Encouraging diversity – an editor’s perspective

During the last day or so, both John O’Neill, the editor of Black Gate, and Nathaniel Lee, the Managing Editor of Escape Pod,  spoke up against Dave Truesdale’s review  of Women Destroy Science Fiction. This is really important. I was heartened to see these reactions, and I applaud both John and Nathaniel for taking a stand.

As a part of these blog comments, the question of encouraging diversity came up. It is a topic I would like to discuss.

Here are the relevant bits:

Nathaniel Lee:

P.S. – Plz send more science fiction stories to Escape Pod, authors who are female! *waves semaphore flags, does a little jig* If you could see what our slushpile looks like, you’d send us your stories out of pity!

John O’Neill:

> Plz send more science fiction stories to Escape Pod, authors who are female! *waves semaphore flags, does a little jig*

And to everyone else: THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT. Was that hard? No. But this is the kind of attitude you need for your publication to be perceived as open towards women.

I greatly appreciate both John and Nathaniel’s reactions, but I am not convinced that encouraging women submitters via a blog post comment in another male editor’s blog is quite how you do it.

When I founded Stone Telling, I knew I wanted the market to be diverse. I talked to both poets and editors before founding the magazine, and heard from quite a few that there just weren’t that many PoC poets in the field, and that very few poets write queer content. I was planning to solicit, but heard back from a few folks that I should expect to quickly run out of PoC poets from whom I could solicit.

That did not happen. What happened was that the field grew in response to a welcoming market. New poets, including queer and PoC poets, sent work to us, and had their first poems published at Stone Telling. Starting with Issue 4, Shweta Narayan joined the team – first as a guest co-editor (with J.C. Runolfson), then as a co-editor. We consistently encouraged and are continuing to encourage marginalized and diverse voices, and the community responded by sending us amazing, fresh, and thought-provoking poetry. The slush pile changed from 2010 to 2014 to better reflect our editorial direction and choices.

There is a lot more work to be done, and we are limited by our health issues, as well as limited opportunities to attend cons. We also made our share of mistakes. I am sure we could have done even better. However, I also feel that we learned a lot about how to diversify a submission pool. Here are some tips:

1. Solicit. Ask for recommendations from other editors (especially those who are different from you), and read stories by authors who don’t usually submit to your magazine. See if you like something, and if you do, reach out to that author and ask them to send you work.

2. Actually buy work by authors whose demographic you’re looking to encourage. Writers make decisions about your market being welcoming to them based on whether you publish writers like them.

3. Solicit from established *and* up-and-coming authors. If you buy, e.g. stories from white cisgendered men at all stages in their careers, but you only buy from women, trans and nonbinary people, and/or PoC creators, if they are famous, that is not going to appear especially welcoming, and will not necessarily balance your slush.

4. Invite a co-editor of the demographic you seek to encourage. E.g. if you are an all-white, all-cisgendered, all-straight male team, think of inviting someone different to collaborate with you. Then actually give that person power to make some choices.

5. One of the easiest ways to test the waters with potential co-editors is to invite them to guest-edit.

6. Special or themed issues are a great way to encourage new authors to discover your market.  E.g., we are very proud of our Queer issue, and we are also very excited about an upcoming issue of new-to-us poets.

7. Talk to people. Participate in important conversations. Actively challenge yourself to seek out new perspectives and voices. Weigh criticism carefully. Grow.

8. Also, if you could please encourage people of all underrepresented genders, not just cisgendered women, to submit to your magazine, that would be great. Gender diversity is more complicated than men vs women.

An updated projects page

I have expanded and updated the PROJECTS page to serve as a gateway to my various projects.

As a part of this redesign, I created three additional subpages.

First is the Jewish magic realist page, collecting works about immigration, pain, belonging, and family. I was surprised to discover, while working on this today, how many of those pieces I have written. This will be a collection one day.

Second, I made a Birdverse page with a list of finished work. A lot is on submission right now, or almost ready to go. I cannot wait to share more with you!

Last, I created a page for the Journeymaker/Two-Mountain World poems.

Hope you enjoy this newfound sense of order! I am excited to have enough work out that some of this interconnectedness can be made apparent through lists.

A Sale, and an Award Nomination

My magic realist flash story, “No Longer Lacking an Onion,” has been accepted to appear in Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi. Hurray, and thanks to editors Kelly Stiles and Michael Haynes, as well as to first reader Natalia Theodoridou for passing it up!

My short poem “The Journeymaker, Climbing” from Winter 2013 issue of Goblin Fruit has been nominated for the Dwarf Stars award, and will appear in the Dwarf Stars anthology edited by Sandra Lindow. I am always very happy when the Journeymaker cycle poems receive attention.

Post-Binary Gender and Language column up at Tor.com

I participated in Post-Binary Gender in SF Roundtable: Languages of Gender, which went up at Tor.com today. Alex Dally MacFarlane asked wonderful, insightful questions; the other respondents were Benjanun Sriduangkaew and Bogi Takács.

I talk about non-binary/post-binary gender, grammatical gender and how it influences writing, Soviet SF, and more. Here is a short excerpt:

You’ve talked about English offering different options to other languages for expressing post-binary gender. Do you know of ways that writers in these languages (or others) have worked with this subject? (I know, for instance, that the original Japanese publication of Sayuri Ueda’s The Cage of Zeus avoided pronouns for the non-binary characters.)

Benjanun: I was recently directed to this poem by Yona Wallach that’s specifically about gendered language in Hebrew. Other than that I don’t have much insight to offer as in my language pronouns are not very gendered, and so it doesn’t come up as a linguistic issue.

Rose: I have thought a lot about how, despite professed Soviet ideals of gender equality, Soviet-age SFF seems to have major issues with gender representation both in terms of who wrote science fiction, and what kind of protagonists were featured in classic novels and short stories […]

I’m very pleased with how this came out, and hope you give it a read!



News, mentions, and congratulations

A.C. Wise kindly profiles me in a current installment of her Women to Read series at SF Signal. She highlights my story “Geddarien,” as well as “A City on its Tentacles” from Lackington’s:

In the interest of full disclosure, “Geddarien,” my recommended starting point for Rose Lemberg’s work was reprinted in the architecture issue of Unlikely Story, which I co-edit. Personal connection aside, I would still recommend it is a starting place for Lemberg’s work. The story struck me and stuck with me from the first time I read it when it was originally published in Fantasy Magazine in 2009. The story is haunting, resonating long after its last word, which is appropriate for a story centered around music. The story deftly balances whimsy and magic, the idea of dancing houses, with the horrors of the Holocaust and the persecution and murder of Jews.

Strange Horizons posted a set of updated Poetry Guidelines, where I am listed as one of the editors’ favorite poets. It is an honor.

I made a set of arguments on Twitter about dialect and hegemony, which has been storified by Alex Dally MacFarlane and is available here. These tweets have been made in conjunction with Daniel J. Older’s reaction to a Strange Horizons review of Long Hidden; the full context, as well as the ensuing other arguments, have been summarized in a Strange Horizons entry “On Dialect.”

Bogi Takács is tweeting eir recommendations of diverse stories under the #diversestories tag. I love these recommendations.

Speaking of love: I love, love, love, love Alex Dally MacFarlane’s story “Women in Sandstone” in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

“Your mouth is hanging open like a bell,” the South-East Wind said.  “I wonder, if the wind blows between your teeth, will you clang or chime?”

The general tore her gaze from the temple’s walls.  The tall wine-dark plume on her silver helmet bobbed and swayed in the North Wind | I blow through it and it is like the grass near a battlefield: heavy with the smells of burning and blood and bones | and then it tilted as she removed the helmet, revealing her hair—long and black with white running through it like embroidery, fastened in four thick braids—and the extent of her dark, scarred face.  “I wish to honor your great temple,” she said.

I blow through the bells, I blow through them all, all thousands upon thousands, I bring them all to song and it is loud and perfect |

The general barely flinched at the sound of the North Wind blowing across the temple’s bells, though she looked up again, wary.  The South-East Wind smiled.

If I could hang a tiny “yes” under each one of these words, they would chime there like bells.

Finally, congratulations to Nebula Award winners and nominees.  I am still to read many of the works in this slate, but my favorites included work by Ann Leckie, Sofia Samatar, and Ken Schneyer. Cheers!

New review of “A City on its Tentacles”

Editor Ranylt Richildis alerted me to a new review of the first issue of Lackington’s #1 by Vanessa Fogg, who highlights my story “A City on its Tentacles” for an in-depth and very positive writeup.

Luba is both a mother and storyteller. She dreams wonderful tales and grows within herself a magic pearl. But her daughter suffers from a mysterious illness, and the only way for Luba to save her is to periodically enter the Undersea and give up her pearl and all the storytelling/dreaming power which is tied to that pearl. She doesn’t give it up completely; the pearl will grow back, and while Luba’s storytelling powers return her daughter again declines, until Luba has to return to the Undersea and give up the new pearl for her daughter’s health, again and again. […] Charlotte Ashley in her positive review read this story as a narrative about addiction. My interpretation is more literal: I take at face-value the sacrifice that Luba has to make.

I am thrilled to have this reading, and such a detailed and positive review, alongside Charlotte Ashley’s also very positive, but very different reading. When I was shopping/showing this story around, there’d been some commentary on how editors and readers needed to know “what the story really is about.” Is it about a drug addiction? Is the magical setting real? Is it about poverty? Is it about what happens to women when men leave them? (ok, this last one was a bit baffling).

All I can say is this: not all stories need to have a One True Reading. This one doesn’t. It’s amenable to many readings, it is unreliable, malleable, shifting – like the octopus at the heart of the Undersea, like stories we tell ourselves, those stories we take at face value at one moment and disbelieve the next, those less-than-straightforward tales that circumnavigate and shape our painful magical lives. In her editorial, Ranylt Richildis talked much about language versus plot, but from where I stand, Ranylt’s editorial process was not about accepting a plotless story  (“City” most definitely has a plot), but about taking a chance on a story that has many readings.

It is a feature, not a bug.


Commenting policy posted

I have posted a page with my commenting policy. Section II specifically deals with the question of closed comments.

Comments are open here for now, but I am in the middle of a bad tendonitis flare; responses may be slow.


Narrative, objectivity, and viewpoint

What follows is a post-format storify of my tweets, which are in themselves a follow-up to my previous post on “merit”. The real storify of these tweets is here– with many thanks to Serena @activehearts.

I do not have spoons to elaborate on these tweets, or to cite references. If you want to read good scholarly discussions of this stuff, I recommend “Narrating the Self” by Elinor Ochs and Lisa Capps, and Eve Sweetser and Barbara Dancygier’s works on narrative and cognition, such as their latest Viewpoint in Language.


No storytelling, or its consumption, can be divorced from viewpoint. Viewpoint is an inherent part of human narrative activity.

Narrative theorists argue that narratives more complex than a sentence tend to happen on two planes – that of action & that of consciousness. Viewpoint is cognitively embedded in our narrative activity, both as storytellers and as listeners/readers. If you think you are reading “objectively”, it is highly likely that you are reading from a hegemonic viewpoint, where there is no dissonance between your viewpoint – your plane of consciousness – and that of hegemonic storylines. It is likely that you did not have to question the validity of your viewpoint, and saw it reflected continuously in mainstream narratives. To put it bluntly, if you think you’re objective abt a narrative, your viewpoint is very likely aligned with hegemonic view of what is right – of what constitutes the “right” narrative form and arc, the “right” kind of protagonist, the “right” kind of resolution.

There is no such thing as a viewpoint-less reading of a narrative. But we can be oblivious to our own viewpoints under certain conditions. Those conditions under which you may remain unaware of your own subjectivity are usually conditions of privilege – of hegemonic positioning.

From where I stand, the concept of “objectivity” is not worth bargaining for. It does not give us strong tools to build or analyze narratives. From where I stand, a much better bargain is a better understanding of viewpoint: its psychology, its sociology, its history. Its multiplicity.

A better narrative is a narrative that acknowledges the multiplicity of viewpoints – of cognitive and social positions from which we – narrators of stories, readers, as well as our protagonists – come at our varied and complex understandings of the world, and of relationships. In acknowledging and fronting the multiplicity of viewpoints within accomplished and complex narratives, we do the same in life. Acknowledgment and appreciation of diversity comes from this understanding. It is complex, intricate, and worth working for.

I am leaving comments open for now, but will reevaluate in the morning. Spoons are low to nonexistent. Thank you for understanding.

On the pitfalls of “merit”

As I see it, there is currently a split in the fandom. I tentatively think of it as a split between Golden Age fans and Diversity Age fans. This is not about age, as I’ve written before, but about storylines: who gets to write stories, who gets to be a protagonist of stories, who gets to consume stories and express their opinions as authoritative. There is a certain correlation between demographic variables, and the Golden Age vs Diversity Age split in fandom, but it is far from absolute, and this imperfect mapping often creates dissonance in the way we speak about fandom, the works within it, and personalities who generate and consume these works.

It is not surprising that there is a demographic correlation wrt these fandoms, as many people like to see protagonists who are like themselves. It is also no big secret that Golden Age works often tend to other, exclude, and dismiss Diversity Age Fans. Nevertheless, there is an overlap between these fandoms. Perhaps instead of talking about a binary split, we can talk about a continuum between these two axes; a continuum of values and interests that maps loosely but not precisely onto demographics. Some people can hold positions that overlap with both axes. A white, cisgendered, heterosexual man can certainly be a Diversity Age fan.

However, the position of a white, cisgendered, heterosexual man is a demographic position of privilege and power both in fandom and without it. Within the Golden Age umbrella, this demographic has been the one primarily fronted through narratives, power structures, promotion through mainstream presses, and other venues of power. This demographic position of power is not automatically dismantled or disappears within Diversity Age fandom – on the contrary, we see a flow of social capital from fans, in form of sales, praise, and support, towards such powerful fans who side with Diversity Age positions.

Such powerful fans are, not surprisingly, in a position to powerfully promote Diversity Age voices, which are, in many cases, still building their influence and earning social power and fanbase. While speaking out, up and coming diverse writers and fans often become targets of ridicule and scorn due to their demographic and social positioning – when they get any attention at all. In that way, white, cisgendered, heterosexual men (and often women, though there is a notable social and power difference) who are power brokers in our communities can – and get- to do a lot of good for Diversity Age fandom.

However, the temptation is strong to use this power not just to do ally work, but to self-build through the struggle of marginalized Diversity Age writers and fans – through campaining for Diversity positions which incurs increased social capital, as well as increased financial capital. Few are the voices that rise to openly criticize such powerful fans if their work happens to be less than clueful, because they are in power positions to grant and withdraw favors, as well as grant and withdraw considerable social capital in our communities. It is exactly the risk that I am taking here.

Now I will speak about conciliatory voices. Some of the people on Hugo ballot this year – regardless of how they got there – spoke openly and vociferously against personhood and agency of Diversity Age authors and fans, to an extent that many Diversity Age authors and fans felt and continue to feel threatened emotionally and at times physically. At the same time, certain conciliatory voices of prominent fandom people have been raised to ask fandom to judge Hugo-nominated works on their literary merit.

The suggestion that we read solely for “merit” fronts the idea of “objectivity,” i.e. that a view which considers a given work in a vacuum, without social context in whcih the work has been created and disseminated, is somehow desirable and superior to other ways of reading. Fronting “objectivity” has a long and problematic history within academia and beyond. The fallacy is that what gets to be objective gets to be again defined by power brokers, thus effectively silencing and disenfranchising the marginalized.

This suggestion also carries within it a value judgment: “objectivity good, anger bad” – which slides yet again into the old and tired tone argument.

It is my opinion that such conciliatory voices from prominent personae who are 1) power brokers in our communities and 2) considerably less marginalized than the diverse fans and authors they are championing – are not helping the cause of marginalized and othered Diversity Age authors and fans. In these statements there is often an embedded tone argument, an entreaty to Diversity Age fans to play nice with people who explicitly or implicitly dehumanize and more yet, threaten violence against them. Such conciliatory language from power brokers suggests story lines for the whole community to align with – storylines whose buzzwords are “reason,” “respectability,” and “merit.”

But these “voices of reason” may not speak fully for Diversity Age fans, because the very notion of such reason and its objectivity is a Western ideal (and by extent white, male, and historically entrenched ideal within the power structures of the West) which we are thereby encouraged to adopt. The ideal of objective merit might seem desirable at first glance, because we are socialized to desire it. In fact, the adoption of this ideal is dangerous: it suppresses non-Western, non-cisgendered-male modes of thinking and communicating, and imposes a mainstream, power paradigm upon the marginalized – it often has, in short, a silencing effect.

Also, conciliatory statements often have the effect of diverting the attention yet again (along with the accompanying social praise and support) from the marginalized voices to the power brokers, thus increasing the social capital of those who already have it, while marginalized voices go unpromoted and unsupported – unsupported often in context of vicious attacks from those who deny Diversity Age fans their personhood.

This is not about Golden Age vs Diversity Age split, but about lending one’s ear to white supremacists and their allies. For many of us, who are well-versed in surviving violence of various kinds, knowing the context is crucial for survival. This is why we cannot divorce the work from its author, or from the social context within which these authors operate. A context in which a given author is actively dangerous – emotionally, physically – is crucial.

It is within this context that many of us will judge such works, and many of us may feel angry, uncomfortable, disenfranchised, dismissed, and silenced when the paradigm of “merit” is suggested by power brokers – even when they are powerful allies in other contexts.

Special thanks to Saira Ali, Amal El-Mohtar, SL Huang, and Alex Dally MacFarlane for their critical reading, suggestions, and support.

I am closing comments because I have no spoons for trolls in this space. Please feel free to discuss this in your own spaces. If you’d like a discussion with me specifically, please find me through @roselemberg on twitter. I will do my best to engage, though I will not be engaging with trolls.

Poem sale, and Hugo shoutouts

My poem “Peregrinations in Change and Fear,” which some of you have read in drafts as “untitled,” will be published in Poems for the Queer Revolution edited by Jude Sandelewski.

I have made two other sales which I cannot announce yet, but hopefully soon.

Hugo shoutouts:

Major congratulations to Ann Leckie (Ancillary Justice), Catherynne M. Valente (“Six-Gun Snow White”), Aliette de Bodard (“The Waiting Stars”), Sofia Samatar (“Selkie Stories are for Losers”), and John Chu (“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”) for their nominations in various fiction categories.

Congratulations to Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas (Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It), Justin Landon and Jared Shurin (Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary), and Jeff Vandermeer (Wonderbook) for their nominations in Best Related Work category.

Kudos to Ellen Datlow, Neil Clarke, and Liz Gorinsky for their Best Editor nominations, and to Galen Dara for Best Professional Artist (really, HURRAY!).

Congratulations to the editorial teams of Apex, Strange Horizons, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies – all beloved markets who also published my work, some repeatedly.

Major props to Liz Bourke and Foz Meadows, who were nominated in the Best Fan Writer category. It’s a great Fan Writer list this year.

Finally, in the Campbell Award for Best New Writer category, I am especially pleased to see Sofia Samatar, Wesley Chu, and Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

In 2013, my work has appeared in the following nominated markets: Apex (“Where the Ocean Falls into Itself“), Strange Horizons (“Teffeu: A Book from the Library at Ta’arona“), and Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary (“Feminist SF/F: On Feminist Characters“). Cool.

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Rose Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Tiptree, Elgin, Rhysling, and Crawford awards.

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