Originally scheduled to take place at Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City UT, the 46th World Fantasy Convention transitioned into an online event on June 1, 2020. Nonetheless, the event maintained their target run dates of October 28 – November 1, 2020. Guests of honor were David A. Cherry, Stephen Gallagher, and Anne Groell; special guests were C.J. Cherryh, Stephen Graham Jones, and Cindy Pon; and toastmasters were Tracy & Laura Hickman. Life Achievement Awards winners were Karen Joy Fowler and Rowena Morrill.
Virtual attendance was down compared to the prior year’s in-person attendance, with 547 registered members representing 19 countries, plus 11 supporting members. Individuals who had purchased memberships were given the option to transfer their membership to the 2021 event, and 36 people chose that option. In order to improve diversity among membership, the convention offered sponsored memberships for people of color, with 58 individuals receiving sponsored memberships. 2019 saw 660 warm bodies out of 762 total memberships purchased, 2018 had 757 warm bodies and 854 total attending memberships purchased, and 2017 had approximately 720 warm bodies of 844 total attending memberships.
Con-goers did not receive the customary tote bag of free books, but instead had access to a “virtual book bag” containing 87 books for each individual to download. Members were still mailed the full-sized, perfect-bound souvenir book, designed by Fairwood press and titled Fairyland Was Nothing Like This. The book featured cover art by GoH David A. Cherry, as well as more Cherry art inside, plus art by Rowena Morrill, the committee list, the World Fantasy Award nominations and honorees, appreciations and bibliographies for the toastmasters, guests of honor, and Life Achievement Awards winners, a memorial for Gahan Wilson, and an in memoriam, fiction excerpts, and short stories by Gallagher and Jones.
The event schedule was managed via CrowdCompass, an interface which was straightforward and easy to navigate. Programming items were held via Zoom meetings, with a few of the expected hiccups, but to mostly smooth results. According to the World Fantasy 2020 website, videos of panels will be available for members to access through the event portal until December 2, 2020.
Programming started Wednesday morning with a general session with convention chair Ginny Smith and registration committee head Angela Wilson, a “chance to get your questions answered, and to hear what awesome things are in store,” followed by a two-hour workshop at 9:00 a.m., “Editing to Greatness”, with David Farland. 179 industry professionals participated in 98 program sessions, plus 82 readings, seven kaffeeklatsches, and six artist sketchbook tours, “similar to an author reading, only artists showed attendees their creative process, some of their portfolios, and even offered tours of their studios.” Vice chair Pamela Oberg praised the panelists, who “went out of their way to contribute. There were a few that had personal difficulties from floods, ice storms, internet connection difficulties and medical issues.”
Smith said, “Since we didn’t have receptions, and because we attempted to accommodate a host of time zones, we doubled the number of panel discussions, and had programming going nonstop from 10:00 a.m. until eleven o’clock at night Mountain time.” Highlights included topics such as “Fairyland Goes to War” with Marie Brennan, Dave Doering, David Drake, and S.M. Stirling; “Science in Fantasy” with Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Joe Haldeman, Corry L. Lee, William Ledbetter, and Eric James Stone; “Alternate History” with Charlaine Harris, Gillian Polack, Madeleine Robins, and Den Valdron; “Decolonization in Speculative Ficiton” with Daniel Delgado, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, S. Qiouyi Lu, and Karlo Yeager Rodriguez; “Global Perspectives in Fantasy and Horror” with Eugen Bacon, Gillian Polack, Robert V.S. Redick, and S.P. Somtow; and “Small Press Impact: Great Books Not Published by the Big Five” with Gwenda Bond, J.R.H. Lawless, Cheryl Morgan, Cherise Papa, and Kathryn Sullivan. Additional offerings included a community event (open to the public) called “Black Women in Fantasy”, sponsored by Utah Humanities, and featuring Eugen Bacon, Christine Taylor-Butler, and Sheree Renée Thomas. A few virtual social spaces were scheduled, such as “The World Fantasy Hotel” and “Halloween BarCon!”
Readings were nearly doubled from the prior year at 82 slots, compared to 47 in 2019 but not yet matching 2018’s 100+ readings, with industry notables including D.J. Butler, Curtis C. Chen, Zig Zag Claybourne, C.S.E. Cooney, Julie E. Czerneda, Andy Duncan, Sarah Beth Durst, K. Eason, Molly Gloss, Eileen Gunn, John Kessel, Mary Soon Lee, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Brandon O’Brien, Jerome Steuart, Steve Rasnic Tem, Sheree Renée Thomas, Mark Van Name, James Van Pelt, Walter Jon Williams, and many more, plus a “Weird Fiction” cluster moderated by Anya Martin, with Eugen Bacon, Teri Clarke, Christi Nogle, and Lesley M. Wheeler; and the “Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading” including Jude-Marie Green, Caroly Gyzander, A.R. Henle, and Kathryn Sullivan. Many of the readings were held in the “Bar & Patio” virtual space, a Zoom meeting kept open with multiple rooms, allowing for more dynamic interaction and social engagement.
The dealer’s room, traditionally a hub of social activity at World Fantasy conventions regardless of sales performances, was distilled to simple online vendor opportunities. Dealers included Fairwood Press and ShadowSpinners Press. Smith said, “A dealers’ room in a virtual environment is tough to carry off. We knew that from the beginning, and offered discounted memberships to dealers, plus no table rental or any other fees. We had nine dealers in the dealers’ room, ranging from book sellers to hand-crafted jewelry. We helped them set up their online profiles, including the opportunity to embed a video and post pictures of their merchandise. We included a link to their websites.”
The art show featured 14 artists, including Galen Dara, Bob Eggleton, Penelope Flynn, Kathleen Jennings, Lee Moyer, and more. Artists had online profiles with a selection of images of their work. Individual artists were responsible for their own sales; each received a discounted membership and paid no commission. Participation in the art show was juried. In addition to the sketchbook tours, a number of programming options centered around art, such as “The Art of Book Covers” with Cherry, Eggleton, Jennings, and Moyer; and “How to Read Art for Non-Artists” with Cherry, Jennings, Michael Oberg, and Kaitlund Zupanic.
The World Fantasy Awards were livestreamed as part of the closing ceremonies, Sunday at 3:00 p.m. EST. 2019’s awards banquet had about 130 diners in attendance, down from 2018’s 195 people and approximately 180 in 2017. Traditionally, additional spectators are admitted after the banquet for the awards presentation. For this year’s virtual presentation, the convention’s tech department reported “289 users signed on to watch the award ceremony, with a high of 169 concurrent viewers.”
Toastmasters Tracy & Laura Hickman gave a prerecorded address about the power of story, discussing current events, describing a cultural loneliness and social divisions, as well as citing cultural references such as Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. They finished by saying, “Stories… can show us the way toward a world we hope can be….”
The guests of honor each gave speeches, and the awards ceremony proper began with Gordon Van Gelder lauding the convention, saying “what a great job [convention chair] Ginny and her team have done,” and thanking the awards judges. He and Ellen Datlow announced winners in each category.
Life Achievement Award recipient Karen Joy Fowler expressed dismay that her camera wasn’t working. She thanked Gordon and Ellen, saying, “I am just so honored and… quite delightedly surprised to be getting this award…. It’s also inevitably a moment that has made me think back about my whole career…. I decided to be a writer on my 30th birthday and in this troubled and troubling year I turned 70…. It would probably, I think, surprise you to know how long I thought of myself as a beginning writer. This was partly self-protection: not much could be expected of me if I was just a beginner; and part of it just felt true…. What I really think about is not the stories I’ve written, or the work I’ve done, so much as the people that I’ve met. I didn’t know, when I started, when I first published that story in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, that I was joining a community. And I didn’t know how much that community would come to mean to me.” She thanked people who had been kind to her and are no longer around, including Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight, Roger Zelazny, Joanna Russ, Gardner Dozois, and others. “They had a great deal to do with making me feel welcome when I first arrived…. The field is expanding in exciting ways now, we are bringing in voices from all kinds of places and different perspectives, and that is wonderful. All I wish is that everybody who joins us is made to feel as welcome as I was made to feel. And, of course, it’s on us to do that.”
Recipient Rowena Morrill was unable to attend, and Smith read from Bob Eggleton’s appreciation of Morrill in the World Fantasy souvenir booklet.
Van Gelder continued by saying, “I want to issue an apology in advance for every name I get wrong… I know I’m gonna goof some up; I apologize for every one of them.”
The first World Fantasy Award of the evening, Special Award, Non-Professional went to Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay, Laura E. Goodin & Esko Suoranta, for Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research. Goodin and Suoranta accepted, Goodin saying they were “beyond thrilled” to accept “the first World Fantasy award ever given to an academic journal…. The award validates the importance of open-access speculative fiction scholarship as a rich contribution to the discourse about who we are as people and who we want to be.” Goodin thanked reviews editor Dennis Wilson Wise and Suoranta thanked managing editor Jaana Hakala, as well as readers, former editors, the advisory board, and more.
The Special Award, Professional went to Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, for The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games. Breathless, Thomas said, “I’m honored, I’m thrilled, and I’m shocked… I was always such a fan of the World Fantasy Awards, Nebula, Hugo… I grew up in Detroit, pretty working-class, and I could never afford to come to the conventions until a year ago. Thanks from the bottom of my heart.” Thomas thanked the judges, nominees, New York University Press, “All the Black women in science fiction and fantasy who have come before me…. I truly stand on your shoulders,” her mother, intersecting communities, and more.
Kathleen Jennings won the award for Best Artist. Jennings said, “I’ve been coming to World Fantasy conventions since 2012 and being surrounded by so many incredibly inspiring artists and writers… it is an enormous delight to have been nominated and included, thank you so much.” Jennings thanked family, Alisa Krasnostein, Kelly Link & Gavin Grant, “so many Australian writers and authors and presses” including Ticonderoga, and Irene Gallo and Tor.com.
Best Collection went to Song for the Unraveling of the World by Brian Evenson. Evenson expressed gratitude, commenting that he grew up in Utah, “it’s also weirdly apt considering my complicated relationship with the culture I grew up in, that I’m receiving an award at a distance from Utah.” He thanked the judges, Coffee House Press and editor Chris Fischbach, the cover artist, his family, readers, writers, and the genre community.
New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl, won the Best Anthology Award. Datlow accepted, reading Shawl’s speech, who said, “I’m grateful to the judges, and to all those who went before me down this road, among them Octavia E. Butler and Sheree Renée Thomas, storytellers and story harvesters supreme.” Shawl thanked editors Jonathan Oliver and David Moore, Solaris, the cover artist, and the contributors.
“Read After Burning” by Maria Dahvana Headley, published in A People’s Future of the United States, won the Best Short Fiction award. Grinning, Headley said, “I thought everyone else deserved to win that award!” Headley wrote the first draft in 2017, “imagining, as many have before me, a near future in which science and books were outlawed, and conspiracy theories took hold. It’s a hopeful story, though; it has warrior librarians…. To me this is a story about perilous and joyful change, preserving and honoring expansive thinkers, giving space to voices that haven’t been recognized.” Headley thanked Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, the World Fantasy Jury, finalists, and “to the people who opened my eyes to things I’d missed in the story of America.”
The World Fantasy Award for Novella went to Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh. Van Gelder accepted for Tesh, who thanked agent Kurestin Armada and editor Ruoxi Chen, organizers and attendees, and the judges. “I’m grateful for the honor. It is never a bad time to get lost in the woods.”
The Best Novel Award went to Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender. No speech was available for Callender.
Following the ceremony, awards judges Gwenda Bond, Victor LaValle, and Michael Kelly had a panel plus Q&A session discussing this year’s awards process. This session was not recorded.
The closing ceremony saw a few minor glitches. Sections of the Toastmaster’s address were muted, and there was generally a moment of lag between the announcement of an award winner and the recipient appearing on screen. But overall the presentation ran without significant problems, Van Gelder and Datlow put forward a light, celebratory mood, and the excitement of the winners was contagious.
The entire closing ceremony, including the awards ceremony, can be viewed through the event portal, labelled “World Fantasy Award Ceremony” under Sunday’s schedule. The awards ceremony proper is available to the public on YouTube at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moLexxMF-VI>.
While many 2021 events have already cancelled physical bookings and switched to online plans, World Fantasy 2021 is still scheduled to be held at Hôtel Bonaventure in Montréal, Canada, November 4-7, with guests of honour John Picacio, André-François Ruaud, and Nisi Shawl; special guests Owl Goingback and Yves Meynard; and toastmaster Christine Taylor-Butler. The official site says, “In the midst of these difficult times, we want to assure everyone that we are actively monitoring the COVID-19 situation. We’re working hard to ascertain every contingency that may have an impact on WFC 2021. We will make modifications to our plans accordingly to keep our membership safe.” For information and updates on World Fantasy 2021 go to < https://www.wfc2021.org/> and for general World Fantasy information go to <www.worldfantasy.org>.
This report and more like it in the December 2020 issue of Locus.
While you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.
©Locus Magazine. Copyrighted material may not be republished without permission of LSFF.