|The NAPIRE workshop: diverse cultures, diverse minds,
diverse forests. Photo courtesy of Lelemia Irvine.
A good portion of my first twelve days was spent in a unique workshop sponsored by the Native American and Pacific Islander Research Experience (NAPIRE) Program of the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). I’ve been involved with NAPIRE since 2006, and have talked about it extensively on my blog for Eolyn. NAPIRE is a very innovative program dedicated to encouraging young scientists of Native American and Pacific Islander origin to pursue careers in field ecology.
The workshop brought together the collective experience of several participants to develop a set of best practices for mentoring undergraduate research students. Our group was small but extraordinarily diverse, representing several Native American tribes and Pacific Islander peoples, as well as students, faculty, staff, advisers, and tribal leaders. I’ve rarely experienced as rich, varied, and productive a discussion as I did during the few days I spent with this amazing group of people, all dedicated to the mission of increasing diversity in the sciences.
As I made my journey home in the days after the workshop, I found myself mulling over diversity, what it means and where it fits not only in the sciences, but in the broader fabric of today’s society. Naturally I turned to the question of diversity in fantasy.
The serendipity of composing this post on the eve of Martin Luther King Day is not lost on me. Last week I watched a documentary about the struggles of the 1960s; what it cost in time, energy, heartbreak, and lives to achieve the civil rights laws that we all take for granted today. During the NAPIRE workshop I was reminded that despite the many achievements of recent decades, we are still unable to fully appreciate not only the strengths of both genders, but also the rich cultural diversity that characterizes the world we live in.
TV shows are still cancelled when they have too many intelligent women; the superheroes of our movies remain monochromatic (and the superheroines virtually nonexistent); the image of epic fantasy is often pigeonholed into a fictitious medieval age untouched by non-European cultures. The list goes on and on.
Of course, these stereotypes are being broken down, day by day, piece by piece. But there is still a long road to be traveled before we can call the genre truly representative.
I’m very proud of the small role Heroines of Fantasy has played in bringing attention to the question of gender in fantasy over the past two years. The fundamental importance of what we do was reaffirmed for me during my week with NAPIRE in Las Cruces. Now, I’d like to challenge our friends and followers to broaden our discussion going forward, so that we include not only women in genre fiction, but also cultural and ethnic diversity.
There are a lot of ways to do this, the most obvious of which is to bring to the table authors and books that have enriched the genre along these dimensions. We can also consider how cultural and ethnic diversity have influenced our own stories.
For example, I talk a lot about the women protagonists featured in my work. But what about the influence of Native American spirituality on my approach to magic? Or the connections between the real place of Latin America and the fictitious kingdom of Moisehen? Why did I think it important to make Corey’s Circle an ethnically diverse community? What is the connection between the Guendes of Eolyn's world and the duendes of Guam? These and other aspects of the underlying fabric of Eolyn’s world are stories that deserve to be told, and that perhaps I have not spent enough time telling.
Instinct tells me there are a multitude of stories out there like my own, where the cultural influences cannot be pinned down to a single source, but come from a variety of traditions and peoples.
So, what do you say? Are you ready to take our discussion to the next level and give a greater voice to this topic in our forums? How has diversity, in your experience, contributed to the great stories you’ve read and written? Why is diversity important to the genres we know and love?
Have at it, HoF friends and followers. I look forward to seeing your comments.