Presenting Sirens each year is a big job, one that some days is a joy and other days seems like an impossibly long to-do list. While dozens of folks contribute to Sirens in a number of ways—presenting programming, reviewing inventory, sorting supplies—it takes nearly 20 staff working year-round to produce Sirens itself. From budgeting to registration assistance, managing our programming proposal process to developing our systems, these folks contribute thousands of volunteer hours each year, not to mention their energy and expertise, to making sure that Sirens not only happens, but happens in a way that makes us proud.
In most years, you would have the opportunity to meet our team during Sirens itself. Some are visible, like the information desk team that checks you into the conference or the bookstore team that helps you find your next One True Book. Some are less visible, like the audio-visual team moving equipment in the middle of the night or the logistics team working with the hotel catering staff to make sure that everyone can eat safely. But 2020 is certainly not most years and we’ll miss introducing you to our team at Sirens—so we thought we’d introduce you to them online!
While Sirens is a one-weekend-a-year conference, our Communications Team is a 365-days-a-year team! These talented folks take what you love about Sirens—the thoughtful conversations, the community gatherings—and turn those into a year-round endeavor that we hope keeps your brain whirling and your heart full even when we aren’t at Sirens itself. If you’ve read a Sirens essay, a book review, a curated book list, or a newsletter, if you’ve chatted with the Sirens community on Zoom or Twitter, or if you’ve stared in awe at any of the Sirens artwork, that magnificence was cultivated, curated, or created by the Sirens Communications Team.
Sirens is, in many ways, about both content and community, and in its simplest form, the goal of the Sirens Communications Team is to create both. But in a conference as community-focused as Sirens, that’s no easy feat! While our staff produces much of our content, such as the newsletters and the artwork, our Communications Team works with a broad swath of the Sirens community to develop almost all of the book reviews, book lists, essays, interviews, and other content that Sirens publishes. And one of the directives for the Communications Team is to make sure that that content reflects the diversity of the Sirens community itself: in vocations, in perspectives, and in identities.
You might think that with a publication schedule that can involve as many as fifteen or even twenty posts or other pieces of content a month that the Communications Team might draw a proverbial line. Not this team! This team also handles all of the Sirens community engagement across social media and other platforms. In fact, Jennifer Shimada, our Sirens Community Coordinator, founded the Sirens attendee Facebook group before she ever joined our team. Today, because of her and new-this-year Cass Morris, we offer engagement opportunities across Twitter, Facebook, and Zoom, including video chats and Twitter chats.
As you can see, the Sirens Communications Team are a swarm of busy bees year-round. So let’s meet these fabulous folks:
Faye Bi: By day, Faye is director of publicity at Bloomsbury Children’s Books in bustling New York City, but at night, watch out, because her thoughts on books—all kinds of books, but with a sweet spot in feminist fantasy literature and immigrant stories—will make you think in the best possible way. Faye joined our communications team a decade ago and she keeps coming back because “[i]t gives me an opportunity to experiment and make real the ideas and practices I’ve only philosophized about. Corporate America is not kind to women of color. Sirens isn’t just a space that prioritizes thoughtfulness, brilliance, and inclusivity, it’s part of our design—and most workplaces don’t reward those things.” This year, Faye tackled special projects for Sirens, which has turned out to involve a whole lot of book list curation. And she’ll tell you that she sticks around because Sirens helps her engage with books in a unique way, with conversations about progressivism and speculative spaces that she’s not finding elsewhere. If you’ve never heard her dissect the magnificence of The Beast Player or Her Body and Other Parties, or proclaim that middle grade speculative fiction takes no prisoners (see Maybe a Fox), or even wax poetic on immigrant themes in The Golem and the Jinni, you’re missing out.
Manda Lewis: When we met Manda, we were still working on giant conventions about the Books That Shall Not Be Named and she was still an engineer in the Air Force. Today, we work on Sirens and Manda is an events coordinator for a children’s museum in North Carolina—and a mom to two small bundles of chaos. (We should note that Manda is also a small bundle of the best sort of chaos.) You might know Manda as the gale force that marshals the Sirens logistics, but she’s also been the master of the Sirens visual aesthetic from the very beginning. The logos, the T-shirts, the program books, the website graphics, you name it, if it says “Sirens” on it, she’s designed it. While Manda will happily talk about the work of Robin Hobb and any sort of dragon, when we asked her what fantastic world she’d most like to visit, she said Aru Shah’s Otherworld: “My thirteen-year-old self just wants to hang with the Pandavas and walk down Navagraha Avenue in my pajamas.”
Cass Morris: Cass somehow hails from both Virginia and North Carolina, and while we know they’re next to each other geographically, we also know Cass, and we’re pretty sure she’s magic. Cass joined Sirens just this year (“I say yes to things so that people will like me. ;)”) and she’s our Conference Content Coordinator, which means that, if you’ve marveled at the warmth and welcome of the newsletters or loved the dishy emails about our Guests of Honor, you’re really marveling at the singular word-smithing of Cass. The sheer tonnage of words and graphics that Sirens shares with the world each month has been a bit of a shock, even for someone who’s been a part of the Sirens community as long as Cass has, but Cass also finds that “Sirens truly spotlights an incredible number of marginalized people working in or consuming fantasy fiction.” When she’s not writing for Sirens, Cass somehow juggles writing fantasy novels (check out From Unseen Fire!), working in a bookstore, teaching college, and volunteering for a number of other organizations—and will somehow still beat you at Mario Kart! If you’re feeling intimidated, don’t be: While Cass would love to visit Dinotopia, she’s quick to note that it’s “Like Jurassic Park, except the dinosaurs are your friends and they wear flowers and no one gets eaten.”
Jo O’Brien: Coloradan Jo is one of those people who can seemingly do anything. She reads, she writes, she’s a computer whiz, she rides horses, and she will stab you with the pointy end of a sword. (Jo has a very impressive cache of weapons, including a number of light sabers!) As if that isn’t enough, Jo also creates the most magnificent artwork. Though Jo just joined the Sirens team late last year, we’ve put her to work (“I didn’t know I could draw so fast!”): Almost all of the artwork that we’ve published this year, most notably all of the artwork that accompanied this year’s essays, but our social media pieces as well, is Jo’s. (Though sometimes we have A Conversation about how many severed heads Sirens can have in its artwork, even in a villain-themed year.) We are clearly very lucky to have her, though as Jo says, “I didn’t even realize I was taking a staff position in the moment—if I had, I probably would have said I didn’t have time. But it turns out I always have time for Sirens!” #SorryNotSorry
Jennifer Shimada: When New York librarian Jennifer joined the Sirens team three years ago, we had a bit of an epiphany. Sirens has always been about community, but Jennifer’s inimitable skills in building communities helped us really see the wonder that is the Sirens community much more clearly—and Jennifer has been the driving force behind developing year-round opportunities for that community to gather. Jennifer’s brilliance is absurdly apparent to the thousands of people who follow us on social media or anyone who’s ever joined one of our Zoom chats—not to mention that Sirens at Home wouldn’t be possible without her online expertise and her thoughtful approach to community building: “I’m good at creating systems and planning/organization, and I think a lot about how to approach systems design from a human- and equity-centered mindset. At Sirens, this means that I spend a lot of time thinking through how to create systems and processes that help people to build relationships and community.” While Jennifer loves Sorcerer to the Crown, when we asked which fantasy land she’d like to visit, she’s still, despite all its issues, enchanted with Narnia’s mythical creatures and talking animals.