Old white guys

I was lucky enough to be in the (standing-room only, and eventually closed-to-entry) crowd at Powell’s bookstore last night, to hear Ursula K. Le Guin talk about writing. She had a lot of good things to say, and, I was surprised to find, was a lot more cheery in person than her excellent but often somber novels. She had useful comments about listening to the ‘voice’ of your writing – literally listening to how it sounds aurally.

What seems to have drawn the most Twitter attention, however, was a throwaway line at the very close of her talk: “Don’t let the old guys scare you. They’re mostly on their way out.” Judging by audience reaction, I suspect most people interpreted the line differently than I did – most seemed to see it as a dismissal of old white guys (OWGs), and I think that’s the wrong reaction.

Speculative fiction (and much of the world) has been dominated by OWGs, and that’s obviously problematic. However, the problem is not that OWGs are involved – there’s nothing wrong with OWGs (speaking as one myself) – but that too few others have been involved. That’s changing. But we shouldn’t be celebrating one group departing, we should be celebrating other groups arriving.

As a long-time SFF reader and occasional writer, I don’t want the OWGs leaving the field. They’ve written great stuff and still do. I just want to be sure that we also get to see the great stuff written by women, blacks, asians, latins, Tutsis, Hmong, Gagauz, etc. – that everyone’s got a fair chance to come onto the field to begin with. That means the OWGs get a smaller share, but it doesn’t mean they get no share; it’s the proverbial larger pie. We write fantasy – we can make the pie bigger.

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