Why pour hours and hours of your life into this project? It started because I always have the most interesting conversations with Benjamin Rosenbaum, and I thought others might enjoy them. But that alone wouldn’t have been enough to sustain the project.
I realized that what is actually important about this podcast has to do with gatekeeping and curation — with who gets to be part of the conversation and who doesn’t, with whose work is highlighted, getting reviews and awards, and whose work is excluded, pushed to the margins.
That’s always been a tension between speculative fiction and mainstream lit. — even writers as brilliant as Ursula K. Le Guin and Samuel Delany at times struggled to have their work taken seriously by the literary establishment. When I was going through creative writing grad school — an MFA program, a Ph.D., then teaching — it was clear that for the most part, the academy still didn’t really know what to do with non-realist work.
It could carve out exceptions — Shakespeare is okay, even if he gives us fairies and sorcerers and magical storms and monstrous creatures. Frankenstein is allowed, and King Arthur made it into the canon, not to mention Grendel and the Faerie Queene. Eventually they made room for the magical realists, Marquez and Allende, and even Rushdie, with his time travel and telepathy. But those were still the exceptions that made the rule, and if you look at the literary & critical conversation today, realist work still dominates quite thoroughly.
I wanted to host a conversation that took science fiction and fantasy just as seriously as realist fiction. And then, beyond those genre conventions, I wanted to bring in writers who come from a really wide range of diverse backgrounds.
We’ve interviewed Cadwell Turnbull, for example, a Black writer who writes alien invasion set in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Coming up next, we’re interviewing Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, a lesbian couple who are both brilliant authors in their separate worlds, but also delightful to talk to together. We’ve interviewed authors from different countries (like up-and-coming Yudhanjaya Wijeratne) and different cultures (like Mexican Canadian Silvia Moreno-Garcia). We want to talk to people from diverse class backgrounds too, people who work with disability issues (like my Clarion teacher, Nicola Griffith), really, just as varied a pool of writers and editors and agents, etc. as possible.
And I’m definitely not going to claim that we’re the only podcast doing this kind of diversity work — I’m really pleased that the field has turned more and more towards celebrating and welcoming a host of diverse creators in recent years. I remember when the barriers were a lot higher than they are now, when if I wanted to write a lesbian character, I had my agent at the time asking me, “Do you have to make them a lesbian? We’ll sell a lot more books if you don’t…” It’s gotten better.
But even if it has gotten better, I think it still matters, who hosts these conversations. That’s the gatekeeping part, the curation. F&SF Magazine has had some great editors in the past, but I have to say that I’m super-excited to see Sheree Renée Thomas taking the reins — her work putting together the Dark Matter anthology was ground-breaking. Her vision changed the field, and I can’t wait to see what she does with F&SF.
I hope we can do the same kind of work with this podcast. How often does someone write a truly wonderful book, or story, or poem, and have it disappear, because no one ever heard about it? Podcasts can do an amazing job of bringing those stories to light. I hope we can highlight voices you might not have heard of otherwise, raising them up into view.
We talk about word-of-mouth in publishing a lot, about how it’s the most important factor in a book’s (or author’s) success.
Well, this is word-of-mouth made literal — a podcast is our mouths, offering you some words, about books and writers and ideas and culture, about how we have these conversations, and how we do this better, going forward.
If you want to hear the voices that we think are worth listening to, voices that have often been pushed to the margins in the past, then I hope you’ll consider supporting our podcast.
I’ll leave you with a clip from an interview I did with brilliant academic Farah Mendlesohn in a hotel room, back when we still went to conventions. Sorry the sound is a little soft — this was early on, and we were still learning our craft. The first minute or so is lead-in, then it gets interesting.
In this 4-minute clip, Farah explains to me how she realized that Narnia is in Canada, and what broader implications that held for the literary world. I thought it was fascinating; I hope you do too.
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