Imaginales Festival Controversy

Stéphanie Nicot (2011)

Imaginales, a major annual fantasy festival held in Epinal, France, has been embroiled in controversy recently. Founder and artistic director Stéphanie Nicot, who has worked on Ima­ginales since its founding 20 years ago, was removed from her position. Nicot’s firing set off a wave of resignations and withdrawals from the festival.

Authors Aliette de Bodard, Ellen Kushner, and Robin Hobb have all posted in support of Ni­cot, and withdrawn their support for the festival. Hobb wrote on Twitter: “I am very distressed to learn that Stephanie Nicot… has been set aside. The mayor of Epinal believes that the fes­tival cannot ‘evolve’ without changes at the top. Well, I sup­pose that I, too, am something that Imaginales can get rid of.” Kushner replied, “Co-Signed. [Delia Sherman] & I were at [Imaginales] this past May: our 4th visit, just as glorious as all the rest, with its program directed by Stephanie Nicot. Who knew it would be the last?”

Lionel Davoust resigned after being part of the Imaginales team “since the very begin­ning,” serving as an interpreter for many au­thors, as secretary of the Imaginales Award, co-editor of three of the festival’s official anthologies, and workshop or­ganizer. Yuyine, who was a coordinator for mul­tiple categories of the Prix Imaginales Awards (presented at the event), also resigned in protest, and past Imaginales award winner Charlotte Bousquet deplored the “lies and spinelessness” of the organizers and said she would not return to the festival.

Prior to Nicot’s ouster, festival leadership re­portedly questioned the involvement of authors Betty Piccioli and Silène Edgar, who were vocal in criticizing Stéphane Marsan, co-founder of major French SF imprint Bragelonne, who was accused of inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment by more than 20 people. Officials also said roundtables on equality between men and women were “con­troversial.” The organizers ran a program called “Radicality of Islam or radical Islam,” which many involved with the festival considered Islamophobic. Nicot is a prominent trans activist, and other non-cis-het members of the French SF community have complained about having their roles at the festivalreduced.

Stéphane Wieser, Director of Culture for the city of Épinal, said Nicot was let go because the 2022 festival ended with considerable tensions among the organizers. Wieser said the festival needs to “evolve,” and will grow to encompass video games, movies, and other media as well as books. An interview with Wieser can be read (in French) here.

Nicot’s discussed her perspective on the situ­ation in an interview at ActuSF (in French) here. Nicot ascribes the changes to a reactionary ideological shift in the leadership of Epinal, characterizing them as Islamophobic, LGBT-phobic, and supportive of a sexual harasser. Nicot says that though this crisis has only recently erupted publicly, problems have been simmering since the start of the “Marsan affair.” When Nicot posted in support of the victims, an elected official from Epinal called to complain. Nicot says the city censored some of her programming items, and im­posed moderators and program title changes with­out consultation. The city also reacted negatively to Nicot’s requests for better compensation, though in their offer for a replacement, the city is offering a higher salary than Nicot was ever paid.

This report and more like it in the September 2022 issue of Locus.

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