Deep Dive: Vida Cruz on How to Better Support International Participation in our Science Fiction Communities

“During one of the workshop classes, somehow they got to talking about my winning story. And then one of the judges said that ‘You know we get a lot of entries from the Philippines every year and when we picked yours out of the pile, I had to check for plagiarism because it was that good.’ I was just sitting there and trying not to let my mouth fall open.”

In the following clip, Filipino writer and co-director of BonFiyah Vida Cruz discusses her experiences attending conventions and participating in writing workshops in the United States. She also reflects on how we can open up access to the science-fiction community for writers who face financial barriers, border regulations, and systemic racism. Watch this clip or check out the transcript below to work through the accompanying questions and exercises.

Discussion Questions

  1. In this clip, we hear Cruz talk about her various experiences with the American science fiction community, most notably at Writers of the Future and the Clarion Workshop. Both places presented barriers to access — the above quotation depicts the racism Cruz faced from the judges at Writers, and Clarion is expensive and located within U.S. borders (not always the easiest to enter). Despite these hurdles, Cruz emphasized the sense of support and community she found in her fellow writers. Think about the times you’ve participated in your own science fiction community. Have you faced similar barriers?

  2. Think about the last time you attended a convention, workshop, or other literary event. Were there international writers present? Was this something you noticed at the time? Why or why not? 

  3. This clip ends with Cruz discussing ways we can change the system and make participation not only easier, but much more inclusive. For her, sponsorships have made a lot of difference in her ability to travel internationally and attend conventions like World Con. Keeping in mind your previous discussions, come up with three additional ways writers can dismantle barriers to access and support each other’s work.

Writing Exercises

  1. Here is a series of interviews with science fiction professionals about where they see the future of science fiction heading. Take 15 minutes to skim through this piece, and then write a paragraph of your own in response to each question.

    1. How are you seeing science fiction change right now?

    2. What do you want to see more of over the next 10 years? 

  2. Working on your own or with a partner, design a free, virtual speculative fiction convention (1-2 pages). What would you call it? What would your theme be? What writers would you invite to speak? If you’re feeling artistically inclined, create a logo. Finish off your blueprint by drafting a mission statement for your convention. Then, consider the limitations of your convention. Are there any barriers to access? What steps can you take to be more inclusive? Write an additional half page detailing your ideas.

Additional Readings

  • Check out Cruz’s piece mentioned in this clip: “In the Shadow of the Typhoon, Humans and Mahiwaga Cooperate for Survival,” An Invite to Eternity: Tales of Nature Disrupted (Calque Press).

  • Read Cruz’s “Have Your #Hugot Harvested At This Diwata-Owned Cafe,” for free in Strange Horizons (May 2020). 

  • Read this short story by Jacob Matthew Ramos, another Filipino author that Cruz mentioned earlier on in this interview.

  • Check out Con or Bust, the organization that sponsored Cruz’s World Con trip.

  • For a list of upcoming worldwide sci-fi conventions, click here

Vida Cruz is a Filipina fantasy and science fiction writer, editor, artist, tarot reader, and conrunner. Her short fiction and essays have been published or are forthcoming from Fantasy Magazine, Strange Horizons, PodCastle, Expanded Horizons, and various anthologies. She has been nominated, longlisted, and recommended for the Hugo Award, the British Science Fiction Award, and the James Tiptree Jr. (now Otherwise) Award. She was a 2018 Tiptree Fellow and in 2019, she published her first fantasy short story collection, Beyond the Line of Trees. Currently, she’s a freelance book editor with The Darling Axe and is co-director of BonFiyah under the larger umbrella of FIYAHCON, a BIPOC-centered convention for science fiction and fantasy readers and writers. ​​Browse her website, find her on Twitter, and check out her artwork on Instagram. Or, take a few extra minutes to watch her full interview with the SLF (16:38).

Tags: conventions, access, participation


Mary Anne Mohanraj: So, you also did Writers of the Future? 

Vida Cruz: Yes. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: So how was that experience? What was it like? 

Vida Cruz: Hmm. Surreal, you know. A lot happens in one week. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Yeah.

Vida Cruz: And, well [pause] there was a lot of good stuff. And there was also a lot of stuff that I could have done without in terms of racism. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Really, like overt? Things that you like from other writers? From the organization? 

Vida Cruz: The judges and the organization. My fellow co-winners were great.

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Okay. 

Vida Cruz: And they were really supportive whenever they happened to be in the room, and then they hear something quite shocking. So … 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: So, I actually don’t [pause] I hadn’t heard about any of this. Can, if you’re comfortable, is there any specific incident that you could talk about or [pause]? 

Vida Cruz: Well. During one of the workshop classes somehow they got to talking about my winning story. And then, one of the judges said that “You know we get a lot of entries from the Philippines every year and when we picked yours out of the pile I had to check for plagiarism because it was that good.” 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Ahh, right … 

Vida Cruz: And I … 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Right. One of those backhanded compliments that’s really not a compliment, right. 

Vida Cruz: Yeah. And uh, I was just sitting there and trying not to let my mouth fall open and I also couldn’t look at anyone else because ‘oh, what must they be thinking.’ I don’t know. [sad laughter] 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Right. Right. I mean it’s almost like, it sounds like an accusation, right. And, that’s a terrible entry into American science fiction. 

Vida Cruz: [laughter] 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Right. I mean, I’m so sorry. It’s terrible that you had to encounter that. You also went to Clarion. 

Vida Cruz: Yeah. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: How was, how was that? When were you there? 

Vida Cruz: 2014. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Okay, and this was in Seattle? 

Vida Cruz: San Diego. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Oh, San Diego. Clarion, Clarion, I’m sorry, Clarion East that is now Clarion San Diego, yes. 

Vida Cruz: Yes. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: And how was it? What was your, do you have any particular memories or … 

Vida Cruz: [laughter] 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: … thoughts about it? Is it worthwhile, in general? Would you recommend it to other writers from the Philippines or elsewhere? 

Vida Cruz: Let’s see. That’s like, Clarion was one of the best six weeks of my life. And I mean, it’s not just because of all the craft things that I learned there but because my classmates were also kind and they were always down for something fun. Like one weekend they all took me to the zoo and I’d never seen a giraffe and I love giraffes. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: [laughter] 

Vida Cruz: And then they sat at a cafe that was near the giraffe pen and … 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Mmhm. 

Vida Cruz: … then I went to the bathroom. And then when I came back, there was one seat left at the table and they’re all looking at me. And when I sit down, there’s a giant giraffe peeking out over the trees. And I was like: “Ahhh”. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: [laughter] 

Vida Cruz: And it turns out that they had all talked to each other and said, “We’re going to make sure she sees the giraffe from when she gets out of the bathroom”. And that’s just so sweet. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Aww. Yes, that is really sweet. That’s great. So it sounds like you had a really bonding experience. Have you, and you’ve stayed in touch with some of them as …? 

Vida Cruz: Yes. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: It’s been five years right, so? 

Vida Cruz: Yes. Mmhm, actually one of them is my roommate here right now for Worldcon. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: That’s great. I think one of the things we’ve been, in one of our other interviews, we’ve been talking to George R.R. Martin and he really emphasized the importance of being able to come to these conventions, come to places like Clarion. 

Vida Cruz: Yeah. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Just for that human networking. I mean networking makes it sound very business-y. 

Vida Cruz: Yeah. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Which is not really what I mean but the … 

Vida Cruz: Relationship building? 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Relationship building, community building. And that gets [pause] it’s scary I think, walking into some of these rooms on your own, right? 

Vida Cruz: Yeah. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: When you came from the Philippines, like, so what made you, what made you apply to Clarion? How did you hear about it and … ? 

Vida Cruz: You know, actually, I applied the year Neil Gaiman was teaching Clarion West. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Mmhm. 

Vida Cruz: And I didn’t get in but I got really good feedback from the committee and then, so I was like ‘okay, maybe not this year.’ And also I’d just graduated from college then. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Mmhm. 

Vida Cruz: And then the next year I just happened to look because you know, I was like this is going to be a bucket list thing …

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Mmhm. 

Vida Cruz: And then I saw N.K. Jemisin and Cat Valente on the list of instructors and I went ‘oh no, I gotta try.” 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: [laughter] 

Vida Cruz: “And then even if I don’t get in, you know it’s kind of expensive but I gotta try.” 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Right, right. 

Vida Cruz: And then, I got in. [laughter] And then oh, I don’t know how I managed to get there. Like, I do recommend Clarion but there are lots of barriers to entry. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Mmhm. 

Vida Cruz: Like for example, I did have one Filipino friend who made it this year both to Clarion West and to the Milford Bursary. And he was actually granted a bursary from Milford but he couldn’t go to either one because he was denied a visa both to the US and to the UK. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: I know that for this Worldcon we missed a whole set of Nigerian writers who were denied their visas. Not denied, they, their visas weren’t processed in time by the Nigerian government I think, and so … 

Vida Cruz: The Irish one, actually. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Oh, was it the Irish government? 

Vida Cruz: Yes. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Oh my god, that’s terrible. And so they were not able to attend. So, yes there’s of course these border issues in this world of ours and, which seem to get worse every year right now. [laughter] 

Vida Cruz: I know. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Hopefully that trend will reverse soon. 

Vida Cruz: Yes. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: But then there are the financial issues, then, right. And I know when I was, I was 27 I think when I was a student at Clarion and I was completely broke. I was in the middle of an MFA, which I’d took on quite a bit of debt to do. Maybe not the smartest choice in retrospect. [laughter] But I did Clarion entirely on credit cards, right.

Vida Cruz: Wow. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Like, I just put the whole thing on credit cards and said, “I don’t know how I’m going to pay for this. At some point, I’ll figure it out.” 

Vida Cruz: Yeah. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: And I did eventually but it took quite a while. And I ended up paying quite a bit more likely in credit card fees as a result. [laughter] 

Vida Cruz: [laughter] 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: So, umm, do you have advice for, or things … actually, I’m going to reframe that. Rather than advice to young writers, are there ways that you could see the systems change that, whether it’s organizations like Clarion or things that could be put in place to make it more possible for writers like you … 

Vida Cruz: Mmhm. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: … to participate? 

Vida Cruz: Well, actually I was able to attend Clarion because they were able to give me a Foundation scholarship. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Mmhm. 

Vida Cruz: So that took up, like, two-thirds of the tuition. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Mmhm. 

Vida Cruz: And then my family just had to make up for the rest of it. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Mmhm.

Vida Cruz: And then … 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: And the airfare and the … 

Vida Cruz: Yeah, actually. [laughter] 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: No, the airfare’s a huge barrier I think. 

Vida Cruz: Super. And then here, for Worldcon I am here from the generosity of Con or Bust. They paid for my airfare and for my accommodations. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: Yeah, that’s a, Kate Nepveu has been doing incredible work with that organization for so long. Bringing writers and fans of colour to various cons around the world, so that’s really great to hear. 

Vida Cruz: Yeah. 

Mary Anne Mohanraj: If anyone listening would like to look for an organization to support, Con or Bust would be a great one to throw some pennies at I think. 

Vida Cruz: Yeah, definitely.