Interview with a Fan Activist: Chris Barkley

Chris Barkley has been active in fandom since 1976 as a member of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group, has attended 27 Worldcons and several hundred other conventions, and is currently employed at one of the best bookstores in the U.S., Joseph Beth Booksellers. (And I’m totally not just saying that because I want them to keep stocking my stuff!)

Chris has been working hard to try to establish a Best YA Novel Hugo Award. You can visit the discussion page on Facebook.


1. You described yourself as a fan activist. How does this differ from the SMOFs of legend? What tasks and trials must one complete to become a fan activist?

Well, I’ll put it to you this way; I would NEVER admit that I am a Secret Master of Fandom. I don’t think that I am; I don’t have any control over anyone nor do I have desire to. I was a convention chair once (in 1986) and I was quickly cured of that peculiar malady.

To be perfectly serious, I don’t think anyone who does identify themselves as a SMOF does either. People who embrace that term are basically people who run sf conventions. They do so because it is fun (at least some of the time), they provide a valuable service to fans and they continue a distinguished tradition that stretches all the way back to the Depression Era.

In the past 15 years or so, I would describe my activities as that of a fan activist. (This is not to be confused with the term “fanac,” an older slang term for fannish activities.) I truly became an activist when I read an Octoober 1998 Entertainment Weekly a feature article on the “Sci-Fi’s Top 100

Needless to say, I was appalled by the choices of the EW staff (The Jetsons, #52 were ranked over Babylon 5, #97; C’MON MAN!) and the next thing I knew, I was busily concocting my own top 100 as an article for Mike Gyler’s File 770.

The very first thing that I learned as a fanzine writer was that I had to develop a very thick skin. No matter how well thought out and written you may think your article and point of view is, there will ALWAYS be some antagonist or snarky person out there, trying to do anything in their power to bring you down and mount you on their wall like a trophy.

As an activist, I feel as though you have to walk a fine line; between your utter conviction that you are right and they, whoever they are, are wrong AND feeling flexible enough in your beliefs where you can admit that you are wrong or can compromise on a position you take.

Paradoxically, I really don’t relish being in the spotlight. I have not been rewarded nor have I taken any credit for the work I have done in Worldcon press offices or on Hugo Award categories. I am not a celebrity nor do I have any desire to be one. I am of the opinion that those sort of distractions undermine my integrity and work. I relish my privacy. I try keep to myself grounded, not act in very pretentious manner or make a spectacle of myself. I say try because I have been guilty of that in the past.

The primary thing I keep in mind at all times is that in the long run, the only power I actually have is to persuade other people to either try something (like my current project for a Young Adult Category Hugo Award) or to do the right thing (voting for motions at a public meeting, sometimes under very hostile conditions).

2. Diversity in SFF fandom. Do you think it’s a problem, and if so, where do you think that problem comes from and what can we do about it? If not, what are you seeing that makes you feel that way?