2021 SFWA Nebula Conference Report

The 2021 SFWA Nebula Conference was an online event, held June 4-6. There were 812 attending members from 27 countries, up slightly from 2020’s online event, which had 808 members from 33 countries. 2019’s in-person event in Los Angeles had seen a record-breaking 475 registered members.

Thirty panels were offered over the course of three days, with 111 program participants. Early online programming began on March 15, before the event proper, with the 56th Annual Nebula Awards Launch reception, then the Finalist Reception on March 20. These were followed by programming options such as the Narrative Worlds discussion by Kate Elliott and Malinda Lo, “Writing Dates” with notable authors such as Valerie Valdes, mentorship meetings, and the Grandmaster Reception honoring Nalo Hopkinson. For the event proper, programming focused on industry-relevant topics, such as “Maintaining A Good Relationship With Your Agent” with Meg Elison, Shveta Thakrar, Peng Shepherd, Martha Wells, and Kim-Mei Kirtland; “Bridging Verse And Prose In Speculative Writing” with R.B. Lemberg, Mari Ness, Eugen Bacon, Katherine Quevedo, and May Chong; and “Writing Speculative Justice” with Tochi Onyebuchi, Amy Sundberg, Erin Roberts, LaShawn Wanak, and Arley Sorg. Overflow rooms were available to continue panel-inspired conversations, as well as affinity spaces for marginalized communities. Leading up to the awards ceremony, SFWA hosted a “Red Carpet Walk” on Twitter, using the hashtag #NebulaRedCarpet, to give participants and finalists “chances to strut your stuff in the official SFWA Twitter account’s feed… [in] finery, cosplay, or Nebula swag….”

Maintaining a Good Relationship With Your Agent: Kim-Mei Kirtland, Meg Elison, Peng Shepherd, Shveta Thakrar, Martha Wells (by Kirsten Gong-Wong)

The 56th Annual Nebula Awards Ceremony was held Sunday, June 6, at 5:00 p.m. Pacific, and was streamed live on YouTube, Facebook, and the Nebula Conference website. Organizer Steven H Silver reported “216 unique viewers on the website, with a total of 318 live views and 32 additional views over the next week. The Facebook feeds had 535 views with a peak of 190 live views and a total of 19,500 viewing minutes. YouTube had a peak concurrent viewership of 457 viewers and has seen 2,300 plays in the first week.” SFWA president Mary Robinette Kowal opened the ceremony and introduced host Aydrea Walden, writer for the series Yin Yang Yo! and creator and star of Webby-nominated series Black Girl in a Big Dress.

The Damon Knight Grand Master Award was presented to Nalo Hopkinson by Tobias Buckell, who said, “Nalo is a path maker, breaking into the science fiction field with a clear Caribbean voice and background, and she showed the way for many other Caribbean writers…. But as you can see from her numerous award wins and nominations, Nalo has had an impact on science fiction and fantasy far farther than just the Caribbean writers that people talk about.” Hopkinson talked about personal struggles and the communities which helped her, thankful for “the habits and practices of acceptance and everyday generosity that hold a community together, that make a community stronger and more resilient.” She described receiving the award as “a bolt out of the blue,” saying that of 37 Grandmasters it has only gone once before to a Black person and only to seven women writers. “What this means to me is that my peers see me, and the work I do, and that they think it has value. That’s an extraordinary, precious thing for me to know.” She discussed recent initiatives SFWA has taken to improve inclusivity, saying, “Please keep doing so; the benefits to this field are profound.” She expressed gratitude, saying she cherishes the award “beyond what words can express.”

Building an Anti-Racist Workshop: Amy Z. Chan, Nalo Hopkinson, Miyuki Jane Pinckard, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Suyi Davies Okungbowa (by Francesca Myman)

James Patrick Kelly presented the Kevin O’Donnell, Jr. Service to SFWA Award to Connie Willis, who served on the awards rules committee from 1990-2020, and has also participated in the emergency medical fund committee. Grateful for the award, Willis praised the people on these committees, saying, “Every one of them has worked much harder and deserves this award more than I do.”

Bridging Verse and Prose in Speculative Writing: Katherine Quevedo, Eugen Bacon, Mari Ness, May Chong, R.B. Lemberg (by Bob Blough)

Nisi Shawl introduced the Short Story Award, which went to John Wisell’s “Open House on Haunted Hill”. Elated, Wiswell thanked voters, SFWA, Diabolical Plots, and the authors who “contributed to the space wherein I felt I could have a home.” He said, “What the field needs is for you to be different, and true to your imagination.” He encouraged authors to persist in their work, citing receiving 800 rejections in the decade of his career. “You don’t know when you’re going to come into your own, so you’ve got to endure as you can, and you’ve always got to take care of yourself.”

It’s My Story, Too!: Veronica G. Henry, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Shveta Thakrar, Darcie Little Badger, Rebecca Roanhorse (by Claire Francis)

Not since 2009, the second year of the Solstice Awards, has there been three recipients. Jeffe Kennedy presented the first of three Solstice Awards posthumously to Roxanne Longstreet Conrad, who wrote as Rachel Caine. Kennedy described her work as deftly told, subtly and evocatively written, later adding, “She was good to readers, she made even newbie writers feel comfortable, and she embraced everyone in a way that was truly exemplary.” Husband Cat Conrad accepted on her behalf.

Mallory O’Meara introduced the Ray Bradbury Award, which went to The Good Place: “Whenever You’re Ready”. Michael Schur accepted, along with David Niednagel, via a satirical performance wherein Schur gave an egotistical acceptance speech and Niednagel exacted simultaneous revenge using humorous special effects.

Writing Speculative Justice: Erin Roberts, Arley Sorg, Amy Sundberg, LaShawn M. Wanak, Tochi Onyebuchi (by Arley Sorg)

The second Solstice Award went posthumously to Ben Bova, presented by Les Johnson, who said, “Ben had a long history working as a writer, journalist, and editor.” Johnson described Bova as very kind and discussed Bova’s history as well as their interactions. Bova’s wife, Rashida Loya-Bova, accepted, reading an article the author had written for the 2008 Nebula Awards Showcase anthology, which called science fiction “the literature of change.” She thanked SFWA and Les Johnson.

Crafting the First Line: Kristin Osani, A.T. Greenblatt, Leah Cypess, C.L. Polk, P. Djèlí Clark (by Bob Blough)

Mark Oshiro presented the Andre Norton Award finalists; the winner was A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher. Ursula Vernon, the author who uses the T. Kingfisher pen name, thanked husband Kevin and publisher Argyll. She said, “This is so strange because… I started this book back in 2007… because I wanted an excuse to write off a Kitchen Aid mixer as a business expense….” She talked about the original publisher being unable to do anything with the book, her agent struggling to place it, and how years later the book suddenly became timely.

Middle Grade and YA Literature in Space!: Greg van Eekhout, Charlie Jane Anders, Joshua Levy, Sarah Prineas (by Kirsten Gong-Wong)

The third Solstice Award went to Jarvis Sheffield, presented by John Jennings, who described Sheffield’s 25-year involvement in multi-media and genre, including being the diversity track director for DragonCon and editing the Black Science Fiction Society publication, Genesis Magazine. Jennings finished by saying, “I’m very very proud of him.” Sheffield said, “My goal has been to facilitate environments where people, no matter what color, creed, nationality, age, orientation, or ability, are provided equal opportunity to grow, learn, and be represented positively and fairly.” He expressed sincere gratitude and thanked SFWA for recognizing his efforts. He said, “We all deserve an opportunity to shine and fulfill our potential” and encouraged “young and old alike to follow your dreams, be humble, be consistent, and apply the time and action needed to see your dreams through to the end.”

Sheffield’s speech was followed by the In Memoriam.

Mission Control: SFWA Staff and Volunteers (by Rebecca Gomez Farrell)

L.D. Lewis presented the finalists for the Novelette Award; the winner was “Two Truths and a Lie” by Sarah Pinsker. Joyful, Pinsker thanked voters, Ellen Datlow, the 2019 Sycamore Hill workshop group, Usman Malik who had recommended the story to Datlow, critique groups and family, wife Zu, and more. She talked about the story’s 20-year journey to completion: “A fragment of my first draft of this was something that I wrote for my senior college independent workshop…” and she encouraged writers to have patience.

Troy L. Wiggins presented the finalists for Best Novella Nebula, which went to Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark. Expressing heartfelt gratitude, Clark said, “This story found life between everything from Beyonce videos to actual ring shout songs. It was such a mash up I didn’t think anyone could have prepared me for how favorably it was received.” He thanked editor Diana Pho, saying, “gatekeepers remain important, because I don’t know how many others would have given this the greenlight.” He thanked the WPA ex-slave narrative archives, the Tordotcom team, agent Seth Fishman, SFWA, the voters, readers, and more.

#NebulaRedCarpet Collage (l to r): Jenn Reese, Caroline M. Yoachim, Cindy Lynn Speer, Finn McLellan, Nino Cipri [F by Nibedita Sen], Mary Robinette Kowal, R.B. Lemberg, Greg Kasavin, Jennifer L. Post, Phoebe Barton, Christopher Caldwell, John Wiswell, Adam Sakellarides, Lauren Raye Snow, Meg Elison, Aimee Picchi, Rebecca Gomez Farrell, Sarah Pinsker, T & Darcie Little Badger, Martha Wells, Amal El-Mohtar, A.T. Greenblatt, Katie Warren, Sam Kabo Ashwell, Jordan Ifueko, Kate Baker, Dave Agnew, Eugenia Triantafyllou
Carrie Patel presented the award finalists for Game Writing; the winner was Hades by Greg Kasavin. Kasavin accepted, thanking SFWA and fellow finalists. He said, “We know that games are capable of creating really intense emotions. But those emotions can include a sense of wonder and love and empathy, and I so value creators who are pushing those boundaries.” He thanked colleagues at Super Giant for creating an environment where story matters in games. He thanked his family and talked about how his experience as a Russian Jewish immigrant informed Hades.

The finalists for Best Novel were presented by Adam Savage, with the award going to Network Effect by Martha Wells. Wells said, “I want to say to all the writers who have been Othered in some way because of who they are, especially those of you who are my age, that I hope that, if things go wrong with your writing career, that you think seriously about just not giving up. There are people who don’t want you to write. They especially don’t want you to write and be published…. If you feel you are being pushed out of this field, and you don’t want to be, I hope you will continue to write, and write your stories, and tell your truth, and push yourself back in, because you never know what might happen if you keep trying.” She thanked voters, agent Jennifer Jackson, Michael Curry, editor Lee Harris, publisher Irene Gallo, everyone at Tordotcom and Recorded books, husband Troyce, friends, and more.

The recorded videos of program items will be available to view on the Nebula Conference event page <events.sfwa.org/> until April 2022, and the Nebulas Ceremony can be watched for free on YouTube <www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE1YtIKm8Xk>. The 2022 SFWA Nebula Conference is planned for Los Angeles, May 19-22, as an in-person event with hybrid components.

–Arley Sorg

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