Jenni Hennig is joining us today to talk about the anthology she edited with Maggie Nowakowska, Geeks Elders Speak: In Our Own Voices. Here’s the publisher’s description:
An anthology exploring the undeniable history of women creators in Science Fiction/Fantasy & Media fandom during the latter half of the 20th century.
These women were writers. Artists. Costumers. Editors. Gamers. Scientists. Housewives. Despite the odds, they claimed their own voices and creative power, through the years and in their own terms. Each woman’s experience is personal and evocative, told in their own voices and each with their own story.
What’s Jenni’s favorite bit?
It’s hard to pick a favourite bit when you’re editing an anthology. Particularly one spotlighting this undeniable—yet ignored—subject of women’s history in fandom. Everything in this book is a favourite of some sort.
But I can classify my favourite thoughts and feelings when I was going over the interviews and essays for Geek Elders Speak: In Our Own Voices. So many experiences, trickling through. Auld lang syne, creeping about the corners, reminding me of vital times. For while I still don garb (though costuming as Oola and the Orion Dancer are a bit out of reach for this 60+ woman), I haven’t written fanlit in some years. My brain is too full of other stories, either being written or waiting in the wings. But I do remember the sense of freedom, of learning in a safe space, of growing in my craft. I remember the sense of community, back in the days before SF/F and media fannishness was pop culture ‘cool’.
But mostly? I felt gratitude. When I first decided to spearhead this project, we were losing many of our community. Many stories are already lost, and the elder women who could have told them silenced by time or illness. As the essays and interviews began to trickle in, I also found a joy in the stories, all so different and yet so similar: a shared history… herstory. The gratitude, however, was perhaps the strongest, for I knew many of the women were ‘coming out’, in a very real sense, by openly sharing those experiences.
Why? Well, here’s a factoid for you. Forty to fifty years ago, fan-created works—particularly if they were created by women—could at worst see you put away in an asylum, and at best sit you on a writing panel with some self-important “pro” who treated you like scum.
I’m not kidding.
Acceptance of anything comes with scars. Acceptance starts—albeit slowly—when inventive people say ‘hellwithit!’ and buck all condemnation to break a trail that others don’t—or won’t—attempt. If we take a well-worn path, then it’s a surety that an ancestor pounded the steps for us.
In SFF & media fandom, it was these foremothers who trod down the high weeds to what would eventually become a more-accepted path. That insistence on making—and creating in—their own small community is what, today, allows fannish creatives to openly say, “Yes, I do that. Doesn’t everyone?”
The story of our fannish foremothers deserves telling, and remembering.
So, honoring and remembering the work from my fannish sisters is My Favourite Bit from this anthology. Jamala Henderson (a future Geek Elder and the one who first posited that very term) says it very well indeed in her foreword to the anthology, where she describes how she came up with a panel idea for a Seattle convention named GeekGirlCon:
I named the panel: “Geek Elders Speak: How Media Fandom Empowered Women in the 60s, 70s, & 80s.” Here’s the description:
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, before fans were connecting in droves on the internet, there was snail mail, fanzines, and just plain getting together. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Star Trek,Star Wars, and other media became a catalyst for fanzine fandoms that gave girl and women nerds ways of creating community with others like themselves, and helped them break out of their mid-century cocoons. Fandom gave them the boost and confidence they needed—to take a chance and become authors, merchandising pros, independent sculptors, and self-respecting women instead of just protected daughters and wives.
The hour-long panel attracted a decent crowd, and quickly became a surprising and powerful slice of oral history that many young people in the audience had never heard before. It turned out to be a critically important way to reach back and center the efforts of fannish women who had blazed trails and created nerdy spaces in the years before GeekGirlCon was possible. My goal was to impress upon a young geek audience that hearing history from the mouths of the people who lived it can be a valuable resource, and a learning tool for the present and future.
It is my hope that Geek Elders Speak: In Our Own Voices will help this community—and the women who created it—avoid being another forgotten anecdote of women’s history.
Be well, all of you.
co-editor, with Maggie Nowakowska, for Geek Elders Speak: In Our Own Voices
JENNI HENNIG is a pro novelist who learned much of her craft (as did many) through fanlit and a lifetime of compulsive reading. Her fannish participation and productivity spans from 1970-2010, and includes way too many panels, an attic full of costumes, the editing of several fanzines (one fondly [?] termed “The Rebel Alliance Phone Book”), as well as many years of storytelling, entertaining, & running conventions.
MAGGIE NOWAKOWSKA began reading SF in the 1st grade (Space Cat Visits Venus) and, with her first Star Trek story published in 1977, found a home in media zine fandom. Her Star Wars fan fiction appeared in the first SW zines, winning fan awards. Maggie has remained active in fannish discussions on the web and is currently supporting efforts to familiarize new fans, especially young women, with the long history of active women in fandom. She has spoken in podcast interviews, sat on many convention panels, and appears in the brilliant documentary Looking for Leia. Maggie lives in Seattle, with her wife, SF writer Susan R. Matthews, and a varying number of Pomeranian dogs. You can find her stories on Archive of Our Own.