A Love Letter to Can ConBy Derek Newman-Stille
One of the things being talked about in academic circles currently is the issue of the “all male panel”, which happens far too often. I often expect academic conferences to be ahead of a lot of public conferences, but was increadibly excited when I heard Can Con planners talking about the issue of the all male panel earlier this year and was even more excited when I arrived and saw that it was already in practice. In all of the panels I attended and presented in there were panelists who identified as male and female. This is yet another reminder of the welcoming environment that Can Con strives each year to create.
For those of you who don’t know, Can Con is an annual speculative fiction conference held in the Ottawa region with a particular focus on literary SF. I have attended Can Con for a number of years and have seen it grow in numbers. A growth in numbers always evokes an anxious response from me because I worry that the sense of camaraderie and family will be lost as the numbers increase, but Can Con consistently excites me because even as the numbers grow, the welcoming environment grows with those numbers as more people are invited into this familial environment. There is no ubiquity that comes with the growth, but rather Can Con makes sure to invite the individual to express themselves in diverse ways.
I think part of what makes Can Con so welcoming (especially of diversity) is the excitement by the organizers to create panels that explore the diversity of people creating Canadian Spec Fic, reading it, and being represented in its pages. Can Con organizers make sure to have exciting panels on representations of disability, neurodiversity, sexuality, gender diversity, ethnicity, and a range of identities as part of their planning and they consistently are able to attract exciting panelists who are writing these SF representations of identities, are people who identify with these identities, and people who are invested in exploring what these identities mean. But the really exciting part is the reactions of the audience to the panels on identities because these panels are consistently packed and the audience questions are insightful…. and I think this is part of that culture of diversity inspired by the Can Con organizers. It filters through into the audience and whereas at other conferences where there is the one token “here are the people who aren’t talking about the white, straight, able-bodied, neurotypical, male” panel the audience is often not as geared toward excitement about the exploration of identities, because of the plethora of panels on diverse identities at Can Con and because of the welcoming and encouraging support of the organizers, Can Con tends to have more positive and excited audience responses to diversity.
Why do I write a love letter to Can Con? Because there is a certain environment to the conference that allows me to feel refreshed, inspired, and excited after every conference. I often throw myself on as many panels as possible because I love to participate in Can Con, but I don’t feel exhausted after the conference as one would expect from all the work put into it. Instead, I feel energized, excited, and inspired to do some writing, reading, and (most importantly) fan boying about Speculative Fiction. I have been watching the various love letters to Can Con come rolling in through Facebook, Twitter, and through my email inbox and I think that I can say that this sense of camaraderie is shared by others who attend the conference and that they are experiencing the bittersweet combination of excitement and mourning that comes with having a great time and realising that we all have to wait another year for this exciting experience.
If you haven’t checked out Can Con, you can find out more about it by visiting http://www.can-con.org and I hope to see you all there.