So, I can now share my finalized schedule for this year’s Readercon, where for the first time I will be a participant!
Friday July 13
12:00 PM ME Bookaholics Anonymous/Welcome to Readercon. John Clute, Walter Hunt (leader), John H. Stevens. The most controversial of all 12-step groups. Despite the appearance of self-approbation, despite the formal public proclamations by members that they find their behavior humiliating and intend to change it, this group, in fact, is alleged to secretly encourage its members to succumb to their addictions. The shame, in other words, is a sham. Within the subtext of the members’ pathetic testimony, it is claimed, all the worst vices are covertly endorsed: book-buying, book-hoarding, book-stacking, book-sniffing, even book-reading. Could this be true? Come testify yourself, while giving and getting tips on navigating the wonders of Readercon for the very first time.
3:00 PM F Anthropology for Writers. James L. Cambias, Christopher M. Cevasco, Amanda Downum, Francesca Forrest, John H. Stevens (leader), Harold Torger Vedeler. In a 2011 blog post, Farah Mendlesohn wrote, “‘Worldbuilding’ as we understand it, has its roots in traditions that described the world in monolithic ways: folklore studies, anthropology, archeology, all began with an interest in describing discrete groups of people and for that they needed people to be discrete.” This panel will discuss the historical and present-day merging and mingling of real-world cultures, and advise writers on building less monolithic and more plausible fictional ones.
9:00 PM RI Readercon Classic Fiction Book Club: The Palm-Wine Drinkard. Michael Cisco, Sarah Smith, John H. Stevens, Michael Swanwick (leader), Jeff VanderMeer. The Palm-Wine Drinkard is a classic of world literature, a vivid, exhilarating, and linguistically breathtaking tale of a fantastic quest. The novel is based on Yoruba folktales, but Amos Tutuola makes them uniquely his own. In a 1997 obituary for Tutuola in The Independent, Alastair Niven wrote: “Tutuola was a born story-teller, taking traditional oral material and re-imagining it inimitably. In this way he was, though very different in method and craft, the Grimm or Perrault of Nigerian story-telling, refashioning old tales in a unique way which made them speak across cultures.” Now, 60 years after it was first released, The Palm-Wine Drinkard stands as the best sort of classic: one that remains a pleasure to read, but that opens up new readings with each encounter.
Saturday July 14
3:00 PM RI Theories of Reading and Their Potential Insights into Fantastika. Suzy McKee Charnas, John Crowley, Shira Daemon, Kate Nepveu, John H. Stevens (leader), Gayle Surrette, Rick Wilber. We talk about reading at Readercon every year, but we rarely talk about our understanding of reading as a mental process of cultural practice. John H. Stevens will summarize some recent theories of reading from neurological, psychological, anthropological, and literary perspectives, followed by a discussion about what these ideas might be able to tell us about how we engage, interpret, and codify fantastic literature. In what ways is fantastika read like any other sort of text, and in what ways might we read (and write?) it differently?
I am rather daunted by some of the panelists I will be sharing a stage and/or table with, but I am also thrilled by the panels I’m on. I love the Bookaholics panel and the chance to introduce people to the literary carnival that is Readercon. The anthro panel should be fun, although I will be curious to see how we each define the idea of “culture” and how it can apply to writing. I think we need to take Mendlesohn’s remark seriously and move past the idea of “worldbuilding.” The novella I am working on for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon (which you should all TOTALLY SPONSOR!) is partly an exercise in rethinking worldbuilding and some of the conceits that are overused in fantastika. We’ll see if that also results in something readable and entertaining!
The Book Club is going to be a trip. I am going to re-read this coming weekend and review its effects on me. I have only recently discovered Tutuola via Jeff Vandermeer’s ODD? anthology and his writing is wonderfully evocative and destabilizing. There will be a lot to talk about and I hope folks read it and come ready to talk about the manifold joys and eccentricities of this book.
The most important panel for me is the last one, where I am going to essentially present the theme of the non-fiction book I am working on and summarize the theories of reading that I have found most insightful and useful for probing this amazing practice. It’s a fine slate of panelists, and I’m eager to hear what they think about these ideas and how they relate to reading fantastic literature.
I am excited and nervous, and there is so much to do (and so little time!) before I’m in Burlington. If you are attending and you see me, please say hello; I am a rather shy individual and I’m bad at introducing myself. Oddly, I am okay on stage and presenting my work, mostly because of experience with academic conferences and human rights workshops, but not as good at the casual hello.
EDIT: The complete schedule can be found here.