Fangirls and Lit Cons: the New Hybrid

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
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Saturday was the last day to submit programming for Sirens, but registration will be open until September 7th (and again opening day) for this literary conference with a fannish twist: it’s all about women and girls in fantasy fiction.

Sirens began 2 years ago in Vail, Colorado, where each October since a host of female writers and readers have gathered to discuss a smorgasbord of topics related to women and fiction: female literary tropes and genre conventions, how to survive the world of publishing, queer stories and magic–even workshops on how to make your own fairy wings. (We’re guessing that one didn’t make it into Wiscon.)

Sirens’ structure is particularly geared toward geek girls and readers of fantasy and Young Adult fiction, with a focus each year on a different fantasy theme that comes with a recommended reading list ranging from epic fantasy series to paranormal romances.

Previous conference themes were female warriors (2009) and fairies (2010). One of the first keynote speakers was Tamora Pierce, renowned author of the ground-breaking Tortall series about original warrior princess Alanna. This year’s theme is Monsters. It couldn’t be a timelier choice, given GaGa’s eponymous mega-tour and her “little monsters,” and just as publishing trends seem to be hopping from one bestselling creature craze to another–vamps, angels, werewolves, zombies, and many more.

So what does it mean to be a female monster? Attendees at Sirens will be happy to tell you. While Sirens is open to academic programming, it also welcomes presentations from anyone, fans and readers as well as writers. This is hardly a surprise considering that Sirens’ parent organization, Narrate Conferences, got its start hosting Harry Potter cons and sharing organizers with HP Education Fanon, another non-profit franchise dedicated to putting on Potter-themed events.

Sirens is a clever hybrid of fan convention, academic conference, and publishing con that reveals just how muddy the divide has become between writers, critics, and fans. After all, anyone can be a fan, and in the age of blogging, anyone can be a critic. As publishing types get ready to kick off BEA’s annual expo, many are also anticipating the more intimate Book Blogger Con, which piggybacked on BEA’s shoulders for the first time last year in order to network publicists and industry types with amateur book bloggers. The greatest thing about Book Blogger Con is that the majority of online book reviewers are women, and many of them have a lot to say about the problems of sexism, diversity, whitewashing, and de-queering that plague the publishing industry.

As the lines between fans/consumers and critics/producers continue to blur, hybrid conferences like Sirens and the BBC will become more and more common, and women will grow more and more visible to the media/publishing industries as active consumers and critics of the genres they read and write about.

After all, the little monsters of today could well be the Tamora Pierces of tomorrow.

Aja Romano blogs regularly at Bookshop.

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