Co-Editing a Volume of the WisCon Chronicles During a Pandemic- A Guest Post by Isabel Schechter & Michi Trota
WisCon is a feminist science fiction and fantasy convention that is held in Madison, WI, over Memorial Day weekend in May. Founded in 1977, it’s the oldest feminist SF/F convention in existence, where fans gather to discuss SF/F and pop culture with an emphasis on examining issues pertaining to race, gender, disability, queerness, and other marginalizations. After more than 40 years, WisCon has grown a vibrant community of passionate attendees and volunteers whose work continues to reshape and evolve the con. Since 2007, Aqueduct Press has published an annual anthology, The WisCon Chronicles, which collects a variety of creative pieces by WisCon attendees, and is given a specific theme chosen by the volume’s editor(s).
Traditionally, the anthology is officially released with a party at WisCon, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WisCon 44 has transitioned to a completely virtual convention for 2020. While this year’s anthology theme explores “boundaries and bridges,” its co-editors Isabel Schechter and Michi Trota certainly did not anticipate having to navigate the unexpected boundaries created by a pandemic.
When Aqueduct Press first asked me to edit this volume of The WisCon Chronicles, I knew I wanted the theme to be about boundaries and bridges and to work with a co-editor. The theme of the volume recognizes that my point of view has limits and I would need to work with someone to ensure the collection of essays included points of view and voices to which I might not have been exposed. Having had the pleasure and privilege of serving as one of Michi’s bridges to Uncanny, and seeing the work she has done to provide opportunities for a variety of voices to be heard, I knew she was the perfect choice for co-editor.
Like any good working relationship, there was give and take on workload and decision-making. Some tasks fell into a natural division of labor according to skills— I am an Excel junkie and created spreadsheets to track submissions, Michi has a graphic artist’s eye and created images for promotion; other tasks depended on the submissions we received— some essays were on topics familiar to one but not the other of us, shared life experiences specific to a culture not our own, or were written in a language other than English.
I knew Michi and I would be able to work together well, and once the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, that ability to work well together turned out to be more important than we could have anticipated. We were already deep in the editorial process when it became clear that COVID-19 would change practically all aspects of daily life as well as the process of publishing the Chronicles.
When WisCon announced that it would be cancelling its in-person convention and moving to a virtual format, we had to adjust our plans and expectations for the book. Because the Chronicles is grounded in the WisCon experience, we needed to find ways to help people connect with and through the volume despite not being able to come together physically at the convention.
Again, we divided the workload, and although any other co-editor might have performed the same tasks, they would not have shared the same feelings of loss and sadness, nor would their commitment to sustain the community through this difficult time be as strong. Being co-workers on a job is not enough for the Chronicles. Editing this volume of the Chronicles while living through the enormous impact that COVID-19 has had on the world would not have been possible without having a partner to share the mission.
This volume of the Chronicles is a way of giving back to the convention and the community that has given us so much. Although COVID-19 erected barriers to physical community connection, Michi and I worked together to make this collection of essays a bridge to WisCon. Had we not been able to work in such a collaborative, committed partnership, the collection would not have been as strong as it is. I know our readers will benefit from that partnership.
Co-editing an essay anthology has been a long-held dream of mine. When Isabel offered me the chance to co-edit the twelfth volume of The WisCon Chronicles, I couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate project to tackle in my post-Uncanny editing life, nor a more perfect collaborator and theme to work with. Isabel was a person who made herself a bridge that allowed me to cross into the wider world of SF/F fandom and publishing. It was Isabel who encouraged me to attend my first WisCon, where unexpectedly I received Uncanny’s offer to become their managing editor (it should surprise no one that Isabel was the first person to encourage me to say YES to that offer, and I will never forget how at MidAmeriCon II, I could hear her cheering and jumping out of her seat behind me when Uncanny won our first Hugo Award). In short, this seemed like it would be a fantastic experience working with a wonderful friend on a project near and dear to both our hearts. What could go wrong?
Neither of us planned on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Juggling a project of the WisCon Chronicles’ scope and size, while working a full-time job, numerous freelance side hustles, and taking on the role of SFWA Editor-in-Chief, would be tiring and complicated under normal circumstances. Doing so with the added pressure and uncertainty of a global pandemic was, to put it mildly, stressful and exhausting. There were days where I expected to see a message in my inbox that the book wasn’t going to happen, that the printer had closed, that all the incredible work of the anthology’s contributors wouldn’t be published. The worst-case scenario where all of our efforts would be scuttled by circumstances beyond everyone’s control was a constant specter over the project. Everything was unpredictable and in flux— except for my partnership with Isabel.
Working with Isabel— being able to share responsibilities with her, knowing she was just as passionate and committed as I was, to seeing the anthology come to fruition— was a major source of hope and support that I desperately needed throughout this process, particularly under the current circumstances. Understanding that I wasn’t going through this alone made it easier to keep going and pivot to meet the continuing string of challenges to completing the book that were raised by the pandemic.
In so many ways, this book exists because of how everyone involved in this journey— our contributors, the team at Aqueduct, the folks at WisCon— has continually engaged in the kind of community work that made it possible for a friendship like Isabel’s and mine to take root and grow. The pandemic created boundaries that none of us could have anticipated, but because of the countless bridges WisCon’s community has built, they are boundaries that thankfully we were still able to cross.
WisCon has been a deeply meaningful annual experience for so many of us, and I hope the anthology conveys a clear snapshot of why this con continues to be a special place, especially for Isabel and me. With WisCon 44 taking place this weekend as a virtual, rather than in-person convention, it’s still deeply disappointing that we’ll be unable to celebrate the book and its contributors among much- loved friends and colleagues. But I’m still proud that the anthology can still serve as a way for folks to connect with WisCon’s spirit and community.
About The WisCon Chronicles, Volume 12: Boundaries and Bridges
The twelfth volume of The WisCon Chronicles explores our understanding of boundaries and bridges, and what they mean for us as individuals and for our communities. This collection includes essays from first-time WisCon attendees and former Guests of Honor, fans and Tiptree/Otherwise Award-winning authors and editors, cis het and LGBTQ+ attendees, affluent and less well-off, abled and disabled, white and POC, young and old, parents and child-free, English speakers and Spanish speakers, and hopefully more than just these categories can capture.
Structural changes in the convention that break down barriers to attendance and participation are important, and some of the essays recount the process and struggles of creating space and programming for POC attendees, access for disabled attendees, and affordability for all attendees. The words we use matter, as essays that talk about feminist terms, gendered language, and even the name of the Tiptree/Otherwise award (which is almost inextricably identified with WisCon) demonstrate. The definition of “community” is also examined, both within WisCon and beyond, as it spills out into the wider world— including online spaces.
CONTRIBUTORS: Jess Adams • Charlie Jane Anders • Nancy Bird • Kristy Anne Cox • Katherine Alejandra Cross • Alexandra Erin • Nivair H. Gabriel • Sarah Gulde • Lauren Jankowski • Inda Lauryn • Elise Matthesen • Gabriela Damián Miravete • Chimedum Ohaegbu • Otherwise Board • Julia Rios • John Scalzi • Nisi Shawl • Monica Valentinelli • G. Willow Wilson
Learn more at Aqueduct Press.
Isabel Schechter has been a SF/F fan since childhood and active in fandom for 20 years. Isabel is Puerto-Rican, and her essays on race and representation in SF/F have been published in Invisible 2: Essays on Race and Representation in SF/F; Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy; and WisCon Chronicles. She is a frequent panelist at SF/F conventions and is Co-Editor of the forthcoming WisCon Chronicles Volume 12: Boundaries and Bridges. Isabel is also an active library supporter and has served on the boards of several library-related organizations. She has a master’s degree in Divinity from the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Michi Trota is a four-time Hugo Award-winner and British Fantasy Award winner. She is Editor-in-Chief of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), co-editor of the upcoming WisCon Chronicles Vol. 12 (May 2020), and the first Filipina Hugo Award winner. She was the first Managing Editor/Nonfiction Editor of Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, exhibit consultant and text writer for Worlds Beyond Here: The Expanding Universe of APA Science Fiction at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle, WA (2018-2019), and is also an essayist, public speaker, and fire performance artist in Chicago.