MIND MELD: Non-Anglo Presence in the Hugo Awards – Is it Possible?
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
This year’s Hugo award ceremony was a very interesting one, regarding gender and ethnicity. Most of the winners were women (congratulations to E. Lily Yu for the Campbell, and Maurine Starkey, Ursula Vernon, Lynne M. Thomas, Seanan McGuire, Elizabeth Bear, Catherynne M. Valente, Liza Groen Trombi, Kirsten Gong-Wong, Betsy Wollheim, Sheila Williams, Charlie Jane Anders, Kij Johnson and Jo Walton) and the Short Story winner, Ken Liu, is of Asian extraction, so maybe we can safely say the fandom has finally reached a point where writers are finally being voted for the sheer quality of their work instead of their sex or their color? Even if it’s too early to tell, things are seemingly going in the right direction regarding this matter – but there are still many things to assess. One of them is the virtually invisible presence of non-Anglo writers in the Hugo Awards (also in other Awards, but hey, this is Hugo week, so let’s talk Hugo as a symbol of all the other awards in Anglosphere).
We asked this week’s panelists…
Here’s what they said…
I looked through the list of Hugo nominations for the last 10 years and the only nominations of work from outside of the Anglophone countries (the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) were the movies Spirited Away (nominated in 2003) and Pan’s Labyrinth (nominated in 2007).
Is that because translated work is not commercially viable, lacks popular appeal or literary quality? Some of the biggest commercial successes in recent years outside of SF/F have been translated work, such as Stieg Larsson’s or Jo Nesbø’s crime fiction, and Per Petterson’s literary fiction. Not to mention the imaginative work of Haruki Murakami, who is currently favorite for the Nobel Prize in literature. Hence, that conclusion does not seem to be correct.
Perhaps the lack of nominated translated work reflects the lack of translated work published in English SF/F in general. I find this problematic because that leaves literally a whole world of fiction with long traditions in the imaginary and fantastic, such as the Scandinavian, Japanese, Mongolian, Eastern European, African, to mention a few, largely inaccessible to English-speaking readers. I say this as a writer whose biggest influences have been translated work, from Scandinavia, France, Italy, Spain, Russia, Korea and Japan, as well as the Anglophone world. Without translations, there would have been little access to those works. (I write in English myself, my stories are not translations from Norwegian.)
Also, in what ways will reading or knowing works only from your own culture and language skew your perception of the rest of the world?
As has been discussed in other Mind Melds, translations and the flow of culture follows the general lines of political and financial dominance, from the English-speaking nations to the non-English, and from the industrialized countries to the developing countries, and much less frequently in the opposite direction.
It’s therefore very refreshing to see that some editors, such as Jeff VanderMeer and Nick Mamatas, are presenting translated fiction from outside of the English-speaking nations. Maybe that’s what’s needed for translated work to catch on in SF/F; more translated work published, a higher degree of exposure, more visibility, more magazines being open for submissions of translated work, so that translations become something familiar instead of something strange.
I find this important, because reading or watching a story from outside of one’s own country and becoming acquainted with the fears and hopes of other cultures and other people, might be one of the easiest and most direct ways in today’s conflicted world that we can truly get to know one another beyond the grating of economic and political differences and sensationalist news.
I do think non-Anglo writers are underrepresented, and yes, it’s something to care about. The Hugos are supposed to be world-class awards, and they are awarded each year by the World Science Fiction Society at the Worldcon. And yet, the Hugos are U.S.-centric. Although it’s a “World Convention” the bulk of voters for the Hugos, according to the Hugo Awards official website, are Americans:
“Because such a huge proportion of the people who nominate on the Hugo Awards are in the USA, and because those people often do not get to see works first published outside the USA until a year later when those works get US publication, WSFS has been experimenting with extending the eligibility of works first published outside the USA. This extension has to be renewed annually by the WSFS Business Meeting, and historically has not always been extended since the rule was adopted allowing it.”
So why must this extension be renewed annually? Why not just make it part of the rules?
Many people argue that the Hugos are not to be taken seriously because of the small number of people who vote, or that they are awarded to popular works rather than to the best works. There are strong arguments for gender disparity and for a lack of representation of authors of colour. There is a lack of representation of non-Anglo writers as well; a lack of diversity in all directions.
The Hugos are a popular vote award selected by a fairly small group of mainly U.S. fans. So how do we get more people involved in the voting process? How do we get a wider variety of works exposed to the voters? Certainly, holding the Worldcon in more countries would help. Why not hold it in a different country every year? A list of the locations and the number of times each has hosted the Worldcon over the years, including next year’s Texas Con, demonstrates that there is very little global about this convention:
- U.S.A. – 53 times (7 times in Chicago alone!)
- Canada – 5 times
- U.K. – 6
- Australia – 4
- Germany – 1
- Japan – 1
- Netherlands – 1
Surely, this plays a role in the huge statistical bias against non-Anglo works receiving nominations.
The larger the pool of people with memberships, the more diverse the selection of nominations would be. Holding the Worldcon in more countries would guarantee increased exposure and would pique the interest of local fans. It would also bring the con closer to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend because of the prohibitive cost of international travel and the high cost of attendance. (The attending membership fee for one adult for next year’s WSF Convention in Texas is US $180.)
Although attendance at the convention isn’t necessary in order to nominate or vote, voters must at least hold a supporting membership ($60 for the 2013 Worldcon), which they must buy by the end of January. (A supporting membership in the World Science Fiction Society includes the right to nominate for the current year’s awards, vote on the final ballot, and make nominations for the next year’s awards.) While $60 is still quite high for many people, just for the right to vote, more people would be interested in joining and voting if they perceived the awards as being global rather than American.
One post on the Spectrum website illustrates just how much the results are biased towards Americans:
“Consider that in the 52 years an award has been presented for “Best Artist”, only 15 individuals have won the rockets. Here’s a breakdown: …….14 Americans, 1 Brit. 14 guys, 1 woman. It was surprising that, despite being held in Yokohama in 2007, there were no Japanese artists nominated. Despite being a “World Convention” are only Americans voting for the Hugos, even when they are held overseas? A question worth asking.”
The number of women nominees for the Hugo Awards appears to be increasing. We need to see more non-Anglos and writers of colour on the ballots too. People all over the world are writing great works in eligible genres, so why aren’t they getting nominated?
One way to change this is to talk about non-Anglo writers (and artists) and their work and to consider their work at nomination time, and to entice a wider community of fans to participate in the voting. The great thing about the Hugo Awards is that anyone can vote, providing they buy a membership. So it would seem to me that the problem is how to get a wider fanbase to join and to vote. The fans are the ones to choose the Hugo nominees and winners, so obviously, either there are not enough fans from other countries voting, or fans are not exposed to enough different works. Or both. The rules are open to change by members, so more membership across a broader spectrum of readers is essential. Maybe it’s also time for a panel on the problem of getting more exposure for non-Anglo writers.
Also, at present, for a work to be eligible, it must be from the US or must be a foreign work that was first translated or made available in the US within the previous year (even if it was published earlier in another country). Maybe it’s time to widen the field of eligibility as well.
Editorial note: A factual correction pointed out by Cheryl Morgan:
…[W]orks are eligible for the Hugos as follows:
1. On first publication, no matter where in the world they are published, or what language they are published in. It also doesn’t matter whether the work is published professionally or self-published; whether publication is on paper or electronic; and you don’t have to submit your work, or pay a fee, in order for it to be considered.
2. On first publication in English. So if your work was first published in a language other than English, and then published in translation in a later year, you get two years of eligibility.
3. If the Eligibility Extension rule is in place, a work can also get a third year of eligibility on first US publication if all previous publications were outside of the US.
So works first written in languages other than English and published outside of the US are not only eligible, they can get up to three years of eligibility.
We now resume our regularly scheduled Mind Meld.
I strongly believe in the importance of science fiction as being the literary genre that, for excellence, awakes in all of us an imaginary beyond all ties that everyday life insists in keep us binded with. It is in the privileged space of SF that we can transcend any time, space, genre limitations in the most diverse statistical probabilities: from the most local geographical representations to the farthest points in this and in other universes; from the most *nowpunk* present to times beyond in unimaginable calendars; to the awesome number of men, women, gays, lesbians, transgenders, transhumans. Exactly because of that, the choice of the best and most representative in a genre shouldn’t be restricted only to a cultural point of view, as much all-encompassing this culture may be. The awards that seek to value the enormity of what is produced in SF, like the Hug and the Nebula, should have the opportunity to analyze what in fact is being thought, written and published in other corners of the world that don’t use English as its mother tongue.
In order to offer to the voters and judges of these awards such an opportunity, it would be truly necessary a major effort by writers’ and publishers’ organizations of several non-Anglophone countries to offer translations of their local SF production. Only such a dynamics uniting authors and translators professionally enabled for such an enterprise could begin the promotion of an offer, in equal conditions, of a set of new approaches, new points of view, new ways to reach the public that chooses the texts that will endure in the history of this literary genre.
The short answer is yes. I’ve been following discussions around SF and fantasy over the last decade, and a consistent complaint is that SF and fantasy, in terms of audience, books published, promotions and awards, both SF and fantasy are overwhelmingly white and male. And while the field has definitely been growing more diverse in this century, the change doesn’t really show on awards shortlists.
While I can see the problem, feel a great deal of empathy for other non-Anglo writers and both hope and feel it’s going to get better no matter how slow the pace of change, the reality of my career so far is that I’m not in a position to be personally affected by this yet.
I just published my first book in the UK, and even though I spent the whole time sitting in India and nervously scanning the Internet, the response I got from both reviewers and readers were as warm and positive as anything I’ve had from India over the last decade. Did I feel discriminated against in any way for being non-Anglo? Not at all: obviously I didn’t get the kind of book deal or promotion or buzz that a really well-known author from the UK would get if launched by one of the biggest publishers, but that’s just market reality. Do I think my book has any serious chance of an award nomination? No. This is not saying that I think my work isn’t good – I just know, as we all do, that the writing is not the only factor at play. It’s more about the entire structure of the SF/fantasy publishing world being a certain way. I’ve been told for all my previous books that editors liked them, but marketing didn’t feel an unknown foreign writer could be sold in the UK/US in a big way, no matter how well his books were received in his home country. I’m sure this has happened to any number of non-Anglo writers over the years. But hey, I got published this year, so things must be getting better.
But there are so many flaws in any awards system that I don’t know if I can single out any one problem. There’s no aspect of publishing in any form where playing fields are level. I think awards are merely a reflection of what trends are seen as field-defining that particular year, and the lack of non-Anglo writers in awards shortlists is more a symptom of disparities in the process that occur long before the book is even considered for awards, like marketing, publisher enthusiasm and overall industry buzz than of any active discrimination at the awards level. The situation is worse in India, where people on literary award juries have actually come and told me I’d win Indian writing prizes if I wrote literary fiction.
Consider the Oscars. Through all our lives, we’ve seen so many perfectly valid accusations of discrimination leveled against the Oscars: on the grounds of race, genre, gender, medium. And there’s so much more about the process that is questionable: studios lobbying for awards, timing of film releases, jury selection. Nothing about the process is fair, and I don’t see how it could ever be perfectly fair. I think if I were a Hollywood filmmaker who didn’t fit into the most-likely-to-be-nominated category, I’d be very angry. But if I were a director of low-budget Bollywood films that managed to find a US distributor, I think I’d just restrict myself to feeling happy to be part of the industry, and hoping to at least attend the ceremony one day and sneakily take photos. And this is roughly how I feel about the Hugos. So yes, I do care. But I don’t think I know enough about the system, being almost completely outside it, to figure out any way to improve it.
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