WisCon is a feminist science fiction & fantasy convention held annually in Madison, Wisconsin.
This year's conference took place in late May with Andrew Lippert, Special Collections Processing Archivist, Sandy Enriquez, Special Collections Public Services Outreach/Community Engagement Librarian, and Dr. Phoenix Alexander, our soon-to-be Jay Kay and Doris Klein Science Fiction Librarian, in attendance. Learn more about the conference from Andrew and Sandy in our WisCon Q&A.
How did it feel to go to an in-person conference again?
Sandy: It was both exciting, and a little bit nerve-wracking! But part of the reason I felt comfortable attending WisCon was that they took extensive precautions and implemented many best practices to keep folks safe. All the conference-goers I encountered respected the protocols (including a mask mandate) and I felt very comfortable. Having those safety measures in place meant that I could fully enjoy all the benefits of in-person conferences.
Andrew: It was wonderful to attend a conference in-person again. There are definite upsides to being able to get conference content from the comfort of one’s own home, but you miss all of the little conversations and encounters that happen outside of the sessions. It’s also fun to wander around a town you’ve never been to for a couple of days.
What were some of the highlights from WisCon?
Sandy: One of my favorite moments was listening to readings from the new speculative fiction anthology, "Trouble the Waters: Tales from the Deep Blue" edited by Sheree Renée Thomas, Pan Morigan, and Troy L. Wiggins. One of the stories centered on the care and shepherding of space whales, which was so magical and whimsical to imagine!
Andrew: WisCon was a fantastic event and there were a lot of great elements. First and foremost, the panels and the conversations that they inspired were truly superb. This might have been the most intellectually stimulating and inspiring conference/convention I have been to. There is a lot of really important work going on in these spaces.
How does WisCon’s mission align with the goals you have for your work here at the UCR Library?
Sandy: WisCon is a community-led, feminist science fiction and fantasy convention. They aim to make their events as inclusive, safe, and welcoming as possible for people from all walks of life. Their mission to promote inclusivity and uplift underrepresented voices in science fiction aligns strongly with my goals for public services, outreach, and community engagement at UCR Library. Part of my job is to help people find and utilize our collections, and I especially strive to reach communities who have been traditionally excluded from, or misrepresented in, the historical record. I aim to increase access and knowledge of the collections through innovative and collaborative outreach, as well as highlighting underrepresented stories whenever possible. For example, I have recently taught several workshops centering Chicano student activism at UCR, in collaboration with graduate student instructors, and with Chicano Student Programs. While science fiction is only one aspect of our collecting focus, I think we can learn a lot from this field (and feminism in general) about how to partner with communities and practice more equitable outreach, teaching, and research.
Andrew: The primary way that my work with the Eaton Collection aligns with WisCon is in efforts to diversify the genre of speculative fiction. WisCon started out as the feminist science fiction con in the late 1970s, and it still has a lot of those feminist roots with its current incarnation. However, I saw an organization that has evolved to be radically inclusive of all peoples, with a very strong emphasis on the LGBTQ+ community. There were also themes of decolonization and anti-capitalism that popped up from session to session that also work their way into how I think about building a speculative fiction collection.
Was there anything interesting or noteworthy you learned at the conference?
Sandy: Absolutely! Marie Vibbert gave a fantastic presentation about her research on labor in science fiction novels. She analyzed the jobs and classes of main characters across almost two hundred science fiction novels to create her dataset. She found that, contrary to popular belief, science fiction protagonists were more likely to be upper/middle class than working class. She also found that male authors were more likely to write male characters than other genders.
Andrew: The most notable learning opportunity for me — as a cis, white, male — was to be immersed into a queer space. This is not something that I encounter very often in my day-to-day life and I appreciate opportunities like this that center and value the voices and points of view of people that are not often afforded that opportunity. To me, the incredibly engaging discussions only reinforce the value and importance of inclusion and diversity and the degree to which more diverse points of view only serve to enrich the conversation.
Does the Eaton Collection include many feminist works?
Sandy: The Eaton Collection does include many works by feminist authors and works that explore feminist themes, but given how quickly the field is evolving, there is still a lot of work to be done. For example, we have feminist science fiction classics such as 'The Female Man' by Joanna Russ or 'The Left Hand of Darkness' by Ursula K. Le Guin, along with more contemporary examples of feminist science fiction such as the graphic novel 'Bitch Planet' by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro. We are actively working to diversify our holdings by identifying and acquiring new works, including those that may incorporate feminist themes but are not explicitly labeled as such (one that comes to mind is the fantastic anthology 'Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit & Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction' edited by Joshua Whitehead).
Andrew: Yes! We have many novels by feminist authors (for example: Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ, and many more). There is also a lot of feminist work done in the comics and graphic novel space (such as: Bitch Planet or Maiden, Mother, and Crone). We have quite a lot of secondary, academic literature on feminism and science fiction. In the manuscript collections, we have the papers of feminist author Jody Scott. Former UCR professor Nalo Hopkinson has also been donating her papers to the Eaton Collection. There is so much material in the collection, far more than can be listed succinctly!
Do you plan on going back next year?
Sandy: I would love to! I'm not sure yet where next year will take me, but it would be fantastic to return.
Andrew: I would love to! It’s hard to plan that far out, but I hope to make it back to WisCon in the near future.
For more information on WisCon, visit wiscon.net or follow WisCon on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.