Spotlight on The Science Fiction Outreach Project

Tell us about the mission of your non-profit, The Science Fiction Outreach Project.

We encourage literacy through the reading of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and spread awareness of literary science fiction conventions, such as Worldcon. We achieve this by giving away thousands of books for free every year at comic conventions. These books are donated to us by fans and publishers, and many fans volunteer to help make our presence strong at comic cons.

Fill us in on the organization’s history: when was it founded, and by whom? What achieve­ments are you most proud of?

John Dowd and James Bacon started Outreach at Thought Bubble in Leeds in 2008, and then James brought the idea to the business meeting at the Montreal Worldcon in 2010 where it initially received a dubious reception. James, along with Chris Garcia, Spike, and Helen Montgomery saw the potential and took the lead and initiated an outreach event stateside at Wondercon in 2011 in San Francisco as an effort to promote the 2011 Worldcon, Renovation. From there, James continued in the UK and Ireland while Helen took the lead in the US, incorporating in Illinois as a 501(c)(3) in 2015, and both support one another in the endeavour to go out and welcome readers to books and fandom.

We’ve brought tens of thousands of books to readers.

Like. That’s huge. We always have a special children’s section and YA section and it’s inspira­tional to see their excitement. The kids and teens get to dig through these boxes that are especially for them and pick their own and are always su­per thrilled that they can choose! We’ve had experiences where a kiddo takes a book and then comes back the next day to tell us how awesome it was.

It’s a real joy to meet fellow readers or to enthuse and share good reads with fans and watch the barriers fall away; free is a fantastic ice breaker and a great way to find the book lovers at a comic convention. Although we do have to periodically convince folks that ‘‘free books’’ really does mean free books! Once we do though, they are off to the races and usually frantically looking for an extra bag or box to help carry them all!

Another ice breaker is to have a Hugo Award in our booth – it’s so fun to watch as people realize what they are looking at and inevitably ask ‘‘is that really a Hugo Award?’’ with a sense of awe.

What resources do you offer conventions and events?

SF Outreach uses the current Worldcon (and NASFiC) as an anchor, so we go to the nearest large Comic Con to the Worldcon, thus giving a future audience a tangible target. Worldcons know that we will go, do the job, promote them and any other local conventions with a very profes­sional proposition, a strong and visible literature presence, and promote the hell out of them. We get dedicated book marks made and every book has one, while word of mouth and generating excitement is easy when you are surrounded by fans who love books. We always have flyers for Worldcons and Worldcon Bids, as well as local and regional SF cons.

What challenges does the project face today? How have you coped with the difficulties posed by the pandemic?

With thousands of donated books and ongoing static expenses (such as for storage), we had to seek support as we paused our activities. We were fortunate to make it through, and we have already been back in Chicago and Glasgow in the last 6 months with a strong presence. Helen managed the books in the US, and as our prime asset, we were pleased to get through this time.

How can interested readers help with your organization?

Donations of books and cash really help. While many Worldcons, Eastercons, and other SF cons have supported us financially, the generosity of fans has been incredibly vital. SF Outreach in the US is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, so your donations may be tax deductible (always talk to your ac­countant first!). People are happy to mail books to us (USPS Media Mail is a fab service for this) as well. Meanwhile in the UK and Ireland, books are always welcome and can be collected.

Please email <> if you’d like to make any sort of donation. You can also donate money directly via our Facebook page (Science Fiction Outreach Project – USA).

What events do you have coming up in the near future?

Having just done an event in Glasgow in March and Chicago in December, we are rebuilding and are considering next options at the moment. We will likely be in Glasgow later this year again, and we anticipate being somewhere in 2023 near whichever city is chosen to host the 2023 NASFiC, so either Orlando or Winnipeg.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

It’s fabulous seeing the joy and enthusiasm for books at these events. Free is accessible and fans show their appreciation and we encounter the pleasure finding a book brings. We know that go­ing out and finding readers is vital for spreading the word about conventions and this project works; whether in Glasgow or Chicago we met fans who remembered Worldcons who were pleased to hear of their return. We introduce people to local science fiction conventions and local fandom and encourage them to join those communities.

The excitement for books, reading, and the discovery of potential enjoyment is inspiring as is seeing young readers find titles and seeing how happy they are. It’s always a physically exhaust­ing weekend of hauling around boxes of books, but the emotional joy we get from it is absolutely priceless.

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