A guest post by Sabrina Vourvoulias – Follow @followthelede
The heroes in my stories are always communities: the community of humble but righteous luchadores in La Gorda and the City of Silver; the barrio folk that defeat predatory cops in Skin in the Game; the community of circumstance that forms to shelter and rebel and resist together in my novel of immigration dystopia, Ink.
But as a Latina speculative fiction writer, I had a hard time finding community.
For one, I started writing speculative fiction much later in life than most — I was 50 when I sold my first short story, 52 when my novel was published, I came to the discipline without benefit of an MFA program or a Clarion (or Odyssey or VONA) workshop under my belt. I had no ready set of peers, classmates or mentors with whom I might feel “in community.”
Instead, I had a wonderful but demanding career in journalism that had me churning out thousands of words of nonfiction weekly, and left me only a few late night hours in which to craft a different type of story.
Don’t get me wrong. Because of my journalism I have found welcome in many communities which have informed my fictional ones: The immigration advocacy community, the social justice faith community, the Latinx communities in North and South Philly, even the communities that formed within the newsrooms of each niche/community/ethnic media organization I worked at in Pennsylvania and New York state.
These communities sustained me and influenced the stories I wanted to tell — but they were not a fiction writing community.
And then there was this: the speculative fiction communities I found online (they do exist) had few Latinx writers. This was familiar to me from journalism where — until I became the managing editor of a bilingual, Latino newspaper and website — I had been the only Latinx journo in the newsrooms I worked in.
And I wondered, where were the folks who could innately “get” that my code-switching, genre-border-hopping speculative stories were riffs on a long, unsung Latinx tradition of storytelling?
The first time I attended a speculative lit convention — Readercon in the Boston-area, which has since become a favorite — I probably spent more time talking to, and connecting with, the hotel workers (in Spanish) than I did to the community of writers that had gathered there. I remember feeling a particular sort of relief when Daniel José Older showed up and there was someone else code-switching between English and Spanish, and between particularly Anglo and Latinx ways of being and telling.
But the question remained: how could these two things I loved — speculative fiction and Latinidad — not love each other?
What I have discovered in the ensuing years is was that there are, in fact, a lot of Latinxs who love speculative fiction and they are, in fact, writing stories and novels in the genre. Not enough of them are getting published, or reviewed, or noticed but they are out there anyway, honing their craft in the hours left over from demanding jobs as school counselors and adjunct professors and paramedics.
In 2013, I ran a blog series “Nuestras Voces, Our Voices,” which showcased the voices of 14 emerging Latina writers, across a variety of genres. It included Teresa Jusino , Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Gina Ruiz, Ezzy Guerrero-Languzzi, Julia Rios, Lisa Bradley and Jessica Olivarez, all writers of speculative fiction.
By 2014 I had gotten even more serious about drawing attention to the Latinxs writing genre and mainstream fiction. I started publishing Q&As with Older, David Bowles, Carmen María Machado, Phillippe Diederich, Carlos Hernández and Joy Castro at the news website where I was managing editor; I wrote recommended reading lists full of Latinx authors, and wrote articles about upcoming anthologies and novels. That year I pitched a roundtable of Latinx writers talking about our adventures in the speculative fiction world to the good folks at Readercon, and they went for it.
And then in 2015, I wrote a piece for Tor.com highlighting Latinx writers whose work is too often overlooked when talking about what is shaping the future of speculative fiction in the U.S. Daína Chaviano — one of the best-selling and best-respected Spanish-language U.S. Latinx speculative fiction writers who is woefully unknown to many on the English-language side of the field — recently shared that Tor post with her Spanish-language following, which might not otherwise be familiar with those of us writing primarily in English.
So it turns out there is a grand community of Latinx speculative writers out here.
Some of us only know each other virtually, or by reputation, or as friends of friends, or because we appear in an anthology or magazine together (which is how Chaviano and I, and Older and I originally met) . Others have mentored each other, shared professional advice, or come to each other’s defense when someone in the greater community of speculative fiction decides we’ve become too big for our Latinx britches.
As Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, once said: “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
We call ourselves Chicano, Boricua, Quisqueya, Cubano, Catracho, Chapín, Guanaco, Nica, Tejana, Latinx, Hispanic, or a dozen or more other general or specific identifiers.
We call each other hermano and hermana, comadre and compadre, friend and colleague.
We share the love for what we do and who we are, and live by the heroic dictum, “donde cabe uno, caben dos.”
There is always room in this community.
Ink – by Sabrina Vourvoulias
What happens when rhetoric about immigrants escalates to an institutionalized population control system? The near-future, dark speculative novel INK opens as a biometric tattoo is approved for use to mark temporary workers, permanent residents and citizens with recent immigration history – collectively known as inks.
Set in a fictional city and small, rural town in the U.S. during a 10-year span, the novel is told in four voices: a journalist; an ink who works in a local population control office; an artist strongly tied to a specific piece of land; and a teenager whose mother runs an inkatorium (a sanitarium-internment center opened in response to public health concerns about inks). The main characters grapple with ever-changing definitions of power, home and community; relationships that expand and complicate their lives; personal magicks they don’t fully understand; and perceptions of “otherness” based on ethnicity, language, class and inclusion. In this world, the protagonists’ magicks serve and fail, as do all other systems – government, gang, religious organization – until only two things alone stand: love and memory.
About the author
Sabrina Vourvoulias is an award-winning columnist with bylines at The Guardian US, City & State, Philadelphia Magazine, Tor.com and Strange Horizons. Her novel, Ink, was named one of Latinidad’s Best Books of 2012. You can read her latest story “El Cantar of Rising Sun,” online at Uncanny Magazine, and look for her short story “Sin Embargo” upcoming in the anthology Latin@ Rising in 2017. Follow her on Twitter @followthelede.
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