2020 Programming: Papers and Lectures

At Sirens, programming means the dozens of hours of papers, lectures, panels, roundtable discussions, workshops, and afternoon classes that make up the heart of Sirens. In our 2020 programming series, we’re doing a deeper dive on each presentation format; this information will both help potential presenters select the proper format for their concept and provide details on proposal requirements. We also suggest that potential presenters read how Sirens programming works and our tips, tricks, and frequently asked questions. Later this month, we’ll review panels, roundtable discussions, and workshops/afternoon classes. You can submit a proposal any time from March 16 to May 15.

Papers and lectures are our umbrella terms for a presentation format in which a single presenter or a coordinated team convey research, analysis, or other information. Maybe you’re a reader who wants to examine common tropes of origin stories in comic books, or an educator who wants to deconstruct the idea of a literary canon, or a pair of publishing professionals who want to analyze challenges in the publication of fantasy work. These approaches to these topics would make terrific papers or lectures.

The difference between a paper and a lecture, at least to Sirens, is quite small. You’re welcome to read a paper, give a slide presentation, or simply speak from your notes. Please note that you need not provide your paper or slides as part of the submissions process, though you may want to have us publish them in our compendium following Sirens.

Papers and lectures require advance research—though “research” can mean a number of things. As this format is ideal for sharing specialized information, we anticipate that papers and lectures will depend upon some amount of research. Scholarly papers, certainly, are heavily researched (usually for academic work that is relevant to Sirens), but even a reader’s textual analysis, a course curriculum presentation, or an overview of legal provisions will involve gathering information prior to the presentation. Depending on your topic and your existing knowledge, your research needs may vary. You might hit the library, conduct a survey, or re-read a book series (or re-watch some TV!) to take notes.

Papers and lectures may be 25 or 50 minutes long. Shorter slots generally are equivalent to reading 6—10 pages of a double-spaced paper. Some presenters may prefer the longer period, especially if they want to dedicate time for audience questions; these presenters will need closer to 10—15 double-spaced pages to read or the equivalent in speaking notes. We encourage presenters to practice and time their presentations prior to arriving at Sirens.

You can collaborate on papers and lectures. Often, individuals with complementary expertise or shared opinions on a topic will co-present a paper or lecture. This can work in two ways: (1) the presenters co-present the topic itself in a way that works for them (perhaps presenting jointly or splitting a topic into sub-parts), or (2) the presenters propose pre-empaneled papers. If you and your co-presenters generally tend to agree on a topic, we strongly encourage you to consider proposing a paper or lecture instead of a panel, which is a format best suited for discussion and debate among panelists with different perspectives.

Pre-empaneled papers—a series of two or more papers or lectures on a similar topic or theme—are one option for multiple presenters. Pre-empaneled papers are proposed as a unit but presented individually in sequence. Each presenter will have 25 minutes to present their individual paper. If presenters prefer, a moderator (who may or may not contribute a paper) may organize the group and keep everything on time, perhaps also leading the audience question period (or even asking questions of the presenters).

Proposal requirements include a presenter biography (50–100 words), a presentation summary (50–100 words), and a detailed abstract (300–500 words). We will publish the biography and the summary on our website and in our program book to help attendees navigate our programming and decide which presentations they’d like to attend. The abstract is for the vetting board: It should explain your topic and approach, be far more in depth than your summary, and demonstrate your research, analysis, and conclusion.

In co-presented papers and lectures (including pre-empaneled papers), each presenter must provide a biography. In pre-empaneled papers, each presenter must also provide an abstract for their individual paper or lecture.

Room set-up includes a microphone, a podium and table, projection equipment, and a small dry erase board and easel. We can accommodate a variety of presentation styles, and we ask that, as part of your proposal, you specify how you will use projection equipment so that we can prioritize it for presentations that particularly need it. Presenters are welcome to stand or sit, though we do require that you use the microphone, as it makes your presentation more accessible to the audience.


Looking for help or inspiration?

  • Join us for a programming chat! Anyone interested in submitting a proposal can stop by to brainstorm, find collaborators, and get one-on-one advice from our programming staff. They don’t make the selection decisions, but they’re full of thoughts that might be helpful! Chat will be held here at the following times:

    Sunday, March 22, 2–4pm Eastern (11am–1pm Pacific)
    Monday, May 4, 9–11pm Eastern (6–8pm Pacific)

  • Free Topics: Throughout March and April, we’ll be tweeting programming topics that are free for you to take, develop, and use in your programming proposal. You might take them as is, you might use them as inspiration, or you might find that they get your brain moving! Follow us on Twitter @sirens_con or check out #SirensBrainstorm.

  • More Questions: Email us! You can contact our programming team at (programming at


Examples of summaries of past papers and lectures from Sirens:

  • Heroic Fantasy Saves Lives by Shaista Fenwick: This presentation explores how heroic fantasy reading and writing can be part of pedagogical practice and therapeutic interactions with school age children and adults as a mechanism for de-escalation of diagnosed and invisible trauma (including ACEs). Attendees will leave with a vocabulary of theory and research supporting the need for heroic fantasy generation and consumption by women and nonbinary folks in mainstream education and therapeutic settings.

  • Trends in Speculative Poetry by Disabled Poets by Lisa M. Bradley: “Speculative poetry by disabled poets” may sound like a very narrow niche, but it’s actually quite expansive. Learn the current trends in fantasy poetry written by disabled poets and how these trends differ from those in the wider spec field. What do merfolk and changelings mean for poets with disabilities? For that matter, who identifies as a disabled poet, and how do gender, race, and ethnicity interact in their poetry? Disabled poet and editor Lisa M. Bradley will share insights from editing the poetry for Uncanny Magazine’s special issue “Disabled People Destroy Fantasy.”

  • Intersecting Magics: Examining Assemblages of Magic and Technology in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti by Alyssa Collins: This paper examines the intersections of magic and technology in the novellas of Nnedi Okorafor. Okorafor’s Binti series prompts us to think about the particular ways in which the black fantastic and black technological practices align to create moments of history-making and memorialization, especially in the community-building moments after persecution or state violence. This paper examines not only the operations of such magic and technology in the text, but also gestures to the affordances of such magical and technological thinking in what can be seen as analogous memorializing and community-building moments in black contemporary culture.

  • Sorceresses Transgress: Examining Treatment of Female Magic Users by Casey Blair: Fantasy literature is rife with incredible sorceresses, witches, and other female magic users. Magic can be an avenue for female characters to play an integral role in an otherwise patriarchal narrative, but does that approach give women power, or is it another kind of trap? This paper will discuss the ways magic is used to empower and constrain female characters, from the evolution of tropes casting feminine magic as “good” or “evil” to the limitations and opportunities for female magic users in their worlds—and what that says about ours.

And the two separate summaries from a set of pre-empaneled papers:

  • Reading Bodies by Bethany Powell and Charis M. Ellison:

    • The Page Is No Mirror: The Limited Bodies of Literature

      A woman checking out her sexiness in a way so rooted in male gaze as to be ridiculous makes the rounds of Lit-Twitter, and it is easy to laugh. The more troubling undercurrent takes more time to deal with–our bodies are often not on the page in a way we see them. Often, too, we are presented with false dichotomies: thin or fat? Strong or weak? Nerdy or athletic? Our bodies can be as complex in identity as our minds. This essay explores how we read outside ourselves and how disembodying that process can be.

    • Where Are the Fat Girls? The Absence of Plus-Size Characters in Fantasy Literature

      In popular culture, fat bodies are discussed most frequently in terms of negative space: pounds lost, dress sizes dropped, the empty half of a pair of giant trousers. This void extends deeply into the worlds of fantasy literature, art, and film. Despite the boundless opportunities presented by the genre for women to explore new worlds, identities, and power, fat women continue to be a notable absence. This presentation is both personal essay about the experience of being a fat woman, and an exploration of fat representation in fantasy, including discussion of existing fat characters and misconceptions about fat bodies.

For more examples of past programming, visit our archive.


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