SciFi in the Motor City: An Interview with the Committee of Detcon1

For SF/F fans who can’t make it out to London for Worldcon this summer, there is another event to put on your roster: Detcon1, this year’s North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC), happening in about two weeks in Detroit, Michigan. Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to several of their committee members about what to expect at the convention, and more. Special kudos to Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, member of Detcon1’s Diversity Advisory Board, for his help in arranging this chat.

 

Can you shed a little bit of history about NASFiC? What does Detcon1 hope to do as part of this convention tradition?

NASFiCs are only held in years when the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) is outside of North America. Detcon1 will be the 11th NASFiC. The first was held in Los Angeles in 1975 and was intended to provide an alternative for fans unable to travel internationally.

Detcon1 is proud to be part of this tradition. NASFiCs are smaller than most Worldcons, so they can travel to cities that do not have the capacity to host a Worldcon, which gives fans in those markets a chance to meet (and by met by) fans from around the continent. We think this can help grow and strengthen international fandom and the Worldcon. Detcon1 will be held a month before Worldcon, and some people do plan to attend both.

We also think that NASFiCs can be a great testing ground for new initiatives. For instance, we introduced the FANtastic Detroit Fund, a crowdfunded program to provide free memberships to needy fans. This has been a huge success and other conventions are looking to it as a model for making their conventions more accessible to all fans. We hope that this will be our legacy to the convention running community.

Detroit has had some economic downturns for the past couple of decades, but now it is renewing itself as a cultural and artistic hub. How is Detcon1 contributing to this?

Well, we’re bringing 1,500 people and their tourist dollars to the center of the city! And we’ve spent the last 2 years telling and showing people that Detroit is a vibrant city with a lot to offer, and not someplace they should be afraid to travel. Our website features many of the great tourism opportunities in the city, and with the convention at the Renaissance Center, which has a station on the light rail line (The People Mover), we hope many of the Detcon1 attendees will take a ride and check things out around downtown Detroit.

We’ll also be highlighting local authors, artists and musicians, as well as the history of fandom in Detroit. That includes both an exhibit and programming on Detention, the 17th Worldcon, held in Detroit in 1959, and on Afrofuturism, the science fiction and fantasy culture of the African Diaspora. As part of our retrospective on Detention, we invited the Detention co-chairs, Roger Sims and Fred Prophet, to attend as ConChairs Emeritus. They should provide a fascinating perspective on local fannish history.

Looks like Detcon1 is quite invested in engaging with the local community. What else is in the works for Motor City-area fans?

We have done substantial outreach into Detroit, sending representatives to events like the Motor City Black Age of Comics convention, and Black Comic Book Day at the Detroit Public Library downtown, and making sure that flyers and postcards are distributed to bookstores, libraries, and gaming and comics shops throughout the Detroit Metro Area, as well as cultural centers like the Detroit Institute of Art. We also hosted a movie showing at Wayne State University (WSU), in Detroit, and we have been contacting other local schools and non-profit organizations to spread the word about the FANtastic Detroit fund.

We reached out to locals from a variety of fandoms for input and participation in our planning, like Steampunk bookstore owner Salathiel Palland, who organized the event at WSU, and Detroit author adrienne maree brown, who is also co-editor of the upcoming anthology Octavia’s Brood. Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts (M.E.C.C.Acon) organizer Maia Crown Williams also gave us a lot of valuable input on who to reach out to in the community. And, of course, we have members of the concoms of all the major local fannish conventions on the committee of Detcon1, bringing a diverse input to bear there as well.

This year’s theme is diversity in the SFF community and the genre. What specific initiatives is Detcon1 doing in commitment to this theme?

From the beginning, we have been committed to diversity. For instance, we thought very carefully about this during the selection of our Guests, and are thrilled to have a slate of people who are not only incredibly talented, but also represent diversity in terms of race, gender, age, ethnicity and fandoms.

Beyond our Guests, we convened a diversity advisory board to help us identify a diverse set of panelists to invite to participate on programming, and to suggest program items that would reflect the diversity of the SFF community and genre as well. Our mission has always been to create a convention where ALL fans will feel welcome.

Our artist Guest of Honor, John Picacio, worked with us to make sure that the imagery on the promotional materials we use is diverse and inclusive, with various ethnicities depicted in his fabulous vivid style.

We provided a youth rate for fans ages 13-24, to help make the convention accessible to students and other young people, and kept that price low all the way to the con, knowing that young people may not be in a position to plan ahead as much as people whose careers are more established.

Detcon1 also has its own YA & Middle Grade Awards. Can you speak a little about the history behind this award?

It’s less “history” and more “impulsivity.” We were inspired by the vigorous discussion in the Worldcon community over the last few years about the possibility of a YA Hugo. We thought that Detcon1 could provide a testing ground the concept, and hopefully provide some information to that broader discussion, so we decided to launch the awards as an experiment. We think that capturing young adult readers is crucially important to the future of the genre.

So, we’ve already talked about what Detcon1 is about, what it’s doing, and what difference it hopes to achieve. What else can attendees expect going to Detcon1 that will make it a unique experience?

Lots of things!

We’re taking advantage of our location in the Motor City by having several panels on the current and future state of automotive technology. We’ll also have an exhibit all about Flying Cars in fact and fiction.

Our Exhibit Hall will feature a Maker Area, with lots of creative and fascinating exhibits that show off our vibrant local Maker community and the DIY innovative spirit of Detroit.

The lineup for the Detcon1 Film Festival is awesome, and features a huge array of SF, Fantasy and Horror shorts and features, including a short film by our Author GoH Steven Barnes and his wife Tananarive Due.

Our traditional panel programming features a lot of cross-discipline panels, where we bring together professionals and fans of all stripes to share their unique perspectives on the topic. Our science programming is particularly strong—you can learn about the current state of nanotechnology or learn how to make art with electrons. We have exactly the sort of diverse program participation we were aiming for, with a wide array of authors, artists, and fans of every variety. It’s going to be awesome. :)

In what ways can people still support the convention if they are unable to attend?

First off, please help us spread the word to people who might be able to attend! Marketing is one of the biggest challenges faced by any convention. Secondly, we are still accepting donations for the FANtastic Detroit Fund. At this very moment we have more memberships available to be given away than have been requested, but if we have any money left in the Fund after the convention, we will pass it along to a future Worldcon or NASFiC that runs such a program, or to Con-or-Bust if no such program is run by a near-future WSFS event.

Thanks for the convo! Readers interested in attending can find out more info below.


Detcon1 (North American Science Fiction Convention)
Renaissance Center Marriott, Detroit MI
17-20 July 2014
Follow on Twitter @DetconOne

Author GoH: Steven Barnes; Artist GoH: John Picacio; Fan GoHs: Bernadette Bosky, Arthur D. Hlavaty, and Kevin J. Maroney; Scientist GoH: Helen Greiner; Music GoHs: Bill and Brenda Sutton; Special Guests: Nnedi Okorafor (YA Author), Jon Davis (Video Games); ConChairs Emeritus: Roger Sims, Fred Prophet. Memberships: $75 (age 25+) $50 Youth (ages 13-24); $25 Child (5-12); Children 4 and under are free. 3-day and day rates also available.


Ay-leen the Peacemaker (or in other speculative lights, Diana M. Pho) works at Tor Books, runs the multicultural steampunk blog Beyond Victoriana, pens academic things, and tweets. Oh wait, she has a tumblr too.

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