Convention Attention: Con or Bust

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately on the importance of “Convention culture”, of how wonderful it is to have face-to-face conversations with fans, authors, editors, and people you’ve only interacted with on twitter or over e-mail.  I even started writing this month’s column on that topic. Something that always comes up in this type of conversation is that going to conventions isn’t cheap, but we make it happen anyway, because it’s important to us.  Through no planning on my part, these conversations tended to occur with people who are like me: they have enough disposable income to attend conventions, and they are Caucasian. It may be politically incorrect to say so, but the conventions I have been to have been pretty pale skinned.

Finances shouldn’t be a barrier. Being a minority at a convention shouldn’t be a barrier. If you are a fan, and convention culture is important to you, nothing should be a barrier. So instead of smugly talking about how great it is for me to be able to travel all over the place and attend Conventions and how I blend right in, I instead have for you an interview with Kate Nepveu, the organizer of Con or Bust, the organization that removes such barriers.  People, this is important.


Andrea Johnson: First, and most importantly, what’s Con or Bust all about?

Kate Nepveu: Con or Bust helps people of color/non-white people attend SFF conventions. I administer it under the umbrella of the Carl Brandon Society, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction. Con or Bust isn’t a scholarship and isn’t limited by geography, type of con-goer, or con; its goal is simply to help fans of color go to SFF cons and be their own awesome selves.

AJ: How did Con or Bust get started?

KN: Con or Bust began as a response to RaceFail ’09, when people of color expressed the desire to help each other attend WisCon (a prominent feminist SFF convention). The resulting auction raised enough money to send nine fans of color to WisCon in 2009. After that, the Carl Brandon Society agreed to take Con or Bust under its umbrella, which allowed it to become an ongoing project. (Which is to say: I wasn’t willing to run it out of my personal bank account more than once!) Since mid-2011, Con or Bust has sent fans of color to any SFF con, not just WisCon.

AJ: Why are programs like Con or Bust important to the fandom community?

KN: Because fandom’s more fun when the people in it are engaged with a wide range of perspectives and enthusiasms and are less worried about being excluded because of other people’s preconceptions. And one of the ways to accomplish that is to increase the presence of people from underrepresented groups. While racial diversity is only one of the kinds of diversity that fandom (like the rest of society) could do better at, it’s an important one and also one that often intersects many others.

(I would be thrilled to share what I’ve learned in running Con or Bust with anyone who’s thinking about starting a fund to further another kind of diversity. I can be reached by email at
knepveu@steelypips.org.)

AJ: Which conventions have been you able to send people to?

KN: A pretty wide range, which I’m pleased about. WisCon, of course, and other somewhat smaller cons like Readercon, which has been a big supporter, or Sirens. Major regional cons like Arisia (also a big supporter). And much bigger cons, like WorldCon, World Fantasy Con, DragonCon, and San Diego Comic Con. But any con that has a major focus on SFF is eligible.

AJ: What upcoming conventions are you planning to send people to? Can conventions or individuals donate convention memberships?

KN: Con or Bust sends people where they want to go, so I don’t really plan in advance. But we’ve had some major donations from this year’s NASFiC (Detcon1), WorldCon (Loncon 3), and World Fantasy Con (Washington DC), which are usually popular.

I hasten to add, though, that those aren’t the only upcoming cons for which memberships specifically are available; the upcoming cons page has a full list–some of which are available right this very instant, no line, no waiting!

And yes, absolutely people and cons can donate memberships. They should contact me by email to arrange it.

AJ: You’ve got some pretty amazing items up for auction right now, including a complete hardcover set of the Wheel of Time books, some very rare Farscape items (scripts, pieces of the Moya set, etc), signed books, rare ARCs and custom jewelry. Where do all these items come from?

KN: A lot of them come from generous strangers who’ve heard about Con or Bust and decided it was a good idea. For instance, the Farscape items are donated by a producer on the show who I’d never spoken with before he offered a giant batch of stuff last year. And a lot of them come from people I asked: friends, individuals who I thought were likely to be interested, publishers. I’ve been consistently amazed and humbled by the generosity shown by both groups of people.

AJ: How would someone go about donating items to be auctioned? Do you have specific items you are looking for for the auctions?

KN: There is a handy online submission form to submit something for auction; all you need is an email address. I will even host images for you if you want.

And while I’m not looking for anything specific, I don’t want people to think they need to offer something super-rare or custom-made. For instance, this year I’m offering my prior-generation Nexus 7 tablet with accessories; it’s in excellent shape and still retails for a fair amount, but it’s not the most recent version. You mentioned the complete Wheel of Time set…a lot of times people offer things like that, book series, runs of anime or manga, magazine lots, and so forth, that they’ve liked but aren’t going to read or watch again.

AJ: What times of the year do you run your auctions?

KN: This year’s auction concludes at 5:00 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, February 23. I may move next year’s auction back to April or so, however, depending on how much this auction raises.

AJ: How can people help spread the word about Con or Bust?

KN: Link to Con or Bust! Not only about the auction, but that assistance is available. As I said, there are some con memberships that are available right this minute; requests for other memberships, as well as monetary assistance, will be taken from Feb. 15-25 (see the Request Assistance page). That’s what the auction is for, after all, helping fans of color get to cons!


Learn more about Con or Bust by visiting their website, auction pages, live journal, or following them on twitter.

And as always, here are some upcoming Conventions to take a look at!

3 thoughts on “Convention Attention: Con or Bust”

  1. How about an article focused on enjoying conventions without feeling guilty about race and gender equality?

  2. “Finances shouldn’t be a barrier.” I think I found another underrepresented group who will never be able to attend big,rad sf cons: poor people form all around the world (South-America, Eastern-Europe, Africa, Asia etc.) How about bringing them to these, let’s just start with kids.

    1. there are plenty of folks in need who could benefit from programs like Con or Bust. I’m sure Kate is full of great advice for anyone who would like to learn more about how to help under represented or people in need attend cons on an international level.

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