At ArmadilloCon last weekend I was on a panel entitled “The Ascendance of Female Writers in 2011: Why They Dominated Award Ballots.”
My initial response was to assume they were using the term “dominated” facetiously, though it is true that more women authors than men were nominated for the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards this year. (The Locus Awards were an entirely different story.) But I wasn’t sure how my fellow panelists, not to mention the audience, would feel about that.
I needn’t have worried. Everyone on the panel agreed that while it was nice to see more women authors getting recognized, there wasn’t much likelihood that women authors were going to take over the field anytime soon. And the comments and questions from the audience — which were intelligent and well-thought-out, as befits a good literary con like ArmadilloCon — showed they shared our skepticism.
Let’s get one fact out of the way first: In the case of the Hugos and Nebulas, women “dominated” one category: novels. This wasn’t a tipping point; there were 5 women and 1 man on the Nebula ballot and 4 women and 1 man up for the Hugo. And, indeed, a woman won: Connie Willis grabbed both awards for Blackout/All Clear, a two-book series. To tally the overall nominees: 19 women and 15 men were nominated for Nebulas and 10 women and 9 men for Hugos (I’m just including the individual writer awards — it’s too complicated to look at movies, anthologies, or the myriad editor and fan Hugos). Respectable numbers, but hardly dominance.
And the winners show an even balance: 3 women and 3 men won Nebulas; 2 women and 2 men won Hugos.
But it was an unusual year, as fellow-panelist Michelle Muenzler explained with her spreadsheets showing the distribution of awards over the last ten years. I don’t have her spreadsheets, but as I recall, she said that over the past 10 years, only 2004 showed a reasonable balance between male and female authors. Otherwise, the ballots were “dominated” by men. (Prior to 2000, the lack of balance is even more noticiable, as witnessed by the Broad Universe statistics.)
J. Kathleen Cheney, herself a Nebula nominee in the novella category, explained the selection methods behind the various awards. One point she made about the Nebulas: new writers admitted as associate members to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) can now recommend books for the Nebula ballot. Since that change happened, there are more small press magazines and anthologies nominated in the story categories and fewer stories from Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Analog. That has led to more new writers being included, and some of those writers are women.
So it’s possible that we will be seeing more changes, and more balance in the award lists.
I hadn’t looked at the World Fantasy Award nominees before the panel, but indeed, this year’s ballot is heavy on women writers. Looking again at the individual writer awards (novel, novella, short story, and collection), each ballot either has more women than men or an equal number of each. Those awards won’t be out until the end of October, so we’ll have to wait and see who wins.
However, while the Nebula, Hugo, and WFC awards had an excellent representation of women writers this year, the Locus awards seemed to be a throwback. Counting the writing awards (SF novel, fantasy novel, first novel, YA book, novella, short story, and collection), they had 25 men nominated and 15 women. Winners were 6 men to 2 women.
I hope — and I know I’m speaking for the rest of my fellow panelists — that the increased number of women authors on the ballots represents a trend. It would be great to look back on the years from 2011-2020 and find a roughly even balance of authors. It would also be nice to see more authors from different backgrounds. Going through the Nebula and Hugo ballots this year I found authors from several countries (not just the U.S. and U.K.) and several different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
I know some will condemn this interest in more diverse ballots as political correctness. As someone who remembers when it was perfectly acceptable to disparage women in any field, I tend to think even the excesses of political correctness are a big improvement. But there’s another reason to look for diversity in fiction beyond being fair to those who’ve been left out for years: New and different stories. Good stories.
To give examples: N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (on both the Nebula and Hugo ballot) and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death (on the Nebula ballot) are both highly original stories that give readers new things to think about as well as allowing them to lose themselves in a fascinating fantasy world. As someone who is pretty bored with fantasy that echoes Europe of the Middle Ages, I am thrilled to read something that gives my imagination new scope.
Flashes of Illumination, a collection of my short-short fiction, is now available here from Book View Cafe. This 52-story ebook collects the flash fiction I published weekly during the first year of Book View Cafe, and adds in a few later stories as well.
My novella Changeling remains available as an ebook through Book View Cafe. It’s a coming of age story.
Both books are $2.99 and available in four DRM-free formats: mobi, epub, prc, and pdf.