Sirens was designed for me. I knew that as soon as I heard about it in its very first year. A small conference centered specifically on women, on fantasy, and on literature, with a mixture of scholarly discussion and enthusiastic, nerdy fun? Nothing had ever sounded so much like me in my life. Plus, the three guests of honor that year–Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce, and Sherwood Smith–had all been incredibly formative for me as a reader, and I couldn’t believe I might have a chance to meet them in person. But I was a broke college student then, and while my parents agreed to gift me the flight from their frequent flyer credits, I couldn’t figure out how to get the time off class or the rest of the money I needed for the hotel and registration.
While I didn’t end up attending Sirens in 2009, I eagerly read recaps from attendees to live vicariously through their experiences. I continued to keep an eye on Sirens over the next six years, wishing I could attend and discuss themes like faeries or tales retold and meet other favorite authors who came as guests of honor or presenters. But year after year, money and time and life kept me from being able to go.
In 2015, I found out that the theme for Sirens was rebels and revolutionaries and started champing at the bit to attend. By this time, I had a full-time job with available vacation time, and could technically afford to go. But I’d never been to a literary conference or fan convention before, and I wouldn’t know anyone there. As a shy introvert who budgets carefully, I wasn’t sure if I could make the leap to spend that much money on something new and therefore scary.
Then I found out that for the first time, the Sirens community had donated money towards three scholarships specifically for people of color, to be administered by Con or Bust. And once again, it felt like Sirens was designed for me.
Only this time, it wasn’t just that Sirens was designed to include me, a woman who reads fantasy literature, but also that it was designed to include me, a woman of color who reads fantasy literature.
I applied for the scholarship and received it, I earned enough airline credit for a free flight, I found a stranger online who was willing to be my roommate…and I ran out of excuses not to attend.
Once I got to Sirens, I found that the community was, just as the scholarship indicated, eager to welcome and listen to a woman of color who wasn’t even a scholar or author or publishing professional. The conversations, both formal and informal, discussed not only white, able-bodied, cishet women, but women of many intersecting, often marginalized identities. Though no community is perfectly inclusive and equitable, the people who attend Sirens are generally willing to listen, to learn, and to work to change both themselves and Sirens for the better.
I live in a world that often tells women of color like me that we don’t belong, that our voices don’t matter. But the Sirens community reached out through Con or Bust and that scholarship to tell me that they thought my voice was important. And now, as a proud member of the Sirens community myself, I’m asking my fellow Sirens: please donate towards the twelve Sirens scholarships. By giving even just a few dollars, we tell people of color, presenters, those with financial hardships, and professionals that we see them, that their voices matter, and that we want them to join our community. Sirens is designed for them, too.
Jennifer Shimada is a fantasy reader, tea drinker, world traveler, and academic librarian. She is originally from California, earned a BA in history in Texas, taught 5th grade in Oklahoma, and currently works at a graduate school of education in New York. Along the way, Jennifer earned a MLIS from San Jose State University.