A Timeline of the 2013 SFWA Controversies

Notes:

  1. This is a living timeline.  I will probably be editing and adding links to it as time goes on.
  2. This is an outsider’s perspective.  I am not a member of SFWA.
  3. I have great respect for a large number of people in SFWA and for the organization itself.  I’m doing this not to drag SFWA through the mud, as it were, but to provide a reference for people who are trying to figure out what’s going on—I’ve been involved in the discussion from the beginning, and I’m having trouble keeping track of the sequence of events.
  4. If people have corrections or additions to this timeline, or if you feel a link is of particular importance for me to include, please feel free to contact me.

Necessary Context

The important people and organizations involved whom I shall mention below:

  • SFWA is the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, the professional organization of SFF writers.
  • Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg are professional SFF writers who had a regular column in the SFWA Bulletin, the official publication of SFWA.
  • Jean Rabe was the editor of the SFWA Bulletin when this timeline begins.
  • John Scalzi was the president of SFWA when this timeline starts.  Steven Gould took over as president on July 1, 2013.
  • Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day) is a member of SFWA who is well-known for extreme, dehumanizing views.
  • N.K. Jemisin is a professional SFF writer and a woman of color (which becomes relevant later in this timeline).
  • Laura Resnick is a pro SFF writer and is also Mike Resnick’s daughter (some of the links below reference her without context).
  • David Truesdale is a well-known reviewer in the SFF community and a former member of SFWA, as well as a former editor of the SFWA Bulletin.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal is a professional SFF author and the former vice president of SFWA.

Most other people mentioned are SFF writers, reviewers, bloggers, or other interested members of the community.

And now:

An Incomplete, Admittedly Biased Timeline

January 2013

SFWA sends out Bulletin #200 to its members.  The issue features this cover along with an article by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg about “lady editors” (following a column in a previous issue about “lady writers”).  The use of the word “lady” to distinguish “female writers/editors” from “writers/editors” bothers some folks, as does the column’s emphasis on the physical attributes of these literarily accomplished women, and there is a quiet rumbling of complaint about both the column and the cover.  Most of the complaints I saw online were of the level of sighing and eye-rolling, and were not anonymous—at least, not the subset of them that I saw—which is important for later.  Salient points:

  • The later Internet blowup was not provoked by Resnick/Malzberg’s use of the term “lady.”  I’m seeing a few rumblings of criticism saying that the (current) reaction is out of proportion to such a mild offense, but the current reaction is not in response to that column, and criticizing it as out of proportion to the “lady editors” sentiments is a mischaracterization of the debate.
  • Here’s an excellent analysis of why the cover of that Bulletin is so problematic.

April 2013

SFWA sends out Bulletin #201 to its members.  The issue features a column by CJ Henderson espousing Barbie as a role model, as she is a “nice girl” who “maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should.”

  • Again, there are complaints.
  • The complaints, or at least the subset of them that I saw, are again not anonymous.
  • The complaints are still relatively muted.  The blogosphere has not blown up.  Yet.

May 31, 2013

The content of SFWA Bulletin #202 hits the web.  In it, Resnick and Malzberg spend the six pages of their column excoriating the people who criticized their previous column.  They use phrases like “thought control” and “liberal fascists,” toss around accusations of censorship, and compare their detractors to Stalin and Mao.  They also imply that their detractors are anonymous cowards.  This is when the Internet throws a fucking shitfit.

June 1, 2013

SFWA announces an official task force to figure out what to do.  The blogosphere continues to blow up.

June 2, 2013

The explosion in the blogosphere has become epic (again, see Jim Hines’ post for links).  John Scalzi takes full responsibility for the offensive material in the Bulletin and apologizes.

June 5, 2013

Jean Rabe, the editor of the Bulletin, resigns.  Elsewhere, the explosion across social media is dying down.  People are still angry, but many appear to be adopting a “wait and see” attitude toward what the task force decides.

June 8, 2013

Author N.K. Jemisin gives the Guest of Honor speech at the convention Continuum in Australia.  In it, she mentions the recent problems with sexism in SFWA chronicled above, and also references the (losing) bid of Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day) for SFWA President.  Beale is well-known for his dehumanizing views concerning women and people of color, and Jemisin laments that he got even 10 percent of the votes cast in the SFWA election (held earlier in the year).

June 13, 2013

Theodore Beale responds to Jemisin’s GOH speech on his blog using appallingly racist and threatening language.  He promotes his blog post through the @SFWAAuthors Twitter feed.  The tweet is removed promptly as a violation of the rules of the feed.  Amal El-Mohtar calls for the expulsion of Theodore Beale from SFWA for the misuse of an SFWA platform.

  • There’s a new explosion in the blogosphere.  Many, many people echo El-Mohtar’s call.  Since this incident also involves an SFWA platform, it ends up continuing the debate regarding the Bulletin about discourse in SFWA spaces and what boundaries SFWA should put on those spaces.
  • People not in SFWA say if Beale is not expelled, it will color their opinion of the organization and its accolades.
  • Much distinction is made between authors’ personal views and the opinions that get disseminated with some level of SFWA sanction or in SFWA spaces (the Bulletin, the Twitter feed, the forums).

On this day, SFWA also announces a plan for going forward with the Bulletin.  It’s somewhat overshadowed by the Beale controversy.

June 16, 2013

Bryan Thomas Schmidt writes a “call for civility” (link goes to a saved version) which boils down to him telling the people protesting that they’re too angry and should be nicer in discourse.  This infuriates people anew (including me).  His sentiments are echoed in a few other corners of the SFF community, to the great frustration of the people trying to call for change.

June 18, 2013

John Scalzi posts an official statement assuring SFWA members that the Board is considering their concerns (regarding Beale, presumably, though he is not mentioned by name in the statement).  Speculation abounds that a decision will end up coming from the new Board, which is set to take office July 1.

June 20, 2013

News hits Twitter of a promotion for a book perceived by some to be racist on the main @SFWA Twitter feed (the author has clarified what happened in comments).  The book is by an SFWA author not previously involved in the controversy.  People call for the tweet to be removed and the Twitter feeds to be moderated.  The tweet is removed pending a review and eventually released on the @SFWAAuthors Twitter feed instead, where it is found not to violate the rules. (Corrected 7/3/13 thanks to private correspondence, further clarified after the author’s response in comments.)

June 24, 2013

SFWA updates their Twitter policy.

More salient, thanks to Natalie Luhrs at Radish Reviews and her epic link collections, the following come to light:

  • Mike Resnick commented on Theodore Beale’s blog on June 22 and basically doubled down.  Beale referenced his comment on June 23 (screencap) with more of his trademark commentary.
  • Posts from a public newsgroup reveal that Resnick and Jean Rabe were warned in advance that the the column in Bulleten #202 would blow up the community and that people would “want their (Mike’s and Barry’s) heads on a platter.”  Former editor Jean Rabe posts to that same newsgroup, obliquely giving her opinion of the whole issue and implying she will be leaving SFWA over it.

June 28, 2013

Author Elise Matthesen details how she formally reported Tor editor James Frenkel for sexual harassment at WisCon.  Matthesen’s detailed report of the process is disseminated widely, and sparks further discussion on the sexism and harassment faced by women in the SFF community, particularly in the context of the previous month.

July 1, 2013

An anonymous tumblr starts posting excerpts from a private forum that features some SFWA members using sickening language to attack some of the people protesting about the sexism and racism.  Only a few SFF pros are involved, but some of the statements made are appalling.

SFWA announces a survey will be forthcoming to members inquiring as to what they want out of the Bulletin going forward.

The new SFWA Board takes office, with Steven Gould as president.

July 2, 2013

John Scalzi posts a policy requiring conventions that ask him to be a panelist/Guest of Honor to have a good, well-publicized harassment policy.  Over a thousand people co-sign it.

July 3, 2013

The anonymous tumblr (referenced July 1) announces a DMCA notice has been filed against it.  Across social media, the conversation about the tumblr has two main areas of discourse: one regarding the revelations of what was said, and the other regarding the breach of confidentiality.  Some SFWA members wonder about the sff.net forum outed by the tumblr (which is not the main SFWA forum) and whether it is in practice open to all SFWA members, whether it is subject to SFWA moderation, and whether it is paid for by SFWA dues.

Former SFWA VP Mary Robinette Kowal posts Dear Twelve Rabid Weasels of SFWA, Please Shut the Fuck Up.  The post spreads like wildfire and the slang of “weasels” for the people making the abusive statements quickly catches on.

July 4, 2013

SFWA announces an update on the Bulletin task force.

Theodore Beale reprints an email from the SFWA Board on his blog; the email is informing him about the first steps the Board is taking on the complaints against him.  He posts a follow-up on it the next day, including further communications from the Board.  (Links go to screencaps.)

July 9, 2013

In light of Beale publicizing on his blog pieces of the confidential SFWA investigation into him, SFWA makes an announcement reassuring members that no names were shared with Beale and nor was any other information from a complaint shared without obtaining that member’s permission.

July 11, 2013

Tor senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden announces on Twitter that James Frenkel is no longer working for Tor.  It is not made known whether this is related to Matthesen’s formal sexual harassment report.

August 14, 2013

Theodore Beale announces on his blog that SFWA has expelled him.  He includes a copy of the notice.  (screenshot)

SFWA makes an official announcement about the expulsion (it does not reference Theodore Beale by name, but confirms a member has been expelled).

December 2013

Trisha Lynn is sent a DMCA notice from SFWA for posting scans of the Resnick/Malzberg articles online for criticism and commentary purposes.  It turns out the takedown notice was sent in error, but there are still copyright concerns expressed.  In the end the issue is resolved to the satisfaction of all parties by the articles being excerpted instead of reproduced in full.

December 13, 2013

SFWA advertises for the position of Editor-in-Chief for the new Bulletin.  Among many, many other duties, it mentions that the Editor-in-Chief will review cover art, look to solicit articles within the “vision of the Bulletin,” and work with the board and volunteers during a proofing and review process for each issue.

End of January – Beginning of February 2014

David Truesdale (who is not currently a member of SFWA) begins circulating a petition calling SFWA’s decisions regarding stronger editorial standards of the Bulletin “censorship.”  His original draft of the petition uses inflammatory racist and sexist language, including a comparison of SFWA’s editorial decisions to the enforced cotton-picking of slaves, and is signed by Gregory Benford, Robert Silverberg, Barry Malzberg (also not an SFWA member), and Mike Resnick.  A revised, slightly less inflammatory version is released shortly thereafter.  See links to both versions at Radish Reviews in their entirety, including the signatories as of 2/10/12. (credit Natalie Luhrs)

February 11, 2014

SFWA posts a statement reassuring members that the fearmongering (my word, not SFWA’s) in Truesdale’s petition is “express[ing] concerns for something that does not and will not exist.”

February 15, 2014

The same public sff.net newsgroup that has previously played a part has been active regarding the controversy re-stirred by the petition, and among other aspects of the controversy the voices there are reported on in an uncomplimentary fashion by The Daily Dot.

One of the people quoted is Sean Fodera, who works in the contracts department for Macmillan (which owns Tor, which publishes both Mary Robinette Kowal and John Scalzi).  The posts he made on sff.net refer to former SFWA VP and Hugo-award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal as an “unperson” and slam her for her style of dress at awards shows (“tight-fitting gowns and plunging necklines”) and in some photos on her website (“For a long time, her website featured an array of photos of her in a diaphanous white outfit, posing on a beach […] they were not innocuous writer headshots […] recumbent on the sand with legs exposed […]”).

(Not that it should matter, but here are some pictures of Mary Robinette Kowal at awards shows, and here are the pictures of her in the “diaphanous white outfit” on the beach.  Setting aside for a moment how wrong it is on every level to attack a female author on her mode of dress, there is no metric by which the way Ms. Kowal dresses is inappropriate or unprofessional.)

February 16, 2014

Sean Fodera threatens to sue both The Daily Dot and everyone who linked to the article.  Predictably, this causes the article to spread even further.

February 17, 2014

Mary Robinette Kowal posts “Me, a Useful Representative Example” about the constant abuse against women in the SFF field.

February 18, 2014

Former SFWA president John Scalzi posts “Join the Insect Army” (art by Ursula Vernon).  References to “John and Mary’s Insect Army” spread across social media.

February 19, 2014

Natalie Luhrs of Radish Reviews, who had been a key voice and a tireless breaker of news throughout the prior year’s and the current controversies, posts “Fallout,” a reminder that the whole picture is much larger than the individual examples that are happening and that the silencing of women is happening all over.

February 20, 2014

Sean Fodera apologizes.  Mary Robinette Kowal accepts his apology (and talks about why).

February 27, 2014

SFWA announces the return of the Bulletin.

March 19, 2014

SFWA announces the choice of John Klima as the new Bulletin editor.  His selection is met with a positive reaction from people on all sides of the political/philosophical spectrum.

March 31, 2014

The SFWA Bulletin returns with its first new issue.

This timeline was last updated on April 10, 2014.  This timeline was last edited on February 27, 2014.

Further Resources

Referenced above, Jim Hines has a roundup of many of the blog and Twitter responses to the Resnick/Malzberg fire starter here.

Jenett on Dreamwidth collected a very extensive link roundup of all the responses to Elise Matthesen’s convention sexual harassment report.

The indefatigable Natalie Luhrs at Radish Reviews has been doing continuing link roundups throughout, which provide a more detailed commentary on events.  Her posts so far include:

My own posts on the subject so far are:

Once again, please feel free to send corrections, additions, or salient links my way.

49 thoughts on “A Timeline of the 2013 SFWA Controversies

  1. sinboy livejournal com

    Quick clarification “10 percent of the vote of SFWA membership.” is 10 percent of votes cast, not votes equating to 10% of SFWA membership. Some SFWA members didn’t vote at all.

  2. Natalie

    Thanks for putting together such a comprehensive timeline. It feels like a lot longer than a month, that’s for sure. Also, you can use my name if you’d like–I’m a one woman show. A very tired one woman show.

  3. slhuang Post author

    @sinboy — D’oh, worded it that way accidentally. Fixed now. Thank you!

    @Natalie — I was actually going to ask you that. :) Thank you, by the way — your link round-ups have been amazing, and I really appreciate all the effort you’ve put in to acquire and share everything. I can’t imagine how much work that must be. (I keep getting just tired of blogging about it; I don’t know how you do it.)

  4. Puck

    Thanks so much for the timeline! I’ve been following the blow-up fairly closely; I didn’t realize quite how extensive it was though… The links roundup really brings it home for me just how many people were affected and your timeline helps me understand what things were connected where. Thanks!

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  6. solarbird livejournal com

    I’ve been blogging on this a fair bit myself (and used the contact form to send details), but the post I think is most important isn’t directly about SFWA, but is about sexual harassment at conventions and on the internet. I think it’s really important that people understand this is about exercise of dominance and power, and that sex is the means more than the end. So, if you don’t mind me dropping the link:

    http://crimeandtheforcesofevil.com/blog/2013/07/power-and-supervillainy/

  7. TJacksonKing

    SL Huang, thanks for the SFWA controversy overview. As a SFWA member net to this issue it is helpful. And re your June 20 post that refers to my SF novel Star Of Islam, do note that SFWA board/prez issued an email to all members saying my novel’s twitter feed did not violate SFWA policy and was put on the wrong twitter feed by a SFWA person, not me. Finally, a few folks who have bothered to read the start of the novel agree with me that it is -not- racist or sexist. Up to each reader, of course. Tom.

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  11. slhuang Post author

    @Puck — Glad it’s helpful. I’m still trying to get my head around everything that’s been going on myself . . .

    @solarbird — Thanks! I got your email as well; I am trying to make sure corrections get dealt with first before going through the links people are sending, but yes, of course feel free to link in comments. :)

    @Tom — Thank you so much for stopping by and clarifying. I heard about what happened through Twitter secondhand and couldn’t re-find the tweets, so was mostly working from memory. As I haven’t read your book I’ve rephrased the incident to be as unbiased as possible and pointed people toward your comment here.

  12. TJacksonKing

    SL, thanks for taking the time to revise your timeline to reflect the stuff in the June 20 sequence. And re SFWA’s fight talk on various issues, it is normal for this org, as someone who has been a member since 1988 can say, having lived through several major org dustups. We learn, we move on. Tom.

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  23. Adam

    As an outsider, it is sad to see identity politics, name calling, and intolerance of viewpoints from unpopular sources culminate in the expulsion of a member for his personal views. If you don’t like Beale, don’t read his posts. Where do you now draw the line SFWA?

  24. slhuang Post author

    I’m an outsider too, and honestly I’d rather not speculate here on whether or not the expulsion was legitimate, if for no other reason than that many of the facts of the investigation were kept under wraps. (And I’ve seen the discussions as to whether his publicly-known actions justified expulsion done to death elsewhere, and while I think those were valuable conversations, I’m not interested in moderating one here.) Thanks.

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  28. Jason

    Adam, please look up what Beale did on June 13th. He made threats and violated the rules of the twitter feed. That goes way beyond “personal views”. He is not the victim here, the people he threatened and dehumanized are. I think his behavior and his actions are more than enough to justify his expulsion.

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  34. Emilio

    Interesting . . . I’m not a professional writer, and by nature not a fan of professional groups, but I have always heard SFWA did a “lot of good things”. One of the things to look forward to if I were to get published was to join a select group of individuals that many hold in high esteem . . .

    As an outsider, I can say this . . . SFWA now sounds a lot like the Catholic church; it too does a lot of good things. It’s just that I can’t overlook the bad things, especially when they ignore them, minimize them, or dismiss them as not a huge problem.

    . . . so; one less thing to look forward to if I ever do get published.

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