A little while back, author and editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia contacted the World Fantasy Convention about the lack of diversity in their Guest of Honor line-up. Their response said, in part:
“Convention committees select Special Guests and especially Guests of Honor in order to recognize and pay tribute to their body of work within the genre over a significant period of time, usually consisting of decades in the field. Currently we find ourselves in the position of having a limited number of non-white/male authors, artists, agents, and editors to call on to balance the slates. However much we all wish it were different, and however glad we are to see things changing, the fact remains that only recently have a significant number of diverse writers, artists, agents, and editors entered the field.” (Emphasis added)
There’s a lot to unpack in the full letter, but I wanted to focus on this particular idea, that guests of honor had to have decades of experience in the field. So I went through the list of WFC guests of honor and pulled together the year of the con and the year of the guest’s first published book. It’s not a perfect way to measure years in the field, but I think it works pretty well.
I’ve posted the spreadsheet for anyone to review. Feedback and corrections are welcome.
I tried to eliminate all but the author guests of honor. Also, some conventions had both guests of honor and “special guests.” In these cases, I did not include the special guests.
There are a handful where I’m not sure about the first novel. All total, I ended up with 93 author guests, from 1975 to 2018.
ETA: Data and spreadsheet have been updated with corrections.
With those disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look at the data.
- Average Number of Years in the Field: 24
- Median Number of Years in the Field: 22
- Least Years in the Field:
- Most Years in the Field: 73
- Number of WFC Guests of Honor with less than 10 years in the field:
- Number of WFC Guests of Honor with 10-19 years in the field:
- Number of WFC Guests of Honor with 20-29 years in the field:
- Number of WFC Guests of Honor with 30+ years in the field: 23
The WFC Board said, “Convention committees select Special Guests and especially Guests of Honor in order to recognize and pay tribute to their body of work within the genre over a significant period of time, usually consisting of decades in the field.” I’ve seen others, people not necessarily affiliated with the con, argue that WFC author guests of honor should have at least 30 years in the field.
The latter is obviously untrue. Only a quarter of all guests have been active SF/F professionals for three decades or more.
As for the Board’s statement, it’s true that most guests of honor have had between one and two decades of professional SF/F experience. Most, but not all. WFC has repeatedly shown a willingness to have newer authors as guests or honor as well.
So any argument that WFC has to choose guests with a longer history in the SF/F field is demonstrably untrue.
1. That excuse also falls flat since we’ve had diverse authors in the field for more than just the past 10 years. Authors of color, for example, were not invented in 2008.
2. Even if that weren’t the case, if you have a screening policy that results in the exclusion of minorities? You change the damn policy.
3. Three authors have been WFC author guests of honor twice. While all three of these authors have impressive careers and are very much deserving of honor and respect, this is another sign we need to look a little more broadly for guests.
4. As for the Board’s statement that, “only recently have a significant number of diverse writers, artists, agents, and editors entered the field,” here are just a few authors off the top of my head who — surprise! — have been around for a while now…
- Samuel R. Delaney (The Jewels of Aptor, 1962)
- Octavia Butler (Patternmaster, 1976)
- Haruki Murakami, (Hear the Wind Sing, 1979)
- Steven Barnes (Dream Park, 1981)
- Ted Chiang (First Nebula Award in 1991)
- Michelle Sagara (Into the Dark Lands, 1991)
- Tananarive Due (The Between, 1995)
- Stephen Graham Jones (The Fast Red Road: A Plainsong, 2000)
- David Anthony Durham (Gabriel’s Story, 2001)
- L. A. Banks, (Minion, 2003)
There are a heck of a lot more — my list is mostly limited to American authors, but shouldn’t the World Fantasy Convention welcome fantasy author guests from, well, the whole world? The idea that diverse authors and other SF/F professionals are somehow a new, recent thing is just utterly absurd and asinine.
Do better, WFC.
- The WFC History site listed Mary Robinette Kowal as a 2014 Guest of Honor. She was actually the Toastmaster, and as such, should not have been included in the dataset.
- The WFC History site omitted Tananarive Due, who was a Guest or Honor at the 2017 WFC.
- Jeff VanderMeer’s first book has been corrected to Dradin, In Love, first published in 1996.