In today’s installment of discussions about conventions (Part I, Part II), we face up to the fact that sometimes cons aren’t terribly welcoming spaces for the uninitiated. Several of us were quite put off by our early experiences. Today’s participants include N. K. Jemisin, James Patrick Kelly, Maureen Kincaid Speller, myself, Stefan Dziemianowicz, Andy Duncan, John Clute, and Cecelia Holland.
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N. K. Jemisin
My first conventions were anime/manga/gaming cons, so I had quite a bit of culture shock when I started going to SFF cons. My first was Boskone — can’t recall the year, early Noughties. There was no movie room, the dealer room had nothing but books and jewelry in it, nobody was in costume, and there were all these old people! 🙂 It was hard to meet people (I didn’t go with friends), I got yelled at by a moderator the first time I tried to ask a question, a total stranger decided to pet my hair in the dealer room, and I was pretty much the only brown face in the place as well as probably the only person under 30 (aside from other congoers’ small children). It was pretty miserable. I stayed for only a few hours, then left and didn’t attend another SFF con for several years.
My second con was the Boston Worldcon a couple of years later. I don’t remember much about it except wandering through the Boston Convention center feeling quite bored, and walking out of a panel when an audience member said something horrifically, blatantly racist and no one in the room said boo to him.
Despite that I kept going to SFF cons, mostly because as an aspiring author I felt I had to, for professional networking purposes. So I decided to treat them like industry conventions — necessary for work, not meant to be fun. I brought business cards and had nice polite uncontroversial conversations, shook lots of hands, and gritted my teeth when people did/said rude or offensive things. But things improved when I got involved in a writers’ group and at least had them to hang out with, and when I realized the way to make friends at SFF cons is simply to hang out in the bar. So I started to have fun at last. And I realized not all SFF cons are alike, so I found a few that suited me better in terms of programming — Readercon, for example, with its nice intellectually-chewy panels; Arisia, which had all the energy and diversity of an anime con; Wiscon, where questioning the moderators was not only welcomed but expected; others. I also started meeting people from online SFFdom, which also gave me a ready-made group to hang out with — and that in turn helped me relax and meet other people. So I have lots of fun now.
That said, it helps that the conventions themselves are changing. More of them seem to realize new attendees shouldn’t be just left to figure things out on their own. A lot of them now have newbie meet and greets, and so on. Several of them seem to be trying to diversify their audience in terms of race and class and gender and age. A few are training their moderators on how to moderate well. So I’d like to keep seeing those kinds of changes.
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