SFWA Nebula Conference 2017

by Brenda W. Clough

Every year the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America holds a Nebula Conference. This is not only to hand out the organization’s annual awards, but is both a social and a professional occasion. We have a members meeting. We have panels. And parties. We get together in the hotel bar and drink together. We go out to dinner and to see the local sights. And at the Banquet we have speeches and awards.

All these things happened this year in Pittsburgh, PA, where the conference was this year. It moves around, and I don’t go every year. This year, however, Pittsburgh being a fun town and within easy driving distance, I did go. And as usual it was great! These gatherings have been gradually evolving, from the days when the main point was hard-fisted drinking, to professional enhancement. A multitude of panels, a highly popular mentoring program, and mammoth book bags have made this a really useful occasion for both the new writer and the old pro.

We went on a tour of the Allegheny Observatory, an Edwardian building still in use for research today. We went to the Wigle Whisky tasting room in the historic William Penn Hotel because it’s important to do some drinking and keep up the old SFWA tradition. And we admired how Pittsburgh has become so much cleaner and more pleasant since the good old steel mill days, when the sky was brown and the buildings were black with ash.

I signed up to be a mentor, and was assigned not one but two mentees (the evolution of language here is especially notable; not only did I have mentees but we discussed our menting, as in “How did your menting go, did you ever catch up with your mentee?”). I got together with first one and then the other, and essentially tried to cram in tons of professional advice and answer all their questions. I also brought some pussyhats, because Grandmaster Jane Yolen demanded one, and we were photographed, hopefully for Locus.

Unquestionably the most fun however was the Toastmaster at the Banquet: the astronaut Dr. Kjell Lindgren! He had masses of photographs from his tour on the International Space Station, and hung around at the parties afterwards. I had a slightly alcoholic three-way conversation with him and an Australian graphic artist, who emotionally explained that in Oz they count on Americans to lead the way. Not only could she never have gone to MIT and then into the space program, as Dr. Lindgren did, but her other example was the Stonewall riots. Not until Americans proclaimed it did Australians realize that gay people could and should have rights; they commemorate this now by marching on the Stonewall anniversary in Oz.  She begged Dr. Lindgren to keep on being inspirational. My contribution was to dolefully interject, “Yeah, we screwed up. We’re in bad shape now, but have faith, we’ll come about. We are not going to give up!” I should have given her a pussyhat.

 

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