2023 Williamson Lectureship

Rebecca Roanhorse, Walter Jon Williams, Lauren C. Teffeau, and Cordelia Willis

The 46th Williamson Lectureship, held April 13-15, 2023 in Portales NM, was a chance for the event’s committee to try a few new things, including a student display of science fiction artwork inspired by author Jack Williamson’s work and the screening of student genre films.

The theme of “Climates of Empire” suited the second in-person post-COVID Lectureship, held to honor SF pioneer Jack Williamson at Eastern NM University and around town, with discussions of historical empires and climate change. Arkady Martine, Hugo Award-winning author of A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace, was guest of honor, and Connie Willis served as toastmistress.

GoH Arkady Martine,
Toastmaster Connie Willis

San Jose criminalist Cordelia Willis started off events on Thursday with a live presentation on “Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in the Crime Lab Anymore: L.A. Adventures with Criminalist Cordelia Willis” to an audience of 60 ENMU students, authors, and fans in the Jack Williamson Liberal Arts Building. “This was an unusual case and once in a lifetime,” she said. “I ended up driving a Honda CR-V in the middle of a SWAT convoy, and being on-scene as suspects were arrested.”

Afterward, Lectureship organizer David Sweeten welcomed attendees in the University Theatre Center before SF Bingo was played and short genre films by past ENMU students were screened.

Friday began with a reading by Martine to about 45 people in the Campus Union Building. Martine read a section from Rose/House, a murder-mystery novella set in an A.I.-run haunted house. Martine, who works as Dr. AnnaLinden Weller for the state of New Mexico as a policy advisor on climate change, is often asked about her two careers. “Writers ask me when I’m going to quit my day job, and my state co-workers ask when I’m going to quit writing. My answer to both is ‘Never.’ I think my writing has improved my policy making, and my job improves and influences my writing. I use my background in history, and how civilizations and human societies begin in my work – and more so in my writing – every day.”

Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Emily Mah

Sweeten welcomed 75 people to Friday’s luncheon with a trivia quiz. He said, “What makes this event special is how it brings so many different people together – authors, readers, scholars, students and community.” Willis reported the latest news, including Portales demolishing their grain storage tower. “A newspaper said it ‘altered the skyline of Portales.’ It was the skyline. And there’s not much UFO news, except in Florida where a UFO turned out to be an inflatable camping tent.” Willis noted the Lectureship was started in 1977 in honor of Williamson. “To say Jack was an extraordinary person is an understatement. His first story was published the year after Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic, and his last book was published the year after the rover Opportunity landed on Mars. He worked tirelessly to get science fiction recognized as literature and taught in schools.”

Martine gave a luncheon speech and said that with two jobs, she is never bored, but often tired. “In 2014, I went to Sweden for post-doc research on the Byzantine Empire, specifically their Eastern frontier borderland in Armenia. But instead of writing a non-fiction history book, I wrote three-quarters of A Memory Called Empire. I was looking at diplomatic letters that tried to control the narrative and keep Byzantine as the center to the world. A borderland is an edge between areas and where conflict has the most potential. They’re messy, not clean, and where conflicting narratives are encountered.”

After lunch, there was a tabletop-gaming session organized by students and some Lectureship attendees also visited special collections librarian Regina Bouley Sweeten and the Williamson collection while others went in search of ice cream.

About 55 people attended panel discussions in classrooms in the JWLA Building. In “Climates of Empire” with Martine, Rebecca Roanhorse, Lauren C. Teffeau, and Sarena Ulibarri, Ulibarri observed, “If you’re doing any story set in the real world, you have a responsibility to address climate change unless you’re doing a pure escapist adventure.” Roanhorse noted, “Marginalized or people of color often are the first to suffer from any climate catastrophe, so I often come from that side angle.”

In the “Worldbuilding” panel with Willis, Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Emily Mah, and Walter Jon Williams, lots of writing advice was offered. Willis said, “The trick is to figure out if something matters, and how much it does to the story. Sometimes it’s possible to care about the wrong thing. There are essential and non-essential items, and you have to figure out what the story is really about.” Jones said, “Every writer has a promise, and you have to keep it.” Mah remarked, “As the saying goes, ‘Good writers borrow, great writers steal.”’

The “Artificial Intelligence” panel featured Martine, Willis, Reese Hogan, and Ian Tregillis talking about the current state of robotics and ChatGPT, and whether the future will be close to Williamson’s The Humanoids, The Terminator’s Skynet, or something completely different.

On the “New Genres and Trends in Fiction” panel with S.E. Burr, Vivian Shaw, Teffeau, and Ulibarri, Shaw said, “I like the idea of using genre as a toolbox, and then learning how to use the tools for those kinds of stories.” Teffeau added, “Sometimes you can’t see what’s best for your book. It’s always an adventure.” Ulibarri advised, “Be familiar with the genre you want to write in. Reading in that genre helps prevent the need to reinvent the wheel or to come up with old cliches that you think are unique.”

Rounding out the day were “The Craft and Routine of Writing” with Mah, Roanhorse, Shaw, and Tregillis, and the “Short Attention Span” panel with Hogan, Jones, Kennedy, and Williams. Roanhorse remarked, “You can’t obsess over the first draft because then you’ll never finish it. You can’t see the problems in your story unless you actually finish writing it.” Addressing the financial reality of writing, Kennedy commented, “If you’re writing to make money, there are easier ways to make a living. You write because it’s a yearning.”

Friday evening’s dinner party was held at the home of committee members Dave & Susan Asplund, where about 30 people chatted and visited, while enjoying food and drinks. Saturday had a writers’ workshop on “Beginnings and Endings” for college students led by Willis with assistance from authors in the audience. Thirty people listened as Willis told them, “Endings aren’t covered much, and they are even more important than beginnings. Whatever question has been asked in the story has to be resolved. We have a compulsive need – a deep desire – for closure.”

Attendees at the Lectureship included Jack Williamson’s niece, Betty Williamson; Bubonicon organizers Craig W. Chrissinger, Jessica Coyle, and Patricia Rogers; authors Brian Hinson, Rae Oestreich, and Tiffany Trent; publisher Stephen Haffner; Williams’ wife, Kathy Hedges; retired librarian Gene Bundy; retired University president Patrice Caldwell; and Lectureship organizers Mary Ayala, Jon Barr, Geni Flores, and Barbara Senn. Plans for April 2024’s Lectureship will be underway soon, including a guest of honor announcement for the 47th Lectureship.

This report and more like it in the May 2023 issue of Locus.

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