safe environment with other people around, natch). Though I am confident in my identity, it is oftentimes hard to be in this body: this petite, Chinese immigrant female body on which people often project their expectations and stereotypes. I’m no stranger to being overlooked or underestimated. I can no longer keep count the number of microaggressions and instances of flat-out bigotry I’ve experienced by strangers, colleagues, or even “friends.” If you asked me if a good chunk of my personality is a reaction to this, I would say yes, it’s my armor.

In 2009, discussions of diversity, representation, and inclusiveness in the book community were still rumblings—present for a long time, but under the radar. Now, they’ve rightfully become headlining topics in pop culture and entertainment as a whole. Sirens, too, has clearly evolved to become more intersectional in its focus. I delight in discovering new fantasy writers of diverse backgrounds who are invited as guests of honor, and whose books appear on our on reading lists and featured in programming sessions. (No one back in 2011 can forget Nnedi Okorafor’s monstrously amazing keynote, either!) But it’s the community, made up of all stripes of people who love reading and discussing women in fantasy literature, that makes Sirens so incredibly special. I’ve made lifelong friends and comrades-in-arms, especially when it comes to the rage-inducing bullshit we face on a daily basis. It’s a treat to reunite with old friends every year, but it is equally as exciting meeting new attendees. It can be daunting, but let this introvert who remembers her first year very well tell you:

The year when the Sirens theme was Rebels and Revolutionaries, a Sirens Studio faculty member shared that “Sirens is the one weekend each year that doesn’t feel like battle.” I choked up upon hearing this utter truth about the community I’m so proud to be part of, and the comfort I feel interacting with its members. Because it doesn’t feel like battle, when so much of my daily life does. That’s a feeling to ponder, but also one to protect. Sirens works very hard to maintain that atmosphere of conducive conversation, healthy debate, and learning. Each October, and throughout the year as a staff member, I interact with many members of our community, some of whom are very different than me. I always keep in mind a few things: Not everyone has my thoughts. Not everyone has my body. Not everyone has my experiences. Not everyone likes the same books. (Though sometimes we all love the same book and that’s awesome!) Most people have heard of intersectionality and have varying levels of awareness. If you haven’t, I advise you to do some research—I promise it’s worth it.

There are, and will be, times of disagreement and possibly discomfort—when someone makes an ignorant comment at a roundtable or a moderator doesn’t call out a panelist’s microaggression. When you’re just lounging in the lobby talking about the latest bestseller or between breaks at Bedtime Stories, you might overhear someone say, “Well you’re Asian, what did you think about the book?” or “I don’t understand asexuality. Can you explain it to me?” As open and aware as we’ve become, we’re not perfect. I know most Sirens attendees don’t look like me. But I also know, as a cisgendered mostly heterosexual woman, that I have much to learn from others as well. Most progress happens in that hazy space of uncomfortable conversations and being challenged. I remember one Sirens attendee passionately critiquing a short story by an author I really loved, saying that the author, no matter how unintentionally, appropriated her culture’s religion and myth for a “fantasy” setting and flavor. Or how another attendee wasn’t comfortable with a book’s inconsistent use of pronouns for a trans character, something I hadn’t thought of until it was pointed out to me.

The conversations at Sirens are spirited and lively, as they often are when a group of whip-smart, opinionated, voracious readers come together. I try to enter every interaction with good intentions, a pursuit of understanding, and respect. Sometimes I also need to do the emotional work of engaging with others different than me, especially if they are from a marginalized group (person of color, varying ability, genderqueer, neuro-atypical, and so on). I encourage every Sirens attendee, new and returning, to do that as well. Sometimes I make mistakes; when someone disagrees with me, I hope they feel comfortable telling me so, hopefully acknowledging that I did so out of ignorance and not malice. I know how much work it can be to explain my existence to other people. The difference at Sirens is that I’m encouraged to share my perspective—if I want to.

This kind of community requires active participation of its members to be great, so Sirens needs all of you. This is a hard line to walk. I did, and still do, a lot of listening. And for those of you peeling off your armor, even for a weekend, I hope it’s as much of a relief for you as it is for me.

 


 
Faye Bi works as a book publicist in New York City, and leads the Sirens communications team. She’s yet to read an immigrant story she hasn’t cried over, and is happiest planning nerdy parties, capping off a long run with brunch, and cycling along the East River.
 

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Milestones

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.

Undeniably yours,
Amy
Sirens co-founder and co-chair

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