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Archive for January 2020

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising: Exemplary Programming Proposals

Sirens has a mission: to provide a welcoming space for our attendees to discuss the remarkable, diverse women and nonbinary people of fantasy literature. Each year, Sirens raises funds to provide scholarships to help a number of people attend Sirens and add their voices to those conversations and community. Our scholarship fundraising will continue through January, but this week, we want to highlight the importance of our scholarships for those who submit exemplary programming proposals. Last week, we discussed our scholarships for people of color; future weeks will address scholarships for those with financial hardships, and librarians, educators, and publishing professionals.

Sirens’s programming might be different than anything you’ve seen before.

While many conferences select which topics are worthy of presentation, and which individuals are worthy of presenting those topics, Sirens takes a wholly different approach. We invite everyone attending Sirens to propose programming.

Let us say that again: We invite everyone attending Sirens—regardless of vocation, regardless of age, regardless of past Sirens attendance—to propose programming.

Each year, dozens of individuals—from readers to scholars to librarians to authors—propose the lectures, papers, panels, workshops, roundtables, and afternoon classes that become the programming at Sirens. And each year, an independent vetting board, a diverse group of tremendous individuals who know and love Sirens, review those proposals for thoughtfulness and relevance, and then select which to include on that year’s programming schedule.

This process can be intimidating, especially for those new to Sirens: It takes a lot of courage to put your thoughts and analysis out there, first to a review board and then at Sirens itself.

But each year, dozens of individuals, some of them Sirens veterans and some of them first-time attendees, screw their courage to the proverbial sticking place and propose programming—and, in doing so, make Sirens smarter, more thoughtful, and just plain better.

And so, each year, we award scholarships to those who submit exemplary programming proposals. A scholarship review committee examines the accepted proposals of those who ask to be considered and selects three proposals to receive a scholarship. Each scholarship includes both a registration and a Sirens Shuttle ticket. There’s no separate application; presenters can opt in for consideration during the programming proposal submissions process later this year.

While a thousand conversations happen at Sirens every year, the true vanguard of those discussions are the brave and brilliant individuals who share their wisdom and expertise as part of our programming.

If you can—whether that’s $5 or a full scholarship of $325—we hope that you’ll help us provide these scholarships!

Donations for the scholarship program will be accepted through January 31, 2020.

Gideon the Ninth

Each year, Sirens chair Amy Tenbrink posts monthly reviews of new-to-her fantasy books by women and nonbinary authors. You can find all of her reviews at the Sirens Goodreads Group. We invite you to read along and discuss!

Gideon the Ninth

I was fully prepared to dislike Gideon the Ninth.

Because everyone loved Gideon the Ninth.

It’s not so much that I’m contrarian by nature—though I’m sure the patriarchy thinks I am—but that I have a list of speculative works as long as my arm that everyone loved and I really did not. Books that I quit at page 50. Books that I threw across the room at page 300. Books that I put down and forgot to ever pick up again. Books that I finished under duress. Books that I finished so that, in all seriousness, I could hate them properly. I will not name names.

But everyone loved these books.

I did not.

Everyone loved Gideon the Ninth.

I was fully prepared to not.

But will wonders never cease: I, too, loved Gideon the Ninth.


All the books I love have two things in common, regardless of genre or category or author or publication date: an unflinching defiance and a blazing ambition. These books that I love are rarely—but only rarely—perfect. Instead, these books often trip over the sheer force of their defiance or their ambition. And that is why I love them: I am far more interested in cataclysmic, rage-filled defiance and formidable, shoot-for-the-moon ambition than I am in perfection.

Which is to say that, if you’re trying to understand what I loved about Gideon the Ninth, you have to understand that I love White Is for Witching more than Gingerbread, and Who Fears Death more than Lagoon, and American Hippo more than Magic for Liars, and The Stars Are Legion even though I like neither space opera nor body horror, and Food of the Gods despite that it’s gore-strewn chaos, and Conservation of Shadows more than just about anything. My literary love is defiance and ambition, so much so that a messy book born of too much of either is far, far preferable to a perfect book born of less.

And while Gideon the Ninth is a number of things—including, yes, a story of lesbian necromancers in space—its heart is author Tamsyn Muir’s unrelenting defiance and ambition.


Somewhere in space, in some year, there are nine houses, eight beholden to the First, all adept at necromancy, all weird as fuck in a raw, all-id sort of way that reads as both endlessly fascinating and wholly authentic. People are weird, man, and consistent with basically everything ever, royalty-equivalent necromancers are weirder than most.

Gideon Nav is a foot-soldier in the Ninth House who really, really, really wants to leave the Ninth House’s planet and go far, far away and fight in a war she doesn’t really understand and maybe someday not be indentured to anyone, let alone to super-creepy Harrowhark the Ninth, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House. Gideon and Harrow loathe each other, for reasons that it takes a whole book to explain, and as the book opens, Gideon is attempting to escape and Harrow wants her to stay and do her a favor. A challenge is issued and accepted. Neither Gideon nor Harrow plays fair—Gideon is tremendous with a two-handed sword, Harrow is perhaps best in the galaxy at necromancy, neither has many qualms or morals—but Harrow offered the rules, and though she and Gideon are relatively evenly matched, she tricks Gideon into acting as her cavalier primary for some weird-ass competition that the Emperor is throwing for the other eight Houses.

Shades of The Hunger Games abound, but Gideon the Ninth turns on distrust, cleverness, and gothic-style mystery more than desperation-fed, almost accidental revolution. Eight necromancers and their cavaliers primary—presumptively, each House’s intelligence and strength—are abandoned in an unknown building full of dangerous riddles and a single rule. Each necromancer is unfailingly ambitious, though each plays the game quite differently. Each cavalier primary is seemingly unfailingly loyal, except Gideon, who would frankly rather stab Harrow in the back with her teensy-weensy cavalier sword than help her solve riddles.

The heart of Gideon the Ninth is not lesbians nor necromancers nor space, but the fully realized relationship between necromancer and cavalier primary—a bond presumed closer than love, closer than blood—that Muir creates not once, but eight unique times. The generations of tradition that underlie these relationships, and the weight afforded to any breach of those protocols, are tangible. Much is made of the fact that Gideon was not trained as the Ninth House’s cavalier primary, but rather takes over from some wholly inept dude and learns a new fighting style. Much is made of the fact that Gideon rejects more traditional secondary weapons in favor of the close-range knuckle knife. More is made of the fact that, in Gideon’s first challenge as the Ninth House’s cavalier primary, her opponent disarms her and she retaliates by punching him. He goes down, gasping for breath, and a shocked spectator notes that he won the challenge, but Gideon won the battle, specifically by not following the rules.

And in that sort of exchange—which happens over and over and over again as Gideon or Harrow or both defy the rules, defy expectations, pursue their own desires, and ultimately reshape their own necromancer-cavalier primary relationship in a way that involves a leviathan sacrifice, but continues to subvert generations of history—demonstrates both Muir’s defiance and her ambition. Gideon the Ninth is not a revolution book (though the Locked Tomb series may well be), and yet it is: Because everything that Gideon or Harrow does, everything that Gideon or Harrow says, everything that Gideon or Harrow is—Harrow’s refusal to care about others, Gideon’s hilarious-yet-fully-felt insults, Gideon’s biceps, Harrow’s blood magic, Gideon’s sunglasses, Harrow’s face paint—is a defiant, ambitious revolution for the reader.

Rude, unlikeable, self-absorbed, brilliant, powerful women always are.


If you’re reading closely, you’ll be wondering right about now if Gideon the Ninth is a messy sort of book. It is. The world-building isn’t quite fully realized: I think it is in Muir’s head, but it didn’t quite make it on the page. The plot, particularly plot points surrounding the geography of the giant, gothic building they inhabit, is sometimes muddled. Going on twenty important characters, even if fully individual and fascinating, are too many people to keep track of, so you’ll breathe a sigh of relief when Muir starts killing them off. The necromancy magic is incomprehensible, though what matters for following the story is logic, not any real understanding of how the necromancers do what they do. It is, indeed, messy.

But if, like me, you’re less concerned with tidiness than you are with female characters who are defiantly unfettered by the rules that are meant to bind them, and Muir’s tremendous ambition in putting that on a page, you’ll love Gideon the Ninth, too.


Amy Tenbrink spends her days handling strategic and intellectual property transactions as an executive vice president for a major media company. Her nights and weekends over the last twenty-five years have involved managing a wide variety of events, including theatrical productions, marching band shows, sporting events, and interdisciplinary conferences. Most recently, she has organized three Harry Potter conferences (The Witching Hour, in Salem, Massachusetts; Phoenix Rising, in the French Quarter of New Orleans; and Terminus, in downtown Chicago) and ten years of Sirens. Her experience includes all aspects of event planning, from logistics and marketing to legal consulting and budget management, and she holds degrees with honors from both the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music and the Georgetown University Law Center. She likes nothing so much as monster girls, Weasleys, and a well-planned revolution.

 

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising: Jennifer Shimada

As we raise funds for our annual scholarships, Sirens is featuring posts by past scholarship winners. We hope that these posts will help potential donors see the impact of these scholarships and how they work to make Sirens’s conversations and community more vibrant, more diverse, and more inclusive. This week, our guest post is by Jennifer Shimada, a past recipient of a Sirens scholarship for people of color. Later this month, we’ll feature posts by other past recipients. These perspectives were first published in 2017.

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. 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 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 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.


 

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising: People of Color

Sirens has a mission: to provide a welcoming space for our attendees to discuss the remarkable, diverse women and nonbinary people of fantasy literature. Each year, Sirens raises funds to provide scholarships to help a number of people attend Sirens and add their voices to those conversations and community. Our scholarship fundraising will continue through January, but this week, we wanted to highlight the importance of our scholarships for people of color. Future weeks will address scholarships for those who submit exemplary programming proposals; those with financial hardships; and librarians, educators, and publishing professionals.

Sirens is built on a thousand conversations. We specifically designed Sirens to be an interdisciplinary conference where a reader’s interpretation of a book is just as important as an author’s intent in writing it, where a scholar can learn from a librarian, and where a teacher and a bookseller can collaborate on a course curriculum for learning through fantasy literature.

But also critical to those conversations are diversity and inclusiveness. Are people of all genders, all
gender expressions, all sexualities, all races, all religions, all national origins, all abilities, all ages, all body types, and a number of other identities welcome not only at Sirens, but in those conversations? Are they able to both speak and be heard? Are their voices critical to not only their own Sirens experience, but to everyone’s Sirens experience?

Can you help us reach our goal of including more voices in Sirens?

Over our decade of presenting Sirens, we have learned that, while some voices are readily welcomed and readily heard, other voices—such as those of people of color—are too often lost in the crowd or are silenced entirely.

Too often, conferences—even in our speculative spaces where authors can and do write impossible worlds full of magic and wonder—are overwhelmingly white. Too often, the voices at these conferences—guests of honor, presenters, conference staff, volunteers—are overwhelmingly white. Too often, conferences make a broad commitment to diversity, but don’t follow through to make that commitment real. It can be exceptionally difficult for people of color to enter, participate, and be heard in those spaces, let alone play a vital and visible role in them.

One actionable way for our community to increase inclusiveness at Sirens is to provide scholarships to help people of color attend. This year, we are seeking funds to provide three people of color with both a Sirens registration and a round-trip Sirens Shuttle ticket. Once funded, we will accept applications for these scholarships beginning in February. To apply, you need only be a person of color who wishes to attend Sirens—and if you are, we hope that you’ll apply! We will select recipients randomly from among the applicants.

Sirens is built on a thousand conversations. But the value of those conversations—and the value of the community born of those conversations—is built on the diversity of voices that participate in those conversations.

If you can—whether that’s $5 or a full scholarship of $325—we hope that you’ll help us provide these scholarships!


 

New Fantasy Books: November through January

We’re excited to bring you a roundup of November 2019 through January 2020 fantasy book releases by and about women and nonbinary folk. Let us know what you’re looking forward to, or any titles that we’ve missed, in the comments!
 

Sirens Scholarship Fundraising

Thank you to everyone who donated generously to fund our scholarships this year. Our fundraising for our 2020 scholarships is complete, but if you’d like to donate to Sirens itself, please visit our donation page to see the types of support we can most use.

In 2020, because of the generosity of the Sirens community, we are pleased to offer sixteen scholarships—a record number!—across four categories: people of color; those submitting exemplary programming proposals; those with financial hardships; and librarians, educators, and publishing professionals. Please see our scholarships page for more information and how to apply.

Can you help us reach our goal of including more voices in Sirens?

Sirens has a mission: to provide a welcoming space for our attendees to discuss the remarkable, diverse women and nonbinary people of fantasy literature. As part of that mission, we specifically craft Sirens to include and amplify the many brilliant voices of our attendees. Our greatest hope is that these voices will represent both different perspectives—reader, scholar, educator, librarian, author—and individuals of different genders, sexualities, races, religions, and abilities.

Each year, we invite the Sirens community to help make attendance possible for a number of individuals. As in past years, these scholarships will support people of color; those submitting exemplary programming proposals; those with financial hardships; and librarians, educators, and publishing professionals. These perspectives are critical to our conversations, and these individuals sometimes find it difficult to attend without additional support.

We are asking for your help! We want to provide twelve Sirens scholarships this year. To do so, we need to raise $3,900. That amount will provide a Sirens registration and a round-trip Sirens Shuttle ticket to each recipient.

We know that, just like in previous years, our community can make Sirens possible for others.


 

Scholarship Donors

Anonymous (14 donors)
Haviva Avirom
Rachel Baxley
Meg Belviso
Edith Hope Bishop
Brandi
Allyson Burns
Kirstee Byrne
Matt Chin
Collin
Kelly Evans
Stina Grossman
Zen H
A. J. Hackwith
In Honor of Amy Kelly
Christine Kling
Kate Larking
Stella Luna
Catherine Lundoff
Cass Morris
Emory Noakes
Sharina Pratt
Carolyn Rogers
One of the Sarahs
Sharon
Jennifer Shimada
Simon
Amy Tenbrink
K.B. Wagers
The World Confederation of Pirates and Ninja

 

What kinds of scholarships will be available?

Scholarships will cover both a Sirens registration and a Sirens Shuttle ticket for each recipient. We’re hoping to receive enough funds to cover the following proposed scholarships, designed to serve a multitude of potential attendees. But in the event that we don’t, we will fund scholarships in the following order:

  • People of Color
    People of color live in a world that often tells them that they don’t belong or that their voices don’t matter, particularly in speculative fiction. One way to support including people of color at Sirens and amplifying their voices is to provide scholarships specifically for them. Sirens hopes to provide three Sirens registrations and round-trip Sirens Shuttle tickets in order to help people of color attend Sirens. These scholarships will be awarded to applicants by random selection.

  • Programming Presenters
    Every voice at Sirens is vital to the vibrancy, diversity, and inclusiveness of our conversations, and we always appreciate the skill, talent, and expertise that our accepted programming presenters have volunteered to share with our community. This year, Sirens hopes to award three people who submit exemplary programming proposals with a Sirens registration and round-trip Sirens Shuttle ticket. (Selected presentations with co-presenters who have opted in for scholarship eligibility may share the funds across selected presenters.) These are merit-based scholarships, based on presentation summaries and abstracts only, and will be selected by a committee. Please note that if you’ve received a programming scholarship in the last two years, you are not eligible this year (though your co-presenters may be).

  • Financial Hardship
    People sometimes say that money makes the world go ’round; we’d like to counter with the idea that generosity makes the world go ’round. Not all individuals who wish to attend Sirens can afford to do so, and you can help make Sirens a possibility for those who can’t. Sirens would like to award three recipients with a Sirens registration and round-trip Sirens Shuttle ticket, in the hopes that this will enable them to attend Sirens in the fall. These scholarships will be awarded to qualified applicants by random selection. Please note that if you’ve received a financial hardship scholarship in the last two years, you are not eligible this year.

  • Professionals
    Librarians, educators, and publishing professionals provide exceptional services to book-loving communities—and are, especially at the beginning of their careers or when working for underserved populations, often paid poorly for their efforts. Therefore, we would like to raise funds to provide a Sirens registration and round-trip Sirens Shuttle ticket to one librarian, one educator, and one publishing professional (including agents and booksellers). Their work—and their voices—are critically important to our conversations. These scholarships will be awarded to qualified applicants by random selection. Please note that if you’ve received a professionals scholarship in the last two years, you are not eligible this year.

 

Why doesn’t Sirens fund the scholarships?

Sirens endeavors to keep the cost of Sirens as low as possible for everyone. Each year, we raise thousands of dollars in donations, auction proceeds, and other fundraising to cover the cost of presenting Sirens itself—costs that include not only overhead items like audiovisual equipment and insurance, but also a portion of individual attendee costs like food and registration t-shirts.

We could simply raise our registration prices. But instead, we suppress our registration prices—and then ask those who are able to pay more to donate, to purchase auction items, and to fund scholarships. We hope that, if you can, you’ll help us raise these funds!

 


 

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