The right kind of problem: harm minimisation in an intersectional anthology

No Award is very pleased to bring you a guest post today from Rivqa Rafael about the Problem Daughters anthology, and the processes the editors are going through to create a diverse and inclusive anthology. 

Problem Daughters will amplify the voices of women who are sometimes excluded from mainstream feminism. It will be an anthology of beautiful, thoughtful, unconventional speculative fiction and poetry around the theme of intersectional feminism, with a specific focus on the lives and experiences of women of colour, QUILTBAG women, disabled women, sex workers, and any intersection of these.

Before we start, we should probably define our terms, since our anthology’s title might suggest that we’re aiming to be problematic. And I guess we are, it’s a just a question of ‘to whom’? With Problem Daughters, we’re hoping to use fiction as a way to highlight the deficiencies of mainstream feminism. Feminism needs to do better and it needs critique. But in doing so, we need to be sure that we’re not inadvertently causing harm to marginalised people. Basically, we want to be problematic to the right people.

Any given story can be positive in some ways while being negative in others, and I think it’s probably impossible to avoid every possible problematic element ever, although we can certainly try. But tl;dr – we probably won’t manage it. That said, we do have some tools at our disposal to minimise harm.

Firstly, and I think most importantly, we’ll be actively seeking marginalised authors (including, but not limited to, Own Voices writers) for Problem Daughters. Stories that centre marginalisation are always best told by those with relevant lived experience. We’ll have two challenges in this area.

One, some people can’t publicly declare their marginalisation (most commonly, their sexual orientation, gender or disability). To those writers, we offer confidentiality in communications with the editorial team, and the option of using a pseudonym. These are imperfect solutions, as it’s of benefit to readers to know that a story is an Own Voices story, but I think our target audience will also understand that real-life safety comes first.

The other pragmatic note here is that stories will almost inevitably feature multiple characters, who can have multiple marginalisations (hello again, intersectionality!). So there’s potential for a further layer of anonymisation within each individual work. We don’t expect every story (or every character) to be Own Voices, but if a story is written from a perspective that is not the author’s own, we want to make sure that it is well-researched, thoughtful, and written from a non-exoticised viewpoint.

And two, having a call broad enough and welcoming enough that marginalised writers, especially newer ones, are both aware of the project and comfortable entrusting us with their work. Hopefully, The Future Fire’s record in seeking marginalised voices speaks for itself, and we’ll be relying on our respective networks to sound the call far and wide (we also welcome suggestions!). Self-rejection is a real and well-documented phenomenon that we would very much like to avoid. If you’re not sure if your work fits the brief, or think it might not be ‘good’ enough – we want to see it. We anticipate working with our authors, especially newer writers, to help them achieve their vision for their stories, poems and essays (if our funding will allow for the latter).

I’m hoping – indeed, expecting – to learn from this project. There are approaches to feminism that I know very little about, and I, along with my co-editors, am ready to do the research needed to engage with any related submissions we receive. Womanism and Chicana feminism are just a couple of examples of movements that I know little about and would love to see represented in Problem Daughters. Likewise, my knowledge of non-Western narratives is limited (beyond Jewish folklore, at least) but I’m looking forward to reading them. As editors, we’re hoping to engage with experiences outside of our own in a spirit of expansion and exchange, not exotification.

As a way of preparing for editing Problem Daughters, I recently completed the Writing the Other course with K. Tempest Bradford and Nisi Shawl, and came away with lots of advice, knowledge and resources. (Side note: I recommend this course to any writers who want to expand their horizons and improve their writing generally. It was fantastic.) No one can know everything, but hopefully good first principles and research tools will help us spot potentially damaging tropes.

Lastly, between the three editors, we have a solid, diverse network to call on for help. Online research is great, but consultation with real people can help put things into context.

Of course, there’s every chance that something will slip through for No Award to eviscerate later. Opinions differ. People within a marginalised group can hold subconscious biases, often of a more subtle and insidious nature than those of outright bigots. If that happens, we’re ready to acknowledge and own our mistakes, learn from them, and do better next time. And so we grow.

Help fund Problem Daughters: Indiegogo Campaign

The call for submissions isn’t open yet (and will open once the interim target has been hit and can guarantee pro rates), but you can preview the submissions page if you want to get started!

A summary at TFF of the project: Problem Daughters: the next anthology

Rivqa Rafael is a queer Jewish writer and editor based in Sydney. She started writing speculative fiction well before earning degrees in science and writing, although they have probably helped. Her previous gig as subeditor and reviews editor for Cosmos magazine likewise fueled her imagination. Her short stories have appeared in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications), The Never Never Land (CSFG Publishing), and Defying Doomsday (Twelfth Planet Press). In 2016, she won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. When she’s not working, she’s most likely child-wrangling, playing video games, or practising her Brazilian Jiujitsu moves. She can be found at and on Twitter as @enoughsnark.

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