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Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince is a stunning example of ecofeminist climate fiction

At Sirens, attendees examine fantasy and other speculative literature through an intersectional feminist lens—and celebrate the remarkable work of women and nonbinary people in this space. And each year, Sirens attendees present dozens of hours of programming related to gender and fantasy literature. Those presenters include readers, authors, scholars, librarians, educators, and publishing professionals—and the range of perspectives they offer and topics they address are equally broad, from reader-driven literary analyses to academic research, classroom lesson plans to craft workshops.

This year, Sirens is offering an essay series to both showcase the brilliance of our community and give those considering attending a look at the sorts of topics, perspectives, and work that they are likely to encounter at Sirens. These essays may be adaptations from previous Sirens presentations, the foundation for future Sirens presentations, or something else altogether. We invite you to take a few moments to read these works—and perhaps engage with gender and fantasy literature in a way you haven’t before.

Today, we welcome an academic paper from Nivair H. Gabriel!

“Remake the World”: Algae, Art, and Indigenous Futurist Thought in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince
By Nivair H. Gabriel

The Summer Prince

Asserting that “literary and postcolonial studies have ignored the environmentalism that often only the poor can see,” Rob Nixon defines the concept of “slow violence”: “a violence that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous but instead incremental, whose calamitous repercussions are postponed for years or decades or centuries.” He laments the challenge of crafting narratives that make slow violence apparent in a fast-moving world of immediacy, but notes that “writer-activists in the Southern Hemisphere are giving imaginative definition to catastrophes that often remain imperceptible to the senses, catastrophes that unfold across a time span that exceeds the instance of observation or even the life of the human observer. In a world permeated by insidious, unspectacular violence, imaginative writing can make the unapparent appear, rendering it tangible by humanizing drawn-out calamities inaccessible to the immediate senses.” Rebecca Evans discusses “cli-fi” as a literary response to this challenge, defining “cli-fi” not as a single genre but as “a literary preoccupation with climate futures that draws from a wide range of popular genres.” Cli-fi, she argues, via its use of multiple genres, “narratively conjures the future—a conjuring that inflects the representation of climate justice and the queer politics of futurity itself” (95). A stellar example of cli-fi for young adults is Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince, which blends the science fictional and the fantastic to depict an ecofeminist vision. Rooted in a specifically urban sense of place informed by slow violence, and centering a queer, polyamorous relationship, The Summer Prince represents a climate-concerned future that resists both colonialism and heteronormativity. Its ecofeminist critique of the past, informed by indigenous histories, and its open-ended vision of the future bring it into the realm of indigenous futurism.

Palmares Três, the sparkling, futuristic matriarchy where The Summer Prince takes place, is a city of escapees from a plague- and war-ravaged Northern Hemisphere. The foundational belief of Palmares Três echoes Vandana Shiva, who contends that environmental destruction is the fault of capitalism, and cannot be alleviated—let alone reversed—by any solutions conceived within the limitations of modern, Western, patriarchal, capitalist thought. She writes that “all past achievements of patriarchy have been based on alienation from life, and have led to the impoverishment of women, children, and the environment” (88). Hence the matriarchal society of Palmares Três, in a speculated future four hundred years after Shiva’s present: women rule 90% of the time, and when men rule it is only as “summer kings,” figureheads who face inevitable martyrdom to Palmares Três when their term ends. “Kings are men,” June’s mother tells her, “and they can’t be trusted to give up power once they have it” (197). The mandated murder of male rulers exists to remind citizens that patriarchy caused the environmental devastation that turned places like Rio de Janeiro into ruins that humans can only visit in a contamination suit (47). The Queen who founded Palmares Três “put [her king] on a pedestal and … cut him down. A man, like the ones who ruined the world.” To “remake the world,” the story goes, the Queen took “from the world [she knew]”: “Candomblé, which always respected a woman’s power. Catholicism, which always understood the transformation of sacrifice. And Palmares, that legendary self-made city the slaves carved themselves in the jungle, proof that a better world can be built from a bad one” (Johnson 19). The cyclic ritual of king-killing ensures that colonialist patriarchy is perpetually named and condemned for the world’s destruction. Queen Odete, devising a new civilization “in a country that had once been Brazil,” might well have been reading Shiva’s ecofeminist call to action: “Putting women and children first needs above all, a reversal of the logic which has treated women as subordinate because they create life, and men as superior because they destroy it” (88). Aunties, women of advanced age, rule Palmares Três, and they insist that the city remain in isolation from the rest of the colonialist, patriarchal, destroyed world. Johnson’s speculated future makes visible the consequences of the slow violence Nixon observes, and points out “the way that climate change is disproportionately caused and disproportionately experienced along lines of privilege” (Evans 95).

The centrality of Palmares Três and its founding ideology in the text encourage an environmentalist and feminist reading. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas points out that “texts that present urban geographies provide an opportunity for young readers and the stakeholders in their lives to consider the present and future states of our cities wherein the privileged and the challenged meet” (20). Urban geographies “provide orientations and grounding in specific places,” she notes, and “are as diverse and interconnected as that of any natural biome” (14). In the glowing pyramid tiers of Palmares Três, bolstered by its slums of “concrete and algae” (Johnson 112), the story of June—a privileged artist from upper-class Tier Eight—and her love for Enki—a poor dancer from the verde at the bottom of the city—quickly becomes the story of “the politics of the visible and the invisible” (Nixon). June notices her privileged experience of the city when she ventures to the stadium in the lower tier to see the presentation of summer king contenders: “Growing up on Tier Eight, I’m used to seeing the glowing pyramid lattice of Palmares Três from a loftier position” (9). In this particular urban landscape, Enki’s neighborhood carries clear markers that indicate both low class and strong connection to the environment; “we call it the catinga, the stink,” June reveals, “but they call it the verde. Green” (13). The city’s automated voice technology sounds different in June’s top tier than it does in Enki’s bottom one, a difference that surprises the privileged and selectively ignorant June when he tells her (104). Enki’s controversial kingship, his deliberate sacrifice of his own life for the power that fame brings, is his project to illuminate the “hypocrisy of Palmares Três” (64). He insists on dressing in a way that identifies him with the oppressed lower classes in old-Brazil’s history, and reminding the Aunties every chance he gets of the people in the verde who enable their comfortable top-tier lives while struggling to survive storms and floods (34). The old pipelines in the verde recall the environmental destruction of another age whose detritus still stifles the poor (232). June and Enki’s art collaborations draw attention to the struggles of the verde, and to accomplish them they must travel intimately through the city. Regarding Palmares Três’s power grid, June muses, “Energy at no cost, some would say, but Enki and I know better. The cost is the verde, the catinga, the several hundred thousand souls who live at this literal bottom tier of society” (90). June thrills to Enki’s every callout of the Aunties, creating art that underscores his message of environmental justice. June and Enki’s are “intersecting trajectories that blend urban landscapes of privilege and challenge” (Thomas 18). They show that even in a futuristic world founded on apparently ecofeminist principles, Nixon’s “environmentalism of the poor” is still necessary.

The way June uses old-Brazil’s history in her and Enki’s art positions her as an indigenous futurist heroine. As Lynette James writes, “Indigenous futurist heroines cannot be casually ignorant of the circumstances that led to the collapse of major governmental, social, or environmental systems and created the worlds they inhabit. They live in communities in which this information is everyday knowledge” (159). Palmares Três is designed as such a community; grounded in Afro-Brazilian history, it also extrapolates into a future decimated by climate change, in which our Brazilian contemporaries are distant ancestors. June’s narration pulls together ecofeminism and indigenous futurism when she recounts, “It’s as though I can feel the strength of all our ancestors bearing us up. They are the heavy trunk and thick boughs of a tree on which I am only the tiniest budding leaf” (23). June’s revolutionary art grows naturally from her community, which is deeply informed by the history of her people. James describes indigenous futurist heroines who “cannot be whole persons without the relationships that tie them to communities” (171), just as June’s self and her art are defined by her relationship with Palmares Três.

As Evans writes that “representations of climate futures matter in terms of climate justice,” she contends also that “representations of climate futures matter in terms of resisting heteronormative systems” (95). The Summer Prince resists heteronormativity not only in June’s mother and stepmother’s relationship, but also in the love triangle between June, Gil, and Enki, which is queer both in terms of sexuality and in terms of resisting definition and closure. Throughout the novel, Enki insists that he is in love with both Gil and June, and Gil and June, in turn, love him back without attempting to claim him. Gil and June, too, share love, then grief when Enki dies. Enki instructs June not only to preside over a more just society as the new Queen, but also to take care of Gil (286). Unlike many love triangles in young adult fiction, The Summer Prince’s is open-ended, portraying a way that many truths that would appear contradictory by heteronormative standards can all exist at the same time in this queer futurity: Enki loves Gil, June loves Enki, Enki loves June, Gil loves June. Meanwhile, June reckons with the truth that her mother loved her late father and loves her stepmother; neither relationship takes priority, or has more validity, over the other. Complexity, rather than closure, is a primary value in the story; even the culminating symbol of June’s resistance art is “ambiguity” (224). The text’s prioritization of visible queerness, in tandem with its ecocritical resonance, casts resistance to heteronormativity as an essential part of a movement for environmental justice.

June’s movement for environmental justice, spurred by the loss of Enki and her father, reveals the flaws of any society that is built on power, privilege, and oppression. While Palmares Três resisted the specific Western colonialist norms that Shiva condemned, it still reified an unequal power structure: it created the classes of privileged and oppressed. Neither Enki nor June seem to know the ultimate solution to this quandary, but the search for an ultimate solution is itself a quest flawed by the idea of normative certainty. James notes that “too often YA dystopian franchises assume that a final battle decides all questions of the protagonist’s life in clear terms of irrevocable success, where all threat has been quelled forever. But … remaining negotiatiors and defenders is not a failure; failure would mean there was no community left to save. . . . In all healthy, living communities, there is more work to do” (172–3). The ending of Johnson’s text seems open on purpose: to encourage its young readers to imagine the future for themselves. James sees her indigenous futurist heroines as inspirations to “help us see the best possibilities, to imagine the what-ifs, to build the skills of dreaming the future in a grounded, rooted, and located world” (174). As Johnson’s heroine in Palmares Três, who becomes Queen because of the personified hopes of the younger generation, June’s mission is exactly that.

Nixon cites the unique challenge of addressing environmental justice in narrative, proclaiming, “To confront slow violence is to take up, in all its temporal complexity, the politics of the visible and the invisible.” In this way environmentalism, feminism, and postcolonialism are all inextricably linked. Evans’s ecofeminist reading of cli-fi underscores the temporal complexity of these particular politics: “Expanding our understanding of cli-fi’s generic wheelhouse … helps us see how the genre does more than extrapolate into the future—indeed, how it helps connect present and future, rather than posit a radical break between them” (104). In The Summer Prince, Johnson uses urban geography to explore all of these ideas, presenting a boldly extrapolated far future in which the injustices of its present-day ancestors are always visible. Its ecofeminist vision tells its readers, “When the world is destroyed, someone must remake the world. I think you’d call that art” (19). And art, as June would define it, is sacrifice—the disregard for self and the ecofeminist call to collective action. Such a call to action is foundational in the indigenous futurism that James discusses, which is “more than a name; it is an orientation, one meaningful not only to Indigenous peoples but to anyone hopeful or terrified about the future” (174). Drawing from existing discourses of environmentalism, feminism, queer theory, and postcolonialism, Johnson’s art of the imagination makes cli-fi for young adults that grapples with the temporal complexity of environmental justice and provides not answers, but open-ended questions that serve as foundations for indigenous futurist thought.

 

Works Cited

Evans, Rebecca. “Fantastic Futures? Cli-fi, Climate Justice, and Queer Futurity.” Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities, vol. 4, no. 2–3, 2017, pp. 94–110. Web.

James, Lynette. “Children of Change, Not Doom: Indigenous Futurist Heroines in YA.” Extrapolation, vol. 57, nos. 1–2, 2016, pp. 151–176. Web.

Johnson, Alaya Dawn. The Summer Prince. Scholastic, 2013.

Nixon, Rob. “Slow Violence: Literary and Postcolonial Studies Have Ignored the Environmentalism That Only the Poor Can See.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, vol. 57, no. 40, 2011. Web.

Shiva, Vandana. “The Impoverishment of the Environment: Women and Children Last.” Ecofeminism. Ed. Maria Mies & Vandana Shiva. Zed Books, 1993, pp. 70–90.

Thomas, Ebony Elizabeth. “Landscapes of City and Self: Place and Identity in Urban Young Adult Literature.” The ALAN Review, vol. 38, no. 2, 2011, pp. 13–22. Web.


Nivair H. Gabriel has written all her life, and feminist fantasy is her heart-home. At sixteen, she thought it would be fun to go to MIT and get a BS in aerospace engineering, so she did. She has also contributed writing to Marvels & Tales, io9.com, Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, Pittsburgh Magazine, and the Sirens benefit anthologies Queens & Courtesans and Witches & Warriors. She holds a dual-degree MA/MFA in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children from Simmons College, and works as an Assistant Editor at Barefoot Books.

 

Programming Perspectives: Presentation Styles

Are you ready for our annual programming posts series? We’ve just kicked it off! Before we go on, though, we thought you might want to explore some perspectives on presenting different types of programming. These perspectives were first published several years ago, but we think they’re still very relevant.

Presenting a Paper by Hallie Tibbetts, one of Sirens’s past programming coordinators

Presenting a Panel by Amy Tenbrink, one of this year’s conference chairs (but one note: the process for proposing panels will be changing this year—more information coming soon!)

Presenting a Roundtable Discussion by Sarah Benoot, a longtime staff member

Presenting a Workshop or Afternoon Class by Manda Lewis, a longtime staff member

We’ll be offering other perspectives in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we hope you’ll put together a programming proposal.
 
All proposals are due by May 8, 2017.
 
Questions? Concerns? Please email general queries to (help at sirensconference.org) and questions about programming to (programming at sirensconference.org).
 

Quick links:
Programming Overview
Call for Proposals/Guidelines/Additional Preparation Information/Submit a Proposal
Past Conferences Archive
Specific Questions for the Programming Team: Email (programming at sirensconference.org)

 
If you’re looking for co-presenters, why not post on Facebook, leave a comment here, or tag us on Twitter so we can retweet?
 

Join Us for a Chat!
We’ll be hosting two chats on the Sirens website for talking about programming ideas—and for books, travel, Sirens, and meeting potential travel buddies and roommates. Join us on Sunday, April 9, from 1 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern or Saturday, April 22, from 1 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern. The linked page will turn into a chat during those hours; no software or downloads are required, but you may need to refresh the page.
 

Or a Tweet!
Check out our Twitter, and the hashtag #SirensBrainstorm for ideas.
 

Programming Perspectives: Presentation Styles

Are you ready for our annual programming posts series? We’ve just kicked it off! Before we go on, though, we thought you might want to explore some perspectives on presenting different types of programming. These perspectives were first published last year, but we think they’re still very relevant.

Presenting a Paper by Hallie Tibbetts, one of this year’s programming coordinators

Presenting a Panel by Amy Tenbrink, one of this year’s conference chairs

Presenting a Roundtable Discussion by Sarah Benoot, a longtime staff member

Presenting a Workshop or Afternoon Class by Manda Lewis, a longtime staff member

We’ll be offering other perspectives in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we hope you’ll put together a programming proposal. All proposals are due by May 9, 2016.

 

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

 

Quick links:?
Programming Overview
Call for Proposals/Guidelines/Additional Preparation Information/Submit a Proposal
Past Conferences Archive
Specific Questions for the Programming Team: Email (programming at sirensconference.org)

 

If you’re looking for co-presenters, why not place an ad on Facebook, leave a comment here, or tag us on Twitter so we can retweet?

 

Join Us for a Chat!?
We’ll be hosting two chats on the Sirens website for talking about programming ideas—and for books, travel, Sirens, and meeting potential travel buddies and roommates. Join us on Friday, April 22, from 9 to 11:00 p.m. Eastern or Sunday, May 1, from 1 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern. The linked page will turn into a chat during those hours; no software or downloads are required, but you may need to refresh the page.

 

Or a Tweet!
Check out our Twitter, and the hashtag #SirensBrainstorm for ideas.

Perspective: Presenting a Workshop or Afternoon Class

Today we present thoughts from Manda Lewis, who—among other roles—creates most of the art for Sirens, on why presenting an afternoon class worked for her.

In 2012, my friend Erynn and I wanted to run an afternoon class on a topic we both loved. As we both enjoy costuming and creating clothing, we thought teaching a sewing basic class would be a lot of fun. It also seems like a topic that comes up in fantasy literature in many ways, either through thread or textile magic, showcasing talent, or even basic survival. We thought running through basic hand stitching and embroidery techniques would work well, teach participants something they didn’t know, and facilitate discussion about sewing in the books we love, so we proposed an afternoon class titled “Thread Magic: Hand Sewing for Beginners.”

We laid out a basic lesson plan that included an attention step (talking about stories and characters we’ve seen use sewing as a plot point), a materials overview, a few basic pointers, construction stitches, and decorative stitches. Erynn and I created a PowerPoint presentation since we thought it would be good to have some close–ups of the items we wanted to show. We had to do a little research, but it was easy to pull information from a lot of the materials we had at home. Both of us have a lot of craft and sewing books!

When the time came for the class, we ran through the beginning of our lesson quickly so we’d have a lot of time for folks to do the hands on activity. Participants picked fabric, thread, and needles and then tried out all of the stitches we had talked through. With two of us running the class, it was easy for us to move around to everyone and provide instruction and help where needed.

Teaching an afternoon class was a lot of fun and I felt like we engaged in Sirens in a different way than we had in other years. I hope we were able to give the audience some skills to take home and try so they could make their own thread magic!

Here’s our summary for “Thread Magic: Hand Sewing for Beginners”:

Alanna tells us that a woman with a bit of string in her hands can bring down a troupe of armed knights if her will is strong enough. Thread magic weaves its way throughout fantasy literature and we’ve even seen some of our favorite characters dabble in textile arts for fun or necessity. This class will teach participants the basics of construction and decorative stitching. By the end, participants will create a final project for charity and be a little more armed when they find a bit of string in their hands. $2 donation for materials is requested.

For our abstract, we submitted a lesson plan:

Lesson Plan:
The objective of this afternoon class is to teach attendees the principles of hand sewing for construction and decoration.

Attention Step: (5 minutes)
The lesson will begin with various quotes from fantasy novels that show characters sewing, weaving, or engaging in some form of textile art. Students will also be asked what examples they can think of from books or media that they’ve read or watched.

  • Marian in Outlaws of Sherwood sews clothing and makes tapestries
  • Alanna and her protégé in Woman Who Rides like a Man use thread magic
  • Sandry in the Circle of Magic books uses sewing and spinning to control magic
  • Herald Talia in The Heralds of Valdemar series helps to sew uniforms at the collegium
  • Hanna in Bleeding Violet sews clothing for herself and her mother

Tools and Materials Overview: (10 minutes)
The first topic that will be covered will be the basic tools used in hand sewing. Examples of each will be brought to be passed around so the students can become familiar with them and see the differences.

  • Thread (different types and what they’re best suited for)
  • Needles (different types and what they’re used for)
  • Thimbles
  • Pins
  • Fabric (different types and what they’re best suited for)
  • Shears (different types and what they’re used for)
  • Other: marking pencils, threaders, irons, etc.

Threading the Needle and Knotting Thread: (3 minutes)
Threading a needle will be demonstrated and then students will have the opportunity to try it out with their own materials.

Using a Thimble: (5 minutes)
The technique for sewing using a thimble to aid in pushing the needle through fabric will be demonstrated and time will be given for students to practice.

Construction Stitches: (20 minutes)
Stitches will be demonstrated followed by a few minutes for students to practice the stitch with their materials.

  • Straight stitch/Running stitch
  • Backstitch
  • Overhand stitch
  • Whipstitch

Decorative Stitches: (20 minutes)
Stitches will be demonstrated followed by a few minutes for students to practice the stitch with their materials.

  • Blanket Stitch
  • Chainstitch
  • French Knot
  • Lazy Daisy

Project: (30 minutes)
The students will have 30 minutes to work on a small sewing project using the skills they have learned in the class so far. The project will be a small pillow. Once completed, the pillows will be donated to breast cancer patients who use them for comfort post–mastectomy. Instructions will be given and each student will have a print out to refer to. The teachers will move around the room helping students as they complete the project.

Closure: (2 minutes)
The lesson will end with a discussion about using textile arts to create magic in our own lives that parallels what we’ve read or seen in our favorite stories. Students will also be given a hand out with diagrams for the stitching they’ve learned in the class.

Materials:

  • 15 Spools of thread
  • 30 Fat Squares of quilting fabric
  • Stuffing
  • Several sets of scissors to share
  • 30–40 needles
  • Example needles of various types
  • Pins
  • Projector and screen

If you love to get hands–on with fantasy, we recommend a workshop or afternoon class!

Go back: All the posts tagged with programming

 

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

 

Quick links:?
Programming Overview
Call for Proposals/Guidelines/Additional Preparation Information/Submit a Proposal
Past Conferences Archive
Specific Questions for the Programming Team: Email (programming at sirensconference.org)

 

If you’re looking for co-presenters, why not place an ad on Facebook, leave a comment here, or tag us on Twitter so we can retweet?

 

Join Us for a Chat!?
We’ll be hosting two chats on the Sirens website for talking about programming ideas—and for books, travel, Sirens, and meeting potential travel buddies and roommates. Join us on Friday, April 22, from 9 to 11:00 p.m. Eastern or Sunday, May 1, from 1 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern. The linked page will turn into a chat during those hours; no software or downloads are required, but you may need to refresh the page.

 

Or a Tweet!
Check out our Twitter, and the hashtag #SirensBrainstorm for ideas.

Perspective: Presenting a Roundtable Discussion

Today we present thoughts from Sarah Benoot, who regularly coordinates special programs for Sirens, on why presenting a roundtable discussion worked for her.

For me, roundtable discussions are my favorite way of hearing from lots of different people, all at once, and having discussions that start out in one place, but surprise me, too.

I’m going to be blunt: it’s not always easy to moderate a roundtable discussion. It can be tough to interrupt people, and it’s tough to figure out if that person on the other side of the (small) room—whose nametag you can’t quite see from your seat—is gathering her thoughts, or if she would have lots to say if you asked if she had anything to add. Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the topic, if you are passionate about it, and you have to remember to give yourself some distance so that you can listen to everyone. Sometimes, the audience members are coming from really different places, and they’re trying to negotiate what might be a really complex conversation, and you as the moderator have to help them do that. You have to decide, on the fly, if things are healthily in disagreement—or not. And you want to have at least a couple of questions that will generate some conflict!

At the same time, that’s part of the fun. Sirens attendees are really thoughtful, and have a lot to say. If you’re energized by great discussions, and you don’t mind taking the lead in a group, you should consider proposing a roundtable discussion.

One of my first roundtable discussions for Sirens was pretty general. (I’ve led two roundtable discussions related to Game of Thrones, and those worked because the series is widely read; they would have had a lot of dead air, otherwise. Your roundtable might have to address a theme or topic in several different books or series so that the audience has a way in to the discussion.)

This was my summary for “Not Overshadowed by Awesome: Girls on the Side”:

Sidekicks. Backup. Whatever name you use, they serve the same purpose: to help the main character succeed in their quest. Without them, the world would not be saved, the crime would not be solved, the quest would not be successful. Despite being relegated to a secondary role, the girls on the side can be an important part of a story in their own right. What would Harry have been without Hermione (J. K. Rowling), or what fate would have befallen Olympus if Percy hadn’t had Annabeth (Rick Riordan)? What lessons might Beka have missed if not for Clary Goodwin (Tamora Pierce)?

My abstract, which uses the sample questions format:

  1. Is the female sidekick the “heart” of the male hero by default?
  2. Does a female sidekick tend to serve as a tool for exposition more often than a male sidekick? (For example, Harry Potter often gets his information from Hermione’s reading rather than Ron’s experience actually growing up in the wizarding world.)
  3. In the case of a male hero supported by a female sidekick, there is often a romantic component in their relationship. Does this tend to have a negative or a positive effect on the story?
  4. The roles of sidekick and mentor are rarely filled by the same character. What impact does it have when they are?
  5. What happens when the sidekick comes into power of her own?
  6. Does she become a hero herself, or a villain? Is she more likely to become a villain than a male sidekick in the same situation?
  7. Is a female sidekick more likely to be sacrificed “for the greater good” than a male sidekick?
  8. Which do you think tends to be more successful: a partnership where power of the hero-sidekick relationship is often based in friendship, or one where previous enemies are forced to work together? Can you argue for a more successful partnership?
  9. Is the success or lack thereof affected by the genders of the characters?
  10. When the hero professes to prefer to work alone, is it usually the female sidekick who convinces him otherwise? If so, why?

If you love to talk through big ideas with people, consider leading a roundtable discussion!

Go back: All the posts tagged with programming

 

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

 

Quick links:?
Programming Overview
Call for Proposals/Guidelines/Additional Preparation Information/Submit a Proposal
Past Conferences Archive
Specific Questions for the Programming Team: Email (programming at sirensconference.org)

 

If you’re looking for co-presenters, why not place an ad on Facebook, leave a comment here, or tag us on Twitter so we can retweet?

 

Join Us for a Chat!?
We’ll be hosting two chats on the Sirens website for talking about programming ideas—and for books, travel, Sirens, and meeting potential travel buddies and roommates. Join us on Friday, April 22, from 9 to 11:00 p.m. Eastern or Sunday, May 1, from 1 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern. The linked page will turn into a chat during those hours; no software or downloads are required, but you may need to refresh the page.

 

Or a Tweet!
Check out our Twitter, and the hashtag #SirensBrainstorm for ideas.

Perspective: Presenting a Panel

Today we present thoughts from conference chair Amy Tenbrink on why presenting a panel worked for her.

I have two go-to presentation formats: panels and roundtables. You might wonder why, since it might seem strange at first that someone might have preferred presentation styles—but I bet that most people have presentation styles that make them most comfortable or that most often allow them to accomplish their presentation goals.

For me, it’s panels and roundtables because both formats include multiple viewpoints and multiple voices. Let me assure you that it’s not about the workload; I am a meticulous planner of questions for both panelists and roundtables. And if you know me, you know that it’s not about alleviating nerves with friendly panelists or a discussion room of participants—though lots of people choose these formats because they find them less intimidating.

Since lots of people submit roundtables, Sirens asked me to talk a bit about panels. I tend to choose panels when I want two things: (1) to present a topic that requires input from more than just me, either because I don’t have sufficient expertise or because having multiple voices is vital to the vibrancy of the topic; and (2) it’s a topic that is best presented by experts to an audience (perhaps with questions), rather than a topic that is best presented through a moderated audience discussion (as a roundtable is).

One example is the 2014 Sirens panel, “The Importance—and Business—of Diversity in Fantasy Literature by Women.” As you might expect, the panel discussed the importance of diversity in fantasy literature, but focused more specifically on the business challenges of diversifying the books that are ultimately published and sold in stores. Since most Sirens attendees have a lot to say about diversity, but very little insight into the publishing industry, I assembled a panel that included a librarian, an agent, and a marketing expert from a publishing house (and also invited both an editor and an author, who were not able to attend). The expertise of the panel—and the range of expertise on the panel—was vital to the success of the topic, though we did invite questions from the audience.

Another example is the presentation below, which I prepared for one of Narrate Conferences’ Harry Potter conferences. The topic is “Love Is a Battlefield: Authorship, Ownership, and Fan Appropriation,” which addressed the complex relationship between copyright owners and fans in 2008, when fandoms were exploding, despite copyright owners’ then-aggressive attempts to leash them. My co-panelist and I combined my copyright knowledge with her academic work in fan studies to present a panel that required both in order to be successful. This topic would not have made a great roundtable discussion, because it relied on us providing information and discussing our perspectives on the topic more than on audience discussion.

This was my summary for “Love Is a Battlefield: Authorship, Ownership, and Fan Appropriation”:

As participatory culture blurs the lines between creators and fans, the definitions of “authorship,” “ownership” and “control” likewise become distorted. Creators continue to hold the trump cards of copyright and money, but fans level the field through group action and the speed of the internet. Join us to review the history of creator/fan relations in the Harry Potter fandom: cease and desist letters for fan sites, then adult-oriented archives; the Harmonian uprising; the queering of canon characters and the rejection of Dumbledore’s sexuality; the LiveJournal Strikethrough; and even the RDR Books lawsuit. Then discuss with us this shifting battlefield and what it is that creators and fans really want, and what’s culturally and creatively at stake.

And this was my abstract, which is on the longer side; it’s also okay to have a paragraph or two and some sample questions:

Since the invention of the printing press and the accompanying advent of the concept of copyright, creators have sought total control over their work, and others—later users, developers, artists, fans—have attempted to wrest pieces of that control away for the collective good, for personal creativity, even for profit. Creators claim authorship and therefore ownership, but others argue that their use of a creator’s work is legal, permitted by policy, or sometimes morally valid.

Copyright law has given the legal advantage to creators and corporations, but copyright law, even with the complications of fair use, is only one piece of a larger whole. Both creators and corporations have frequently employed money, attorneys, and until recently, a near-monopoly on access to media outlets to fight battles by any means necessary. Modern communications, however, have provided secondary users with additional tools, and they have begun to use those tools to significant advantage. The capabilities of the internet and the speed at which groups of later users can disseminate information has changed the game, especially when contrasted with the snail’s pace at which creators and the corporate world can react when governed by Boards of Directors, lawyers, and incomplete information.

As groups of users gain more ground, the battles between creators and corporations, on one hand, and fans and other groups on the other, grow more heated, more equal, and more complicated. While creators and corporations still hold the traditional advantages, they grow frustrated with the hydra-like qualities of the fan community and the speed at which it moves. While fans and other groups have created loose collective units, they are impatient with the measured steps of creators and corporations and the willingness to employ resources to which fans have only limited access.

The Harry Potter fan community is a fascinating microcosm when examining evolving relationships between creators and fans because the examples abound. In the early days of fan sites, Warner Bros. sent many threatening letters, some of them to teen fans. Warner Bros. eventually backed off, but several years later Rowling went after archives that allowed minors to view NC-17 fan works. Plagiarism is a battle that the fans more or less wrested from creators other than Rowling, but the cost was the loss of respect from other fans. Conferences changed the landscape by forcing Warner Bros.’s hand on many fair use issues, and were followed by Warner Bros.’s allowing other fan creations, such as wizard rock. The publication of Order of the Phoenix raised a new issue: fans eviscerating Rowling for writing “bad fanfic” and killing characters; that was the first time that a group of Harry Potter fans wholly rejected a canon work. Half-Blood Prince triggered another fan uprising, this time from the Harmonians, when Rowling paired Hermione with Ron instead of Harry. 2007 brought a list of clashes: Strikethrough 2007 on LiveJournal, the backlash and division following the announcement that Dumbledore is gay, the utter rejection of the Epilogue, discussion of whether Rowling’s ever-changing additional information is canon, and of course, RDR Books facing down the Warner Bros. juggernaut over Steve VanderArk’s encyclopedia. Indeed, sometimes even businesses end up on the fan side of the equation, as evidenced by Warner Bros.’ significant restrictions on booksellers’ Deathly Hallows release parties. Finally, 2007 saw the founding of the Organization for Transformative Works, an effort by a group of fans to level the legal playing field that has been excoriated by the media—and by other fans.

This panel will examine relationships between creators and those who consume their work. It will briefly dissect the law underlying the issues, including the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Miller and Communications Decency Act cases governing obscenity. It will review the history of creator/fan relations, including how the participatory leanings of new media and participatory culture have affected that relationship. Ultimately, it will discuss how the battlefield between creators and fans has shifted over the years and where it is now.

In short, I love panels. I love putting together experts and voices from different fields with different experiences for a moderated, sophisticated conversation. For me, that’s one of the best things about Sirens: the opportunity to have those conversations in ways that, for whatever reason, aren’t always available. Bring on the panels!

Go back: All the posts tagged with programming

 

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

 

Quick links:?
Programming Overview
Call for Proposals/Guidelines/Additional Preparation Information/Submit a Proposal
Past Conferences Archive
Specific Questions for the Programming Team: Email (programming at sirensconference.org)

 

If you’re looking for co-presenters, why not place an ad on Facebook, leave a comment here, or tag us on Twitter so we can retweet?

 

Join Us for a Chat!?
We’ll be hosting two chats on the Sirens website for talking about programming ideas—and for books, travel, Sirens, and meeting potential travel buddies and roommates. Join us on Friday, April 22, from 9 to 11:00 p.m. Eastern or Sunday, May 1, from 1 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern. The linked page will turn into a chat during those hours; no software or downloads are required, but you may need to refresh the page.

 

Or a Tweet!
Check out our Twitter, and the hashtag #SirensBrainstorm for ideas.

Perspective: Presenting a Paper

Today we present thoughts from Hallie Tibbetts, Sirens’s programming coordinator, on why presenting a paper worked for her.

Last year, I decided to propose a paper for Sirens. I knew I’d be going back to school, and a paper is a really, really good excuse to miss class—and for me, as an introvert and a staff member, the more we get into the weekend that is Sirens, the more I need something pre-written to help me organize my thoughts. I’m tired—happy, but tired—and I’m not really able to think on my feet, which can make participating on a panel, teaching a workshop, or leading a roundtable challenging for me. (Really. I’m not sure that what comes out of my mouth makes sense by Friday afternoon, sometimes!)

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a paper at first, or even whether I wanted to have a shorter paper (a 25-minute time slot) or a longer one (a 50-minute time slot, for slightly longer papers and audience discussion). Papers, lectures, and presentations are great ways to inform the audience when you know about something they might not, to analyze things, to compare and contrast, and to go into research. I had some blog posts that would make great jumping-off points, and I thought about grabbing a couple of people to put together a set of short, pre-empaneled papers, too.

In the end, I proposed “It’s Coming from Inside the Dollhouse,” about haunted toys in middle grade books. Over the summer, I (re)read the books and jotted down thoughts on each, so that when it came time to write my paper—which isn’t, actually, a requirement, but something I needed to do so I had something to read from—it was easy work. Since I had my presentation finished in advance, I just read over it a few days before my presentation to check on my timing, made a few notes, and brought a copy along to Sirens. After I read my paper, the audience had a lively discussion about the topic, which was pretty amazing.

This was my summary:

Literature for young people in the 1970s and ‘80s included a number of scary stories, including The Dollhouse Murders and The Doll in the Garden. Haunted toys can still be found in books like Doll Bones. This paper will explore haunted objects in books that have been aimed at young readers of yesterday and today.

My abstract, which is a little on the short side, but still okay:

Much “middle grade fiction” limits its scope is to family, friends, or a child’s immediate community, and to finding a place for oneself within those boundaries; young adult fiction typically pushes the young person toward adulthood. Haunted toys, or hauntings that include toys, seem to occupy a liminal space between young adult and middle grade, where no bookstore dares go, but where children must leave behind games and face a harsher reality. These stories show up in works including The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Wren Wright (originally published in 1948, and in new editions as recently as 1995), The Doll in the Garden by Mary Downing Hahn (1989), and Doll Bones by Holly Black (2013). This paper will examine the use of haunted toys in these and other books as markers of the unnatural, particularly for children, and explore what makes a scary story for young readers, as well as address the shift in focus for these books over the years from younger to older middle grade readers.

I recommend giving papers (or lectures, or talks) a try! I’m already brainstorming one for this year.

Go back: All the posts tagged with programming

 

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

 

Quick links:?
Programming Overview
Call for Proposals/Guidelines/Additional Preparation Information/Submit a Proposal
Past Conferences Archive
Specific Questions for the Programming Team: Email (programming at sirensconference.org)

 

If you’re looking for co-presenters, why not place an ad on Facebook, leave a comment here, or tag us on Twitter so we can retweet?

 

Join Us for a Chat!?
We’ll be hosting two chats on the Sirens website for talking about programming ideas—and for books, travel, Sirens, and meeting potential travel buddies and roommates. Join us on Friday, April 22, from 9 to 11:00 p.m. Eastern or Sunday, May 1, from 1 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern. The linked page will turn into a chat during those hours; no software or downloads are required, but you may need to refresh the page.

 

Or a Tweet!
Check out our Twitter, and the hashtag #SirensBrainstorm for ideas.

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