Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Interesting conversations

I ran across a couple of accounts of interesting conversations today, both involving Aqueductistas.

io9 offers an account of a conversation between Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood-- before a Portland audience of 2000 people. Claire L. Evans writes:
Pairing Margaret Atwood with Ursula K. Le Guin was smart: they come from similar backgrounds, both attended Radcliffe in the pre-Second Wave years, both are very prolific writers of indefinable genre fiction, and they've evidently been friends for years. Seated on little divans in front of over 2,000 people (yes, "only in Portland," I know), they seemed like two old school chums swapping gossip even when they were deconstructing modern realism and debating whether or not the human race is doomed. The effect was intimate, convivial — Le Guin giggling uncontrollably, for example, when Atwood discussed how writing is like building a boudoir for the reader. Atwood making endless Twitter jokes.
But apparently one of their topics of discussion was the shortcomings of realism and-- you guessed it-- how to characterize the kind of (non-realist) fiction they write.

The second conversation is one reported by Tibor Moricz for From Bar to Bar, with Gwyneth Jones, whom he characterizes as "The White Queen." (Not the Red Queen, though that might be more appropriate, given the Lewis Carrollian vision he conjures up.    

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nigerian Feminism

The Mumspiums has a link to an excellent post on Nigerian feminists, Women and the Nation, by Sokari, that i highly recommend. Sokari prefaces her essay on 50 years of Nigerian Feminism with a discussion of the difficulty of defining "Nigerian feminism."
My understanding of African / Nigerian feminism lies somewhere between indigeious feminisms which have always existed in the sense that Nigerian women have always fought against local oppressive conditions as well as more recently colonialism; and contemporary feminism which is relatively new and although it has its foundations in Europe, Africa / Nigeria has developed it’s own contemporary indigenous feminisms which struggle against fundamentalist and oppressive conditions such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages, widowhood rites, same sex relationships and so on. The point is that feminism is not just about women, its about creating a new form of social relationships based on equality, mutual respect and justice.

So instead I am going to focus on some of the Nigerian women (some may identify as feminists, some may not) who have taken action towards achieving justice and social, economic, environmental and political change. Women who I consider to be progressive and who have challenged and resisted oppressive conditions and or laws by taking action either individually or collectively. The women mentioned largely remain nameless but their actions have not been forgotten. They have much to teach us with their courage and tenacity. I hope that those who read the piece can add to it and possibly we can begin the discussion around what we mean by ‘Nigerian FeminismS”. The list of women is not definitive – it is my list and I invite readers to share the names of their role models and heroines.
Sokari includes not only activists, but also journalists, bloggers, and artists on her list.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Links for a Monday evening

--It's Banned Books Week in the US and the UK. Today's Guardian has an article about it that notes some of the usual targets of book-banning as well as some new ones. I was most interested by the one designated "the eighth most challenged book in the US last year":

Carolyn Mackler, whose novel The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things was the eighth most challenged book in the US last year for reasons including its "offensive" language and sexually explicit scenes, sent a statement to be read at the event. "While I'm honoured to be in the company of such amazingly talented authors, I'm certainly not honoured to be on the list," said Mackler. "And while I'm no stranger to book challenges, for some reason I'm always surprised."

She has received "hundreds of letters and emails from teenage girls" who have been inspired by the novel, she said. The book tells the story of Virginia, "a curvy 15-year-old girl who has been made to feel terrible about herself by her not-so-curvy family [but who] ultimately learns to feel good about herself, even to celebrate herself, as she is, without losing weight, without hurting her body."

"I write about teenagers as they are, and my characters sometimes curse, and they hook up, and they confront their parents when they feel they are being wronged. This, I suppose, is upsetting to people who don't want their child exposed to these things. While I sincerely doubt that my book will be someone's only exposure to such content, I respect a parent's wishes for their children. Their children, I emphasise. Not everyone else's," she said. "I am a parent. I closely follow the books that my son reads. If a book is scaring him, we talk about it. If a book doesn't seem appropriate for him, I tuck it away and suggest he wait a few years. I have a good sense of what he's ready for, what he's wondering about. But do I know what is right for his friend or classmate? No way. Please, all of us, let's keep standing up against book banning."
--Meanwhile, Aqueductista Sue Lange has posted Confessions of a Serial Book Banner.

--Strange Horizons has posted a review by Claire Brialey of The Secret Feminist Cabal.

--io9 reports that the UN has appointed Malaysian astrophysicist Mazlan Othman Earth's ambadassor in the case that an extraterrestrial species visit Earth (link courtesy of Liz Henry).

--Censorship isn't exactly book-banning, but the principle is similar. These days, censorship tends to be on "security" grounds, exercised by intelligence agencies. I'm sure everyone will be relieved to hear that some of those many US tax dollars at work in the Pentagon are being used to purchase 10,000 copies of a book written by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer-- a book vetted in advance, of course, by the author's military superiors-- in order to destroy virtually all of the initial print run. St. Martin's Press, the publisher, is producing a second version, with words, names, and even entire paragraphs blacked out throughout the book's 299 pages. I wonder. Who does St. Martin think will want to subject themselves to such a stymied reading experience? Is it possible they're hoping that non-serious readers will buy the book out of a certain kind of curiosity? It boggles the mind. Here is a portion of CNN's report by Chris Lawrence and Padma Rama:

The Pentagon contacted St. Martin's Press in early August to convey its concerns over the release of the book. According to the publisher, at that time the first printings were just about to be shipped from its warehouse. Shaffer said he and the publisher worked hard "to make sure nothing in the book would be detrimental to national security."

"When you look at what they took out (in the 2nd edition), it's lunacy," Shaffer said.

The Pentagon says Shaffer should have sought wider clearance for the memoir.

"He did clear it with Army Reserve but not with the larger Army and with Department of Defense," Department of Defense spokesman Col. David Lapan said earlier this month. "So he did not meet the requirements under Department of Defense regulations for security review."

One of the book's first lines reads, "Here I was in Afghanistan (redaction) My job: to run the Defense Intelligence Agency's operations out of (redaction) the hub for U.S. operations in country."

In chapter 15, titled "Tipping Point," 21 lines within the first two pages are blacked out.

In the memoir, Shaffer recalls his time in Afghanistan leading a black-ops team during the Bush administration. The Bronze Star medal recipient told CNN he believes the Bush administration's biggest mistake during that time was misunderstanding the culture there.

Defense officials said they are in the process of reimbursing the publisher for the cost of the first printing and have not purchased copies of the redacted version.

At least one seller on the online auction site eBay claiming to have a first-edition printing is selling it for an asking price of nearly $2,000. The listed retail price for the second printing is $25.99.
Which just goes to show that while book-banning and censorship work on similar principles, for authors, the difference is enormous.  

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Politics of Discourse (feminist and otherwise)

Anyone familiar with online discussion knows that it takes only one person in a particular venue to poison or stunt an interesting, thoughtful conversation among half a dozen or even two or three dozen people. It has happened a lot on the internet and is the reason most discussion groups have moderators and most bloggers moderate their comments. Arguably, the success of an online discussion depends heavily on the care and skill with which the discussion is moderated. This is often true for panels at science fiction conventions, too.*

Many individual moderators and bloggers may be savvy to the difficulties of creating and preserving a space for open, constructive conversation, but this is obviously not the case in the larger public sphere. Over the last nine years in the United States, extremist speech has proliferated throughout many areas of the internet as well as the public sphere, and the major "news" media have come to love extremist speech (as long as it's right-wing), especially when its racist or homophobic. There have always been right-wing extremists in the United States, but they've seldom been allowed to dominate public discourse as they do now.

One might argue that the reason right-wing extremists are now dominating public discourse is that the news media have decided that right-wing extremism serves the important functions of distorting our sense of the political spectrum and drowning out the conversations we would otherwise be having. Certainly that's how it's working for the larger political picture. How often, for instance, do journalists engage in consideration of the human rights issues that were so pressing in the run-up to the last presidential election-- issues that the Obama Administration have refused to confront? Or the dire environmental crisis that the extremists persist in denying? Or the chicanery in the financial sector that has thrown millions of people out of work and into poverty? Countering ridiculous disinformation is an endless treadmill of distraction.

My take on the politics of discourse in both the public and the blogosphere has shaped my sense of the impact the Elizabeth Moon controversy may have on WisCon 35. Over the years, WisCon's concom has helped to create and preserve a space for open, constructive conversation. Their success in doing this has made WisCon the unique event and place that it is. Creating and preserving a space for open, constructive conversation is not the concom's only role, but it is surely an important one. And so as a regular attendee of WisCon, I read with care the WisCon 35 co-chairs' statement to the WisCon Community, addressing the subject of Elizabeth Moon's post, in the latest issue of e-Cube e-Cube. They write:
We know that opinions are not changed by running away from them, but instead by engaging with them, challenging their assumptions, sharing knowledge, seeking understanding, and by lively and candid discourse. And we think that provides a pretty good short description of a typical WisCon.

One might say that WisCon excels at the difficult conversation -- and sometimes the hardest conversation is with an idol who turns out to be human. We have begun addressing our difference of views with Ms. Moon directly, and will continue to do so over the coming months and at the con itself. We hope you will join us in this difficult conversation.
Extremist speech like Elizabeth Moon's is threatening and harmful in itself to individuals, as the co-chairs acknowledge. But what the co-chairs do not acknowledge is that extremist speech is extremely detrimental when it is allowed into particular discourses. Many people at WisCon have over the last several years worked diligently to make WisCon inclusive not only of those who are othered in the larger culture but also in its discourse. Making WisCon's discourse more fully inclusive means finally beginning to move beyond the same-old bingo card exchanges that go on constantly in the culture at large, to a different sort of conversational framework that enables truly open conversation. I don't know Elizabeth Moon personally, and I don't know what she has said to the concom to make them believe that allowing WisCon discourse to be dominated by the issue of her ignorance will generate a conversation in any way worth the tax, but judging by her ignorant, extremist post (which is all we have to go on at the moment), it will be like trying to have a "conversation" with a Fox "News" pundit.

The fact that Elizabeth Moon summarily and indiscriminately erased every comment to her post, which she at the same time left standing, argues that even that limited form of conversation is unwelcome to her. On the basis of that act, the prospects for even "difficult conversation" are dim-- even if she does, belatedly, issue an apology (as Nisi Shawl hopes she will do).

Imagine if the concom had invited someone who had spouted off a Larry Summers-type remark about women being genetically handicapped at math and science. Would the concom then have decided to hold a fresh round of Feminism 101 panels to counter it-- thus reducing WisCon to being like all the other cons where the only feminist-interest panels one can find are of the Feminism 101 variety?

Here is a more general question: is treating an outburst of extremism as an attempt at dialogue a moderate response? Where, I would ask the "moderate," does one draw the line? What if Elizabeth Moon had said that she agreed with the Obama Administration's decision to assassinate a US citizen currently living abroad? Or that, building on her claim that what Muslims believe "unfits them for citizenship," she had announced that she agreed with the extremists who favor taking citizenship away from Muslim citizens of the US? Or if she had said she thought all citizens and residents who practice Islam ought to be expelled from the US or put into camps, as Japanese Americans were after the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

I raise the hypothetical question of where the line should be drawn because it strikes me that part of the difficulty here is that the WisCon concom apparently lacks a policy for dealing with extremist speech. In such a situation, the co-chairs, who speak for the concom and whose job tends more toward putting out fires rather than preventing them, seemingly have little recourse but to "disavow" the objectionable "elements of Ms. Moon's post." The primary definition of "disavow" is "to deny responsibility."** And denying responsibility for Elizabeth Moon's extremist speech is all, apparently, that they feel empowered to do in this situation-- that and putting the best face on the dissension, hurt, and distrust that will likely result from Elizabeth Moon's appearance at the con. Granted, they are in a tough spot. But perhaps the lack of an organizational policy giving the co-chairs other options in this situation would not be so limiting if US culture at large had a clearer notion of the stakes involved with legitimizing extremist speech. I'm sure that like most people, they believe that meeting extremism "half way"-- that engaging with it-- is a constructive, moderate, and even "objective" response. This attitude goes a long way in explaining how it happens that we in the US are steeped in a culture that allows the farthest reaches of the right-wing to determine both the center (which is far to the right of what it was in the 1970s largely because people on even the moderate left of the political spectrum are not allowed to be audible in the public sphere ) as well as the issues of public discourse. An ad hoc response to extremism-- which is what the co-chairs found themselves making in this situation-- mirrors the practice of the mainstream media-- viz., to allow such extremists to dominate discourse and dictate which issues are discussed.

I'll confess I had high hopes for this WisCon. I was tremendously excited that Nisi Shawl would be a GoH. It's hard for me to look forward to Nisi's speech now, though, without wondering how the protest against Elizabeth Moon's speech will affect what should be a joyous occasion. Will there be anyone left in the ballroom to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Tiptree Awards? Just how will all of these disruptions play out? Without question, Elizabeth Moon's presence will cast a shadow over WisCon 35.
*For more about panels, see my article in the second volume of the WisCon Chronicles, "Whose romance? Whose revolution? The operations of race and gender in panel discourse at WisCon.")

**"Disavow" is an unfortunate word choice. I can't help but think of Freud's use of the word in theorizing the etiology of sexual fetish. It generally conveys the sense of having it both ways.And I really don't think that's what the co-chairs see themselves as doing.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Aqueductista News

--In "Steering the Craft," which appears in the Fall 2010 issue of Bitch Magazine, Ursula K. Le Guin does some Q&A (heads-up courtesy of Carrie Devall)

--Thrall, the debut novel of Kimberly Todd Wade (author of Making Love in Madrid, a novella in the Conversation Pieces series), is out in hardback from Hadley Rille Press. (Paperback and kindle editions will soon be available.) Here is the publisher's description:

Drawing from her many years of research, former archaeologist Kimberly Todd Wade paints a world of sight and sound at the dawn of human consciousness. THRALL details the journey of Hoolow, a young hunter, who looses his ability to understand the world as his fellow tribe mates. Instead he faces intense emotions, conflict and tragedy that eventually force him into exile. Beset by visions, Hoolow discovers awareness of self, yet also learns to understand loneliness. When he returns to his tribe he discovers other “individuals” have emerged. Will they be able to communicate with each other and help their tribe mates advance as well? Will love, imagination and art thrive in a world unfamiliar with the idea of idea? THRALL follows the impact of one man’s self awakening and his struggle to initiate others to new understanding.

--Lynne M. Thomas has announced that L. Timmel Duchamp has donated the first installment of her papers to the NIU SFWA Collection. [Other Aqueduct authors are sending Lynne their papers too. Which is interesting, I think.]

--Alexandra Pierce has posted a lengthy review of Helen Merrick's The Secret Feminist Cabal at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. Here are a couple of quotes from it:

Merrick had me from her Preface, where she describes her journey towards writing the book in ways that resonated deeply with me, from the nerdy adolescent to the discovery of feminism and the dismay that many female acquaintances not only do not share our love of science fiction, they are completely mystified by it. Having only recently discovered the niche community that is sf fandom, the fact that so much of this book is concerned with expressions of feminism within that community – and how they impacted on sf broadly – was the icing on the cake.


A critical work based in a deep-seated love of the genre, Cabal is a testament to the enduring impact of women, feminism, and fandom on the fractured behemoth that is science fiction. 2010 saw it shortlisted on the Hugo ballot for Best Related Work, and win the fan-voted William Atheling award for best critical work. These are well-deserved honours. It is to be hoped that coming generations of both writers and fans will make use of the cornucopia of references Merrick has gathered, both to understand the history of the field and because most of them make for wonderful reading.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Embracing (or not) that feminist audience...

Caffeine is a drug. I forgot that. I've been maintaining myself at the level of drinking only one or two cups of drip coffee when I rise for so long that I forgot what drinking two lattes (around noon) can do to me. Several hours later, my pulse is still racing, my nerves vibrating, my head pounding; and I certainly don't want to know what my blood pressure is. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the effects will wear off by midnight. Without question, if I had a valium, I'd take one.

Browsing the current issue of Rain Taxi, I came across Steve Healye's interview with Diane Wakoski. I was bemused by this bit:
DW: The one group I had a chance to be part of, I resisted, and that was the feminists. I resisted because I had a falsely pure idea about my poetry, and a desire for it to appeal to readers of serious artistic writing. I did have a huge following as a result of the feminist movement in the late '60s and early '70s, but I felt like it was making me political, which I wasn't, and that I was writing poems as if I had a point of view for the whole community rather than just for myself, that I was saying things they wanted to hear. In retrospect, I think they were perceiving me that way, but now I don't see anything wrong with it. In the long run, what I may have given up is being as famous a poet as Adrienne Rich, who is only a few years older than me. I think I could just as easily have had a huge reputation as she did if I had just embraced that feminist audience. Although, we can neer really know what would've happened if we'd done X or Y. (37-38)
I had several-- serial-- reactions as I read this. But who knows. Maybe all of them were just the coffee talking.

Time Magazine’s Education “Reform” Articles

by Kristin King

The Seattle teacher’s union just negotiated its labor contract with the district. In the middle of August, during contract negotiations, I got a letter from a teacher that raised all sorts of red flags for me. The district superintendent had just introduced a proposal that would (a) base teacher evaluations on the results of standardized tests given to students; and (b) give her broad powers to lay off teachers. Once I started looking into it, I learned that this proposal was part of a national push for some dangerous education reforms. The reforms are an attempt to:
  • Weaken teacher’s unions
  • Replace schools that failed under NCLB with charter schools;
  • Staff those charter schools with inexperienced teachers; and
  • Expand standardized testing and “teaching to the test”
Although the superintendent’s proposal was weakened in the final contract, I remain concerned about the future of education in Seattle and nationwide. The reforms are coming quickly, and most people are not well informed.

I’ve been looking for ways to frame this conversation when talking to other parents, which is especially difficult because many parents and teachers did ask for some of the reforms in the teacher’s contract, and some of those reforms are an attempt to solve longstanding educational inequalities of race and class.
However, as the PR gets going for education reform, it is becoming easier to see and discuss the big picture. The September 20th issue of Time Magazine has two articles in support of these two reforms. They’re part of the national PR effort for education reform. Read uncritically, they paint a rosy picture. But we can read them critically to expose their lies; to see the hidden reform agenda; and inform ourselves about the dangers of this reform.

Lies About Charter Schools

The first article, “How to Fix Our Schools,” argues for charter schools. It begins with an announcement of a movie, “Waiting for Superman,” which depicts failing public schools and successful charter schools. It then goes on to state in big, bold numbers in a graphic that 17% of charter schools significantly outperform traditional public schools (p.38). But it buries the proof that charter schools on the whole do worse than traditional public schools. The article states, “But only 1 in 6 charter schools significantly outperforms traditional counterparts. And more than a third underperform.” This means that twice as many charter schools (2/6 vs. 1/6) underperform as overperform.

This is lying by burying statistics.

It’s true that some students leave schools with poor student test scores to attend schools with high student test scores. Leaving aside the problem that student test scores completely leave out the social/emotional development of our children, there is also the problem that a greater number of students attend poor charter schools than quality ones. The scenario depicted in Waiting For Superman, therefore, is essentially an emotional appeal. The final paragraph of the article builds on the emotional impact of the movie, by describing scenes in which “mothers weep and children cross their fingers in hopes of a desperate future,” and quotes an education reformer in saying “The rawness of the emotions of the parents gets to me – that unbelievable, desperate hope” (42).

This is lying by appealing to emotions rather than facts.

Lies about TFA Teachers

The next article, “How to Recruit Better Teachers,” makes an extremely sneaky argument for staffing “the toughest classrooms” with inexperienced teachers. It starts out with “beloved teachers” who “came to the profession after holding other jobs first.” So far so good. But the next paragraph subtly links these beloved teachers to poorly trained teachers. “It has never been easier for nonteachers to become public-school teachers, sometimes with just a few weeks of training” (p.46).

The next page talks about Teach for America (TFA), a program that places teachers in schools after a few weeks of training, and subtly links them to Ivy League graduates by saying that TFA got “a crush of applications from Ivy League and other elite applicants.” It does not say which percentage of TFA applicants came from Ivy League schools. It says that only 12% of 46,000 were accepted, which implies that a large number these 12% were largely Ivy League applicants. Again, though, it doesn’t state the percentages.

This is lying by implication.

The hidden truth is that 5520 applicants were accepted. This means that TFA expects that 5520 positions will be opening up around the nation. The Seattle Foundation is seeking grants for 150 TFA teachers in the Puget Sound area. How is this possible, given that state law doesn’t allow for this type of teacher? One possibility is that education reformers will be pushing for changes to state law.

Buried in the article is the reason why TFA will harm our classrooms. It gives an example of a first-year TFA teacher who couldn’t handle the discipline problems in the classroom and says, “This is a big problem with program like TNTP and TFA: they require a commitment of just one and two years” and “participants often spend the entire first year learning their jobs. A vocal minority of TFA veterans have complained that the program does little good for the students who must endure their inexperience” (p. 50).

This is lying by burying information.

How does Time propose to solve this problem? It goes on to describe a program called the Boston Teacher Residency, which requires a four-year commitment and a master’s degree in education. “Boston teacher residents spend that first awful year working with an experienced teacher, one who helps them learn the craft. The residents are in classrooms from Day One but never alone as most participants in the alterna-programs are.”

This is an argument against TFA programs that, however, lends credence to the idea that some alternative teacher certification programs are of high quality.

This is lying by association.

Having made the argument against TFA programs, it then presents a distracting argument about retiring baby boomers. “But half the nation’s 3.2 million teachers are baby boomers. They are retiring in droves.” Is this really why we need TFA teachers, or is it something else? The article goes on to say, “So until teaching becomes a more attractive long-term option, we’ll need both paid volunteers and professionals.” By using the word “so,” the article ties the need for TFA teachers to the retirement of baby boomers, but hides the fact that teaching is not an attractive long-term option.

This is hiding a lie in plain sight.

The final sentence returns to the implication that TFA teachers are from the Ivy Leagues and makes an emotional appeal to the readers. “How bad can it be that thousands if Ivy Leaguers, though inexperienced, want to help fill the void?”

This is lying by appealing to emotions.

Teacher Layoffs and Firings

The Time Magazine article has lied by implying we need TFA teachers because of retiring baby boomers is a lie. Why, then, do we anticipate a sudden need to staff 5520 classrooms with TFA teachers?

The answer is that other education reforms are making it easier to fire and lay off teachers. In July the superintendent of Washington D.C., Michelle Rhee, dismissed 127 teachers threatened to fire 737 more (p. 42). She used an evaluation that included “data about how much their students’ scores have improved compared with those of other kids performing at similar levels” (p. 42). That is, she used the results of standardized tests given to students as the basis of her layoffs.

The Seattle superintendent Goodloe-Johnson was planning to do the same thing – the proposal she introduced into the teacher’s contract gave her broad powers to lay off teachers based partly on the results of standardized tests given to students. Fortunately, concerted effort on the part of teachers and parents weakened her proposal considerably.

But if it’s happening in Seattle, where else is it happening?

Reform is Happening Quickly – But We Can Have an Impact

There is a concerted effort to make these “reforms” happen quickly. As Ripley writes, “The pace of change is, relatively speaking, breathtaking” (34).The movie Waiting for Superman, this article, and other PR efforts are meant to build popular support for “reforms” that have not been approved by teachers, parents, or students.

Some amount of education reform is unavoidable.

But, as teachers and parents have proven in Seattle and elsewhere, some of it can be stopped by concerted local efforts. We need to be closely monitoring our school districts and state legislators, educating one another, giving teachers our support, and making our voices heard.

x-posted from Kristin King's blog.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chan Davis in Philadelphia 9-10 September

A New Feminist Press

Just received, a press release announcing the debut of Femspec Books:

Femspec Books Publishes The Nightmares of Sasha Weitzwoman

The Nightmares of Sasha Weitzwoman
(Femspec Books, 2010) pp. 583, $35 (includes s+h)

Cleveland Heights, OH, September 20, 2010.  Femspec is announcing the first book published by our new publishing imprint, Femspec Books.  The book titled The Nightmares of Sasha Weitzwoman, was written by Batya Weinbaum.  She began writing during the women’s liberation movement, mainly focusing on Jewish themes in her fiction. Much of her work has been published in anthologies, such as “Bapka in Brooklyn” in Magic Realism by Women: Tales in a Minor Key, edited by Susana Sturgis. 

The lengthy 583 page novel The Nightmares of Sasha Weitzwoman, was written over an 18 year period and has been excerpted and anthologized in a few venues, including journals such as Bridges and Sinister Wisdom.  This imaginative creation is about a female American journalist who goes to Jerusalem “to cover the first Intifada,” only to end up trapped in a haunted hotel. The book interestingly grips the reader by presenting a controversial feminist version of the Jewish faith and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, written in the genres of surrealism and fantasy.  Many would enjoy this book, however those who will truly appreciate it will be creative writers and those who show interest in topics such as sexuality, war, the Middle East, Jewish and Women’s Studies, and feminist science fiction. 

For readings, workshops, or orders email .

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

80! Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin

Last year on Ursula Le Guin's birthday-- her eightieth-- Karen Joy Fowler and Debbie Notkin presented Ursula with a handmade book, green leather-bound book they'd assembled for her birthday present from themselves and thirty-four other friends, colleagues, and admirers. This year on Ursula's birthday, Aqueduct Press will be releasing a published version of that gift, 80! Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin.

Contributions include fiction from John Kessel, Andrea Hairston, Sheree Renee Thomas, Ama Patterson, and Pan Morigan, and essays and poetry from Richard Chwedyk, Debbie Notkin, Eileen Gunn, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lynn Alden Kendall, Brian Attebery, Gwyneth Jones, Vonda N. McIntyre, Karen Joy Fowler, MJ Hardman, Ellen Eades, Paul Preuss, Molly Gloss, Sarah LeFanu, Victoria McManus, Jed Hartman, Ellen Kushner, Pat Murphy, Nancy Kress, Jo Walton, Una McCormack, Julie Phillips, Patrick O'Leary, Eleanor Arnason, Deirdre Byrne, Suzette Haden Elgin, Lisa Tuttle, Judith Barrington, Nisi Shawl, Elisabeth Vonarburg, and Sandra Kasturi. Book design and cover design are by John Berry.

Among the many treats in the volume, one of my favorites is Julie Phillips's 20-page biographical piece. It begins with Ursula's childhood and stops with her first fiction publications and her arrival in Portland. Fascinating stuff, trust me. Another is Karen Joy Fowler's "Ursula's Eightieth: A Sonnet Upon It." And Vonda N. McIntyre's piece? It begins, "First of all, she likes robot toys."

It's a lovely volume-- as I can say, who had no editorial role in its production. We'll be releasing it on October 21, 2010, but per our usual practice will be making it available at a reduced price on our website up until the official release date. You can purchase it now, here.

Making Distinctions

There's an old joke that I was told in college but have never seen in print, that goes, A drunk white Jew and a drunk Chinese guy find themselves seated near one another at a bar. And the drunk white Jew says, "Your people should be ashamed of what you did at Pearl Harbor." "Huh? I'm not even Japanese!" "Eh, Chinese, Japanese, what's the difference!" "Well, on those grounds, your people should be ashamed of having sunk the Titanic!" "Huh? The Titanic was hit by an iceberg!" "Eh, iceberg, Goldberg, what's the difference?" In other words, pace Moon, Leon Klinghoffer was not killed by American Muslims. Or by Muslims who immigrated to the U.S. and refused to assimilate. Or by Sufis. The argument that "Those People must have realized that their conduct would result in my making associations that would leave my feelings hurt" cannot be applied to such random associations as iceberg/Goldberg. It's like an eerie parody of the "You must have known that your noose/Confederate Naval Battle Flag/blackface performance would leave people outraged and threatened for reasons having to do with history." Except that "history" is replaced by "unrelated things that demagogues say are scary."

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Last Drink Bird Head Awards

Jeff VanderMeer has just announced the finalists for his Last Drink Bird Head Awards, plus the winner of the Neil Clarke Special Achievement Award:
We’re pleased to announce the finalists for the second annual Last Drink Bird Head Awards, as chosen by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. The purpose of the awards is to celebrate those in the genre community who enrich us with their time, energy, and words, for causes greater than themselves. Finalists for this year’s award were chosen for efforts in 2009 and/or 2010. Thanks for recommendations from last year’s winners.

The winner of the Neil Clark Special Achievement Award, as announced below, is L. Timmel Duchamp. Please join us in congratulating her for her efforts.[...]The awards are named after the anthology Last Drink Bird Head from Ministry of Whimsy Press (an imprint of Wyrm Publishing). The proceeds from the anthology benefit the ProLiteracy charity. Contributors include Peter Straub, Ellen Kushner, Gene Wolfe, Tanith Lee, and over 60 others.
About the Neil Clarke Special Achievement Award, Jeff tells us "The Special Achievement Award is geared toward recognizing individuals who are proactive behind the scenes but whose efforts often don’t receive the measure of public recognition they deserve. The winner will receive an elegant Hieronymous Bosch bird-with-letter figurine, a certificate, and chocolate. The award is named after the first year’s winner, publisher and editor Neil Clarke."

Go read more about it, including the interesting award categories and the nominees for them, here. This will be my first award since my graduate student years. I just love the idea of being given "an elegant Hieronymous Bosch bird-with-letter figure." (And isn't that interesting, about the chocolate...?)

Being the Other

Ta-Nehisi seems to be on a roll again: a bunch of great posts in which, to my mind, he strays from the "thoughtful moderate" persona he seems most comfy with. One of the most provocative is "Compassion," which is about the path to, and the utility of, bracketing one's moral judgments in order to acquire knowledge. Or something like that. Two aspects stood out for me.

One is that the piece elicited a powerful comment by Hilzoy, a philosophy professor who, unlike Martha Nussbaum, reads blogs. Here's an excerpt:
This is one reason why I've always thought that the idea that morality and selfishness are opposed only really makes sense if you bracket a lot of questions about where your own interests lie, and what constitutes "selfishness". There are often reasons for bracketing questions about the interrelation between my interests and someone else's, and saying, for instance: my interests lie in kicking back this afternoon, rather than running an errand I said I'd run for my mom (which I don't feel much like doing just now); my mom's lie in my running the errand for her (which she isn't in a position to run for herself); shall I choose selfishness or duty? But in reality, there are all sorts of other questions around: would I, in fact, be happier if I had the kind of relationships with my parents in which any of us could just opt out of commitments to the other for this kind of reason? Would I be happier if I regarded keeping my word as optional, and helping out my friends and relations as mere inconveniences to be shirked when I felt like it? Or if I just didn't have the capacity to think: my mom can't run this errand, and I can, and it matters to her – and be moved by that knowledge?

Of course moral people aren't always happier. Things go wrong. But for my money, you stand a much better chance of being happy if you have, and exercise, the capacity to define yourself in such a way that compassion serves your interests, and self-protection and ignorance undercut them.
Another is how TNC's argument illuminates and complements this passage that Timmi likes, an argument the beginning of which has always bothered me. Why, I asked, was SRD harping on the importance of being racist, sexist, homophobic, and ableist? Didn't those prejudices come naturally, from inhabiting a racist &c. society? In what sense is it imperative that he have them in order to be able to talk to or influence teh bigots? Maybe Ta-Nehisi's argument offers a way in.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


"It was interesting that you brought up Hiroshima. 'Cause I was just having a big argument with three of my relatives–they're all Catholic conservatives–and they said that we warned the Japanese about what we were going to do, and then we bombed Hiroshima, and they still wouldn't come to the negotiating table, and we had to bomb Nagasaki. And I know that can't be right: are there any sources you know of that I can use to challenge that?" –a college graduate in his mid-twenties, to me and Chan Davis at Wooden Shoe Books last week.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book View Cafe Anthology for Oil Spill Fund

Book View Cafe has just released an anthology to help raise money for the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund. The book is called Breaking Waves, and it includes an essay by Rachel Carson in addition to fiction, memoirs, and poetry from Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda N. McIntyre, and many others. The anthology was edited by Phyllis Irene Radford and Tiffany Trent, and is available as a DRM-free e-book in several formats for $4.99 at Book View Cafe.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ebooks from Aqueduct Press

At long last, Aqueduct Press is now selling e-books of several of its titles through our website. We have eight titles available now in epub and mobi formats and will gradually be adding more. The titles currently in ebook editions are:

Centuries Ago and Very Fast by Rebecca Ore
Cheek by Jowl by Ursula K. Le Guin
Dangerous Space by Kelley Eskridge
Dorothea Dreams by Suzy McKee Charnas
Filter House by Nisi Shawl
Life by Gwyneth Jones
Through the Drowsy Dark by Rachel Swirsky
Tomb of the Fathers by Eleanor Arnason

You can find them here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ancient Zombies

I though you all would want to know that the 27 August issue of Science reveals that
Zombies have roamed Earth for at least 48 million years. Zombie ants, that is. Today, Ophiocordyceps fungi are well known for taking over the minds of ants such as the Componotus leonardi worker pictured above. Once infected, an ant wanders away from its colony, bites down on a leaf vein near the forest floor, and dies--creating ideal conditions for the fungal fruiting body that sprouts from its corpse.

For a photo and more about zombie ants, see the story here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Kochtopus

Jane Mayer has an excellent -- and very disturbing -- article in the New Yorker on the Koch brothers, who have invested vast sums of money in opposing climate change legislation, environmental regulation, health care reform, and pretty much anything President Obama is trying to do. I found it hard to read, but it really shows what we're up against.

They run Koch Industries, an energy firm. They're worth $35 billion. And they're putting lots of money into fighting anything remotely progressive. Plus they micromanage the groups that they give money to, to make sure they spend it "right."

If you, like me, can't believe it when people call Obama a socialist, or wonder what's driving the Tea Party or why the absolute lies told by the right have so much currency, here's part of the explanation.

I find this scarier than Fox News. But I'm glad Jane Mayer is writing about them, because shining a bright light on people like this is about the only way I can think of to fight them.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Marketing Idea

(Click on the image for a less fuzzy version)

I was promulgating this flyer, with its adorable author photos, for one of next week's Chandler Davis events; and then I ran across this expression of enthusiasm for a comic-book tie-in. And I realized that what Aqueduct needs (and I bet Kath could co-design awesome ones) is a series of Philosophers' Guild style PLUSHIES! Cuddle with Chandler Davis! Tuck your sweetheart in with her Security Timmi! Prop Eleanor Arnason up on your chachke shelf!

Just a late night thought.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Ditmar Awards

Last night in Melbourne at the Ditmar Awards ceremony, it was announced that Helen Merrick has won the William Atheling Jr. Award for The Secret Feminist Cabal. Congratulations, Helen! That's fabulous news!

Here are all the awards announced last night:

* Best Novel: Slights, Kaaron Warren (Angry Robot Books)
* Best Novella or Novelette: “Wives” Paul Haines (X6/Couer de Lion)
* Best Short Story: “Seventeen” Cat Sparks (Masques, CSFG)
* Best Collected Work: Slice Of Life, Paul Haines, edited by Geoffrey Maloney (The Mayne Press)
* Best Artwork: Cover art, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #42, Lewis Morley
* Best Fan Writer: Robert Hood for Undead Backbrain (
* Best Fan Artist: Dick Jenssen for body of work
* Best Fan Publication in Any Medium: Steam Engine Time, edited by Bruce Gillespie and Janine Stinson
* Best Achievement: Gillian Polack et al for the Southern Gothic banquet at Conflux
* Best New Talent: Peter M. Ball

* A. Bertram Chandler Award: Damien Broderick
* Norma K. Hemming: Maria Quinn, The Gene Thieves (HarperCollins)
* Peter McNamara Award: Janine Webb
* William Atheling Jr Award: Helen Merrick, The Secret Feminist Cabal: a cultural history of science fiction feminisms (Aqueduct Press)
* Best Fannish Cat: Peri Peri Canavan

Does Walmart have a Jim Crow policy for the books it sells?

An Ohio reporter has discovered that the Walmarts in his neck of the woods is segregating books by black writers, putting them all together in a separate section of their bookshelves:
At Walmart, apparently, skin color trumps all.

The ''black section'' contains everything written by and about blacks: romance novels, self-help books, religion, sports, even an autobiography by the current president of the United States.

Now, whether or not you're a fan of Barack Obama, can't we at least agree that the thing that defines him is not his skin color but his job title? We have lots and lots of African-Americans in this country — about 38 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — but during this country's entire 234-year history we have had only 44 presidents.

Yet there he is, right in the middle of six monochromatic shelves, peering out at us from the cover of The Audacity of Hope.

At the Walmart on Arlington Road in Springfield Township, you'll find two fancy, hardcover books by people who are household names in professional football. Drew Brees, quarterback of the 2009 Super Bowl champion
New Orleans Saints, smiles on the cover of Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity. Tony Dungy, coach of the 2006 Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, smiles on the cover of The Mentor Leader.

But you won't find those books side by side. Why? Because Brees is white and Dungy is black.

The black guy goes in the black section. After all, who other than a black person would want to read a book by an insightful, ethical, inspirational football coach?

At the Walmart in Montrose, Storm Warning, by hugely popular white pastor Billy Graham, can be found in the religion section. But Life Overflowing, by hugely popular black pastor T.D. Jakes, is in the black section, along with Dungy and Obama and Sister Souljah and Adrienne Byrd and all those other people whom Walmart believes are pretty much the same.

The positioning of books within the black shelves would be laughable if it weren't such a sorry commentary on Walmart's thought process — or lack thereof. For instance, directly beneath a faith book by gospel artist Kirk Franklin is a steamy novel called The Hot Box, whose back cover promises ''fiery titillation.''
Does anyone know if this is true at Walmarts in other parts of the country? Is this a national policy of the chain? (I myself have only been in a Walmart once-- briefly-- while accompanying a relative, so I've no idea what these dens of iniquity are like.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Links for a Thursday Afternoon

Alyss Dixson makes a guest post on Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog, On Invisibility, Gender, and Publishing:
I work with a newly formed non-profit group known as VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and Letters (, and this is what we do - find ways to quantify, discuss, dissect and "disintermediate" (as Mr. Jackson put it) the work of those gatekeepers, and listmakers and other cultural production monetizers and arbiters out there in the world of arts and letters. The Atlantic can definitely be counted as one of those arbiters, so I read it regularly. VIDA formed in response to a dilemma women writers of all genres face: the lack of balanced representation in publishing and literary awards and colloquia.

Last year, founder Cate Marvin sent out an email entitled, "As I Stand Here Folding Laundry" to a group of friends that resonated with enough women writers that it went viral, appearing on listservs and blogs and generally putting a finger on an issue that had gone unfingered, serving as a call to action to address the dearth of consideration given to the cultural production of women writers. Last year's Publisher's Weekly Best-Of debacle in which they included an astounding (drumroll, please) ZERO writers of the female persuasion, and their follow-up defense that the world is now--I'm not sure what to call it? Post-sexism? Beyond the need to examine one's own motives and biases when declaring material superlative?--underscored the urgency of this mission.

Dixson begins her post by saying that Chris Jackson's All the Sad Young Literary Women peeved her and prompted her to send the link to Jackson's post out to her women friends and colleagues for feedback.

--A related post, at, Ron Hogan's Franzenfreude Is Only the Tip of the Iceberg, asks "Should a book review section be 'news about the culture' as Sam Tanenhaus called it, or the special snowflake appreciation corner?" More particularly, he takes aim, with Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult, at the New York Times Book Review (and the mainstream reviewing establishment generally) for idolizing Jonathan Franzen-- the Great While Male Novelist du jour.
Weiner and Picoult, among others, are giving us a valuable critique of a serious problem with the way the Times—and, frankly, most of the so-called literary establishment—treats contemporary fiction. Which is to say: They ignore most of it, and when it comes to the narrow bandwidth of literature they do cover, their performance is underwhelming, “not only meager but shockingly mediocre,” as former LA Times Book Review director Steve Wasserman said three years ago. And it hasn’t gotten any better since then, leaving us with what Jennifer Weiner describes as “a disease that’s rotting the relationship between readers and reviewers.”
--at Strange Horizons, Anil Menon reviews Narrative Power: Encounters, Celebrations, Struggles, ed by L. Timmel Duchamp. And a wonderfully crunchy review it is.
In this collection of essays, edited by L. Timmel Duchamp, narrative power is examined from sixteen different perspectives. The volume's subtitle—Encounters, Celebrations, Struggles—explains why its essays linger in the mind. Its writers have skin in the game. Many of their insights have that bittersweet flavor peculiar to autobiographical accounts. Some of the essays are reprints, but most originated from a Wiscon 2009 panel session. This might explain the informal, leaning-towards-the-microphone quality of the writing. All the essays are worth a second read and an individual response.

--People in a small town in Wyoming are being warned to take precautions agants being blown up while taking a shower. Abrahm Lustgarten writes, for Pro Publica, in Feds Warn Residents Near Wyoming Gas Drilling Sites Not To Drink Their Water:
The federal government is warning residents in a small Wyoming town with extensive natural gas development not to drink their water, and to use fans and ventilation when showering or washing clothes in order to avoid the risk of an explosion.

The announcement accompanied results from a second round of testing and analysis in the town of Pavillion by Superfund investigators for the Environmental Protection Agency. Researchers found benzene, metals, naphthalene, phenols and methane in wells and in groundwater. They also confirmed the presence of other compounds that they had tentatively identified last summer and that may be linked to drilling activities.

((photo: Creative Commons/ Flickr user woodleywonderworks)

The water's loaded with carcinogens, of course-- and of course that's nothing new, since it's pretty commonplace for mineral extraction and drilling to wreck the local environment. (The gas company is in fact arguing that old mining pits are the sole source of the pollution, which could be true-- but could also simply be a lie.) But I've never before heard of people being warned that they could blow up in the shower... If I were a graphic artist (or had any ability to draw), I'd be really tempted to invent new icon for signifying danger of exploding while showering. People could put signs with them up in their bathrooms, to remind themselves to turn on the fan before turning on the water...