For over a dozen years I have been writing a preview article about the annual Dragon Con event in Atlanta each Labor Day for the PRIDE family of newspapers. Each year since 2006, I have personally witnessed it grow in number and in complexity, from 25,000 attendees in 2006 to over 82,000 last year, and the addition and expansion of programming tracks. This year, Nashvillian Jarvis Sheffield has taken on the mantle of directing a brand new track of programming, one that addresses the need for inclusiveness and celebration of all of the different pathways of the fandom who attend.
In his own words, here’s what Jarvis has to say about how it all came about:
“After having conversations for a couple of years with a writer friend of mine, Glenn Paris, whom I met through my non-profit science fiction organization Black Science Fiction Society; based off my years of experience with diverse creatives, I was introduced to one of the founders of Dragoncon, Pat Henry. After talking with Pat about the idea for the track and hashing out the scope and scale of what the track should be about I was officially made director back in January of 2018. I have been working since then learning the intricate ins and outs of the responsibilities of running a track with Dragon, meeting the getting to know the people that make the convention great, finding awesome talented guests and volunteers and how best weave all of the elements together to come out with this new avenue for expression.”
The new track, formally entitled the “Diversity in Speculative Fiction & Literature Track” has its own dedicated 150 seat meeting room throughout the five-day convention in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, one of the five headquarters hotels totally dedicated to Dragon Con for the weekend, including all guest rooms, suites, and meeting rooms, along with the Atlanta Hilton, Marriott Marquis, Sheraton Atlanta, and Westin Atlanta hotels. The convention runs from Thursday, August 30 through Monday, September 3.
“Diversity encompasses complex differences and similarities in perspectives, identities, and points of view among members of groups as well as among individuals who make up the wider community,” says Director Sheffield. “Diversity includes important and interrelated dimensions of human identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, nationality, citizenship, religion, sexual orientation, ability, and age. This track offers all of this while covering animation, art, books, comics, cosplay, games, movies, and more.”
The programming for the track begins on Thursday, August 30, in the Imperial Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis with a huge event titled, “Wakanda Welcomes the World to Dragon Con” from 9 pm until 2 am EDT Friday. As T’Challa the Black Panther says, “The Honorable King invites you to his Black Panther Blue Lights in the Basement Party. In keeping with the spirit of inclusion, all are welcome to join us around the Soul Stone and get down to the grooves guaranteed to make you move! And if you are bold… be in costume. Wakanda Forever!”
This is only the first of dozens of activities to keep participants busy over the weekend. “So far we have about 31 Events planned with: 2 Dozen Panels, 4 Parties, 2 Showcases, 2 Photoshoots, 2 Dozen Cosplayers in the parade with a ‘Tribute to Black Panther’ Parade float theme. Among the panels are: Official Welcome to the Diversity Track; Authors Panel: What Is Diversity; Diversity in Cosplay; Wakanda United DragonCon Photoshoot; Writers’ Panel: A Woman’s Perspective; Film & Video Showcase; Animation Showcase; After Hours Art Party Painting; Diversity Track in the Parade; The Business of Doing Business; Writing for Games & STEAM Panel; Lead Female Characters; Writing Web Comics; Science in Fiction; Cosplay Exhibition & Photo Shoot; After-Hours Sketch Party; Writing for Comics Panel; Two Misfits who Dream: Women Who Create Fantasy Worlds; Creating Dynamic Images: A Chat with Photographers, Builders & Cosplayers; Steven Barnes, Literary Guest of Honor; Gamer Girls, Programmers, & STEAM; Do Gender & Sexuality Matter in Writing?; Super Seniors & the Enabled; From the Workshop to the Desktop; Authors Panel: Bridging the Gaps; Game Night Mixer; Black Science Fiction Society; Multimedia Writing; Animation & Video: Breaking into the Entertainment Industry; and Diversity Closing Ceremonies.
If you have never been to Dragon Con, or haven’t been in a while, this is the perfect time to come experience what this amazing convention has to offer. Additionally, there are all types of events to enjoy from the other fan tracks: Alternate History Track, American Sci-fi and Fantasy Media, American Sci-Fi Classics, Animation, Anime/Manga, Apocalypse Rising, BritTrack, Costuming, Diversity in Speculative Fiction & Literature Fandom Track, Electronic Frontiers Forums, Fantasy Literature, Filk Singing, Film Track, High Fantasy, Horror Track, Kaleidoscope, LAN Gaming, Main Programming, Military SciFi Media, Paranormal, Podcasting and Media, Puppetry, Robotics and Maker Fan Track, Science, Science Fiction Literature, Silk Road: Asian Cinema & Culture, Skeptics, Space, Star Wars Track, Table Top Gaming, Trek Track, Urban Fantasy, Video Gaming, Writers’ Track, XTrack, and Young Adult Literature.
Also, a big draw for Dragon Con is its hundreds of amazing celebrity guests, including quite a few minorities brought in to service the new Diversity Track. According to a survey by The Black Geeks of Dragon Con (BGD) these are among the Guests of Color at DragonCon 2018: Christine Adams, Frankie Adams, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Dino Andrade, Kristen Bailey, Tony A Ballard-Smoot, Demore Barnes, Rodney Barnes, Steven Barnes, Joe Benitez, Anjali Bhimani, Christopher Bivins, Qualen Bradley, Chuck Brown, Raychelle Burks, Michael Cho, Amy Chu, K.C. Collins, Mike Colter, Nesta Cooper, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Charlet Chung, Fon Davis, Walter Dean, Emilio Delgado, Barr Foxx Cosplay, Ghost Brothers, Marcus Harvey, Juwan Mass, Dalen Spratt, Sanford Green, Kishore Hari, Shareef K Jackson, Jemely and Jeremy Jayme, Georges Jeanty, Marvin “Krondon” Jones III, John Kim, Dichen Lachman, Dr. LAW’s Photolab, Leighann Lord, Pearl Mackie, China Anne McClain, Caleb McLaughlin, Mikal Mosley, Sho Murase, Jai Nitz, Roscoe Orman, Mog Park, Afua Richardson, Royalty Cosplay, Symphony Sanders, HaiNaNu “Nooligan” Saulque, Myra Su, Mark Texeira, Dominique Tipper, Gina Torres, Christopher Uminga, Dexter Vines, Garrett Wang, Ricky Whittle, Nafessa Williams, and Benedict Wong. And this is only a partial listing.
BGD held its first photo shoot to honor the growing African-American community in 2015. Their 4th Annual Black Geeks of Dragon Con Photo Shoot takes place at the Hilton Atlanta Hotel on Sunday, September 2 at 2:20 pm EDT. The Diversity Track’s Wakanda United DragonCon Photoshoot is Friday, August 31 at 2:30 pm EDT at the Hilton. The Track will also hold a Cosplay Exhibition & Photo Shoot on Saturday at 7:00 pm EDT in the official Track headquarters room, the Inman of the Hyatt for 2.5 hours.
Here’s the official mandate of the Diversity in Speculative Fiction & Literature Fandom Track:
The dream of diverse science fiction and fantasy has been in the minds of many since childhood. Watching science fiction movies and television shows such as Buck Rogers, Star Wars, Battle Star Galactica, and Star Trek but with a wider spectrum of representation has been a long-term aspiration. It is essential that fandom is represented positively, diversely, and fairly. An important part of understanding diversity is that it includes similarities as well as differences. Understanding that we have similar interests or beliefs can encourage cooperation and cohesion within our community.
Diversity encompasses complex differences and similarities in perspectives, identities, and points of view among members of groups as well as among individuals who make up the wider community. Diversity includes important and interrelated dimensions of human identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, nationality, citizenship, religion, sexual orientation, ability, and age.
Diversity enhances the intellectual, emotional, economic, moral, and spiritual life of the community. Achieving a more diverse environment is a way to improve the Dragon Con experience for all while promoting respect for each of us as individuals. This track offers all of this while covering animation, art, books, comics, cosplay, games, movies, and more.
Note that these Dragon Con Guests have been announced since July 25: Aaron Ashmore – Killjoys, Warehouse 13, Smallville; Christine Adams – Black Lightning; Frankie Adams – The Expanse; Shohreh Aghdashloo – The Expanse, 24; Alfie Allen – Game of Thrones; Cas Anvar – The Expanse; Pilou Asbæk – Game of Thrones, Ghost in the Shell; Henry Ian Cusick – Lost, The 100; John de Lancie – Star Trek: Voyager; Lou Ferrigno – The Incredible Hulk; Nick Frost – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz; Mira Furlan – Lost, Babylon 5; Jon Heder – Napoleon Dynamite; Brian Henson – Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge Live (with Gigi Edgley and Kirk Thatcher); Elizabeth Henstridge – Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; Jason Isaacs – Star Trek: Discovery, Harry Potter; Marvin “Krondon” Jones III – Black Lightning; Peter Kelamis – SGU Stargate Universe, Beyond; Lita (Amy Dumas) – WWE legend; China McClain – Black Lightning, Descendants; Tamsen McDonough – Killjoys; Robert Duncan McNeill – Star Trek: Voyager; Graham McTavish – The Hobbit, Outlander; Ethan Phillips – Star Trek: Voyager; Lou Diamond Phillips – SGU Stargate Universe, Stand and Deliver; Michael Rosenbaum – Smallville; Brandon Routh – Legends of Tomorrow, Superman Returns; David Sobolov – Guardians of the Galaxy (tv series), Ben 10; Sting (Steve Borden) – WWE Legend; Catherine Tate – Doctor Who; Dominique Tipper – The Expanse; Gina Torres – Firefly, Angel; Nafessa Williams – Black Lightning; Tom Welling – Smallville, Lucifer; and Titus Welliver – Lost, Bosch. Again, this is only a partial listing.
Meet Steven Barnes, Diversity Track Literary Guest of Honor
The Track’s Guest of Honor is award-winning author, screenwriter, Kenpo black belt, creative consultant, and father, and husband Steven Barnes. Born on March 1, 1952, in Los Angeles, California, Steven Barnes is a Writer, Lecturer, Creative Consultant and Human Performance Technician. He was educated at Los Angeles High School and Pepperdine University, Majoring in Communication Arts. He is a Certified HypnoTherapist: Transformative Arts Institute, San Anselmo, CA Martial and Physical Arts. He has a Black Belt in Kenpo Karate (Aikka style), and Kodokan Judo, Instructor certificate inWu Ming Ta, Instructor candidate ranking in Filipino Kali stick and knife fighting, Advanced Student in Jun Fan Kickboxing (Bruce Lee method under Danny Inosanto), Instructor in Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan under Hawkins Cheung. Intermediate student in Self Defense pistol shooting (Turnipseed modified Weaver method). Also holds Brown Belt in Shorenji Jiu Jitsu, intermediate rankings in Tae Kwon Do and Aikido. Additional (limited) experience in boxing, Western fencing, wrestling, Wing Chun Kung Fu, Shotokan Karate, and French Savate. Completed the Yoga Works basic Hatha Yoga instructor program. Presently studying Pentjak Silat (an Indonesian fighting system) with Guru Stevan Plinck, and Ashtanga Yoga (a rare, Aerobic form of yoga). Steve lives in Longview, Washington with his wife, Tananarive Due, and his daughter Lauren (born March 16, 1986), and with a dog, an assortment of cats, and a houseful of tame, invisible tyrannosaurs. Steven’s Writer credits include: Danger Word, Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, From Cape Town with Love, Andromeda (TV series), The Outer Limits (TV Series – 3 episodes), Baywatch (TV Series – 4 episodes), Stargate SG-1 (TV Series – 2 episodes), 1987 Starcom: The U.S. Space Force (TV Series – 1 episode), The Real Ghostbusters (TV Series), The Wizard (TV Series), The Twilight Zone (TV Series 2 episodes, 1986).