April 29, 2014
BookCon is carefully considering your feedback about whether everyone everywhere should be so, so white
by Dustin Kurtz
I owe the organizers of BookCon an apology. Last week I discussed their problems with diversity on their panels this year. But I jumped the gun. I got impatient. Diversity is a serious issue and it deserves long consideration. It turns out, BookCon’s organizers take the issue very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that the organizers of BookCon have been thinking about how to fix their problem with diversity on panels since 2008.
When they finally get around to doing something about it, it’s going to be such a well-thought out solution, it’ll be worth all the wait. You’ll see.
BookCon, you’ll remember from last week, is the newly-rebranded last day of Book Expo America, the publishing industry’s annual festivities during which we select those with the greatest schmooze-stamina to be our rulers for the following year. It’s important stuff in the industry. (Melville House is a paying exhibitor at BEA, and eager for it.) BEA is run by Reed Exhibitions and their subdivision ReedPop who, in order to try to duplicate the lucrative success of various Comic Cons, have decided on the name change for the last day, and to offer a host of panels and signings geared toward various fan communities. It’s a fine idea. But in practice, well, they enlisted 30 white people and one cat to be on their panels.
A few organizations and fans have been calling BookCon out for the oversight, most notably contributors to BookRiot. Finally, Monday, BookRiot got a statement from ReedPop’s global senior vice president Lance Fensterman.
We have heard the concerns and feedback about the current show lineup and are working on making this better. As the show’s producers, we are continuing to create content for BookCon right up to the show, and many more panels are on the way. We don’t want to make promises or statements that will at this point seem self-serving or sound like tokenism though. That’s not what we believe in or intend to do. In fact diversity in our content has always been important to us, however we know that the first announcements of programming have not reflected that commitment to and belief in diversity, that’s our error and one we are eager to correct. But we are not scrabbling to fix this because we have to. Instead we are continuing to create great content with this input and feedback at the very front of our minds to show our commitment to a compelling, diverse lineup of content that readers will love. We hope to have some announcements soon that will reflect this desire.
Fensterman is a former bookseller, and widely respected in the book community. He’s proven willing to take complaints very seriously, notably harassment issues at New York Comic Con last year involving the great Diana Pho. I believe he and all of the organizers want to do right. They just don’t want to, I guess, be seen to be forced to do right? It’s a puzzling statement.
Maybe they want to think about the issue some more. Maybe they need more feedback. Maybe six years hasn’t been enough. Fensterman registered the need for more women at New York Comic Con in 2008. In 2012 he said “I think the diversity is good.” That’s nice! Of course, he meant inviting “John Cusack and then Anne Rice and then Charlaine Harris” to a comic convention, but the sentiment is nice. Now, again, he welcomes your feedback. A feedback junkie, is Fensterman. And diversity has always been important to him. You kind of feel bad for the guy. All these years of feedback—feedback at the very front of their minds—and taking the issue so seriously. One of these years they’re going to get it right, if only people would stop rushing them.
And so I apologize, BookCon. Take your time. Gather that input. No rush. No “self-serving” fixes. You’re gonna do great once you figure it out. I believe you can do it. I believe you can find a single person of color.
No… No that’s another cat. Maybe next year guys.
Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.