Oakland hosts top Sci-Fi writing awards show

Locus Magazine, an Oakland-based publication, hosted its annual awards show in June.

Oakland-based Locus Magazine hosted the annual Locus Awards on Saturday, June 24 to celebrate contributors to the science fiction genre. 

Oakland has been home to Locus Magazine since 1972 and is considered the premier trade publication and platform for science fiction writing and publishing.  

Preservation Park, with its stately Victorian setting, was a perfect venue for this event which awards authors, editors, publishers, and others. The dress code was deemed business casual to evening wear, and as the majority in attendance were Oakland and Bay Area residents. Attendees were adorned in “Town Boho” style, ranging from a mix of after five attire with tennis shoes, Star Wars t-shirts, and short skirts and jeans with boots and elegant blouses. 

“We were dedicated to being inclusive.”

Liza Trombi

Inclusion and engagement

To ensure representation of marginalized groups, free tickets were made available courtesy of the Speculative Fiction Literature Foundation (SFLF).

“We were dedicated to being inclusive and extending invitations by offering scholarships and free tickets to organizations like AfroSurreal Writers Workshop,” Liza Trombi, editor-in-chief, said. 

Locus Magazine actively sought out and engaged SFLF in order to involve writers of color and other marginalized communities as panelists, according to SFLF member and poet Audrey T. Williams. 

The awards offered several panels and readings June 21-23 with authors Tananarive Due and Suzanne Palmer. The first panel of the afternoon of the awards show was moderated by the aforementioned Williams was The Idea Factory: Strategies for Invention. She was joined by Emily Flummox, Sumiko Saulson, and Ysabeau S. Wilce. Saulson, a surrealistic horror writer, said they form ideas from the calls for submissions and weave stories around those particular themes.

“But I always wondered, where were the Black people? Does that mean [Black people] will not be a part of the future?”

Kemi Ashing-Giwa

Black writers and speculative fiction

Black writers have published speculative fiction as far back as the slavery era, but have been excluded in the larger context of the field. The panel discussion, “Keeping the Thread: Weaving Complex World into Engaging Stories,” included a lively discussion about the different worlds created in science fiction and its implications for the future.

Kemi Ashing-Giwa, who debuted her novel in July, Splinters in the Sky, marveled at the absence of Black people in 1960s

“But I always wondered, where were the Black people?” Ashing-Giwa said. “Does that mean [Black people] will not be a part of the future?” 

The lack of representation of Black people in the creation of the worlds of speculative fiction is being addressed by the recent trend of AfroSurrealism, AfroFuturism and other forms of speculative fiction on the big screen with filmmakers Jordan Peele and Lena Waithe.

The last panel, “You Got Your Comedy in My SFF! How to Write with Humor,” emphasized how comedy is weaved into science fiction scenes. One of the panelists, Charlie Jane Anders, one of the few winners who were in attendance, won for her young adult novel, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak.

When asked if Locus has been more diverse and inclusive in their nominees this year, Anders said, “Locus has made huge improvements in terms of diversity of their reviews, but Science Fiction and Fantasy has a long way to go before it can reflect the diversity of the whole speculative fiction community.”

Speculative Fiction awards

The awards show was held after a wine reception accompanying the evening meal catered by Havana Restaurant with scrumptious small plates featuring their tasty empanadas. The awards show was moderated by young adult fantasy writer, Maggie Tokuda-Hall. There were over a dozen categories ranging from art, editing, publishing and of course, the writers. Five or six winners were present. Other awardees made cameos through pre-recorded video speeches. There was a burst of applause when the winner of the best anthology was announced: Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction, edited by Sheree Renee Thomas, Oghenechovwe Donalad Ekpeki, and Zelda Knight. This anthology, highlighting the range of speculative fiction by African Diaspora writers, was a clear favorite. 

“Receiving the award was very moving. Our authors are from the African Diaspora and it is our hope that readers who are unfamiliar with the writers will now seek them out.”

Sheree Renee Thomas

Sheree Renee Thomas, an award-winning writer as well as an editor, is well respected in the speculative fiction world. While agreeing that science/speculative fiction has opened up to writers of color, there is still room for improvement and applauds Locus Magazine as a credible source.

“Receiving the award was very moving. Our authors are from the African Diaspora and it is our hope that readers who are unfamiliar with the writers will now seek them out,” Thomas said.

This year was the first time the awards were held in Oakland. For years the awards were held at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle. It is fitting that this event was held in Oakland as the city has a foothold in the science and speculative fiction field. After all, Oakland is the place the musical artist Sun Ra landed his spaceship in the 1970s.

Author Profile

Dera R. Williams is a lifelong Oakland resident whose family was a part of the Great Migration. Her published writings capture the hardships, heroism, and the joys of families making that journey in both fiction and nonfiction. Dera will soon share her novel with the world and is pioneering that path to publication. Exploring the relationship between myth and honoring oral and family history, she honors the voices of her ancestors in her storytelling.

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