Compared with a lot of other science fiction awards the Norma K Hemmings are quite new, having only started in about 2010. This year's will be presented at Swancon in only a couple of weeks. I've posted this on the ASIM blog, but as a fan, thought it might be nice to make this guest post available here as well.
The Norma K Hemming Award sponsored by the Australian Science Fiction Foundation
Contributed by Bill Wright, ASFF awards administrator on 21 March 2015.
What is the Australian Science Fiction Foundation and what is it for?
The Foundation’s website at: www.asff.org.au
says its main purpose is to sponsor and encourage the creation and appreciation of science fiction in Australia.
It does that through the sponsorship and administration of writing workshops and short story competitions, seed loans to national conventions, and the publication of its newsletter, The Instrumentality. The Foundation has, since its inception, been a resource centre for everyone involved in science fiction in Australia.
The Australian Science Fiction Foundation runs two jury awards, viz.
The A. Bertram Chandler Award for outstanding achievement in science fiction, established in 1992, where the winner is selected from eminent achievers nominated by Australian science fiction fans; and
The Norma K Hemming Award for excellence in the in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability:
What is the Norma K Hemming Award, why is it given, and who is Norma K Hemming?
Established at Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne in August 2010, the Norma K Hemming Award is given by the ASFF for excellence in the in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability:
- in the form of science fiction and fantasy or related artwork or media.
produced either in Australia or by Australian citizens.
- first published, released or presented in the calendar year preceding the year in which the award is given.
The Norma K Hemming Award is gaining in prestige. Its gestation was foreshadowed in the late 1990s when academic researchers Van Ikin, Russell Blackford, Sean McMullen and Paul Collins uncovered works by pioneer Australian feminist science fiction writer and playwright Norma Kathleen Hemming.
Norma wrote in the 1950s, throughout the decade before her death from breast cancer in July 1960. She was 33 years young.
Her writing fizzes with potential. The science was not always sound but it was on a par with the majority of science fiction writers of her day.
Most of her stories, but only two of her five plays, have survived.
Readers can visit Norm’s Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norma_K._Hemming for her biography, her bibliography, and how to purchase a collection of her works by Dr Toby Burrows, Principal Librarian, Scholars' Centre, University of Western Australia Library (M209).
One of Norma’s plays, 'The Matriarchy of Renok’, in which a cast of formidable and at times vulnerable women wrest control of the galaxy from the depredations of alpha-males, was read over two successive Swancons (peak WA sf conventions) in the mid-noughties.
The 'Matriarchy of Renok' was again performed at Aussiecon 4 (the 68th Worldcon) in Melbourne in August 2010) as a staged reading produced by Sean McMullen, with overhead space opera storyboard projections by Katoomba-based artist and digital image pioneer Lewis P Morley,
Besides being a powerful drama with lots of interpersonal tension, the play is a work of unalloyed, rapturous joy – that is fun to read, fun to act in, and fun to watch. I can’t understand why an enterprising movie mogul hasnpt picked it up for global release.
Given the patriarchal and, by today’s standards, sexist mores of the fifties, it was more than a tad courageous of Norma and her troupe, which she named The Acturians, to expose their parts to varying degrees of hostile response from science fiction fans. A notable response was by male chauvinist denizens of the Sydney Futuran Society whe staged a mock auction where they sold her off to the highest bidder. Such was the excitement – if that’s the word for it – that they are rumoured to have accidentally set her hair on fire. She fared better in Melbourne, where she and her troupe were welcomed by members of the Melbourne Science Fiction Club at their conventions.
Gestation of the Norma K Hemming Award
The two Swancon readings were so popular that the Western Australian Science Fiction Foundation thought of instituting an award in Norma Hemming’s memory, However, they soon realised that her importance as the pioneer feminist science fiction writer in Australials post-WWII history demanded a national focus. So their spokesperson, Emma Hawkes, referred the proposed award to the Australian Science Fiction Foundation for implementation.
At the time, in mid-2007, I had just been appointed to the ASFF board, taking over the position of A. Bertram Chandler Award administrator from Julian Warner who was, and still is, a tireless effectuator across a wide range of activities in Melbourne’s science fiction community.
Needless to say, my job description was upgraded forthwith. With no experience in awards administration and no small press contacts (except from being part of the audience at panel discussions at science fiction conventions) I was thrown in at the deep end and told to set up from scratch an ASFF-sponsored Norma K Hemming Award with a national focus.
I quickly discovered that an ASFF board member had access to a vast array of resources, most of them human, chief among whom was the Foundation’s academic representative Van1kin.
Van Ikin the Icon
Van Ikin is an academic and science fiction writer and editor. He was, until his retirement in 2015, a Professor in English at the University of Western Australia, where he acted as supervisor for a number of Australian writers completing their post-graduate degrees and doctorates. They include such literary luminaries as science fiction and fantasy writers Terry Dowling, Stephen Dedman and Dave Luckett. In 2000, he received the University of Western Australia's Excellence in Teaching Award for Postgraduate Research Supervision.
He has reviewed science fiction and fantasy for The Sydney Morning Herald since 1984, but he is best known in the Australian science fiction community for his editorship of the long-running critical journal Science Fiction - A Review of Speculative Fiction.
Van was the inaugural winner of ASFF’s prestigious A. Bertram Chandler Award for outstanding achievement in science fiction in 1992.
With Van smoothing contacts in academia and my awesome title giving me the clout to negotiate program space with with peak State and National convention organisers, I spent the next three years hobnobbing with my intellectual betters in the academic streams of those conventions. Taking our cue from the feminist bias in Norma’s stories, Gender was an obvious criterion for the award. Universities being hotbeds of disputation on social issues, my academic collaborators sought to identify additional criteria in that milieu.
The ‘Eureka’ moment came when I suggested they look for skify elements in their search. Being possessed of minds of power that, for all I knew, might have been stable at the third level of stress (ref. Gray Lensman by E. E. Smith Ph D. first published in book form in 1951 by Fantasy Press), albeit Van assures me that, academics, it ain’t necessarily so, they ascended into realms of abstraction inaccessible to mortals of lesser degree.
Coming down from on high, they evinced oracular abstractions in humorous dialogue concerning literary allusions that were opaque to me. Venturing to intrude where Angels fear to tread, I sought to enter the conversation with an observation to the effect that their gestalt was passing strange. Suddenly I was in there, informed by past reading from Weird Tales and Face in the Abyss by A. E. Merritt and wrestling with concepts of the postmodern with the best of them.
Strange carved out of mind space by science fiction is acknowledged as its sovereign territory. Strange is the Key Word. Look for Strange in the human condition. Gender is strange, Sexuality is strange. Class differences are strange. The concept of Race as applied to human beings is very strange. Engulfed in a tide of memories long suppressed, I fought for stability on a mental plane of utter desolation contemplating the isolation of people in our midst whom many regard as strange.
Such was the gestation of the Norma K Hemming Award for race, class, gender and sexuality in speculative fiction Disability was added as an additional category for the 2011 competition.
Establishment of the Norma K Hemming Award at Aussiecon 4
Despite its aforementioned careful gestation with inputs from the academic community at every turn, the inaugural Norma K 0Hemming Award presentation at Aussiecon 4 came at speculative fiction writers, editors and publishers from left field, so to speak. No other award encourages writers to have something worthwhile to say about all categories of otherness in the human condition. Isolated minorities have been have been ignored or characterised in negative stereotypes much too often in the past, and it is time to redress that.
Anyone who doubts the efficacy of having such an award to set standards for speculative fiction writers has only to read the 2013 winning entry, ‘Sea Hearts’ by Margo Lanagan, to be convinced that ASFF’s full on approach works. In her novel, Margo shines fresh light on what it is like to be a man, what it is like to be a woman, what it is like to be human.
Parallel initiatives on the way to establishing the Norma K Hemming Award
As mentioned earlier, In the late 1990s a small number of fannish scholars including Van Ikin, Russell Blackford, Sean McMullen and Paul Collins researched the life and times of pioneer Australian feminist sf author and playwright Norma Kathleen Hemming (September 1928 - July 1960) whom a few surviving oldies such as Doug Nicholson (Sydney) and Mervyn Binns (Melbourne) knew well. Among publications arising from that research was a biography of Norma K Hemming in ‘Strange Constellations : A History of Science Fiction’ by Russell Blackford, Van Ikin and Sean McMullen, published 1999 in the USA by Greenwood Press.
Dr Helen Merrick is co-editor, with Tess Williams, of ‘Women of Other Worlds: Excursions through Science Fiction and Feminism’ (University of Western Australia Press, 1999) in which the contribution of the feminist fan community to science fiction is strongly acknowledged. This scholarly and informative publication makes the point that Australian SF fandom, in tandem with American fandom, has over the last 40 years moved to include issues of racial, sexual and cultural diversity and has contributed to major feminist fan movements such as slash fiction and the femmefan movement of the 1970s.
In a contribution to the work, Helen recalls that trailblazing Canadian femmefan Susan Wood visited Australia in 1975 for the first Aussiecon, meeting with and being strongly influenced by principal Guest of Honour Ursula Le Guin who ran the seminal writers workshop at that first Australian Wordcon. A year later Susan ran the first identity-oriented panel at a SF convention, entitled ‘Women and Science Fiction’. The following year WisCon (the feminist Worldcon in Madison, Wisconsin) was established as an annual event. Obviously, Australian fandom benefited from these influences. Today, women are involved in Australian science fiction as authors, editors, publishers and fans at all levels.
Interestingly, Helen Merrick’s co-author, Tess Williams, is one of the four distinguished permanent Jurors for the Norma K Hemming Award.
The 2015 Norma K Hemming Award
The 2015 Norma K Hemming Award will be presented to the winner at Swancon 40, the 54th Australian National Science Fiction Convention in Perth on 2-6 April 2015. The judges, writer and editor Russell Blackford; editor Sarah Endacott; writer, editor and publisher Rob Gerrand; and writer Tess Williams, have released their shortlist:
Collection: ‘The Female Factory’ by Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter published by Twelfth Planet Press in November 2014
Novel: ‘Nil By Mouth’ by LynC published by Satalyte Publishing in June 2014
Novel: ‘North Star Guide Me Home’ by Jo Spurrier published by
HarperVoyager in May 2014
Novel: ‘Razorhurst’ by Justine Larbalestier published by Allen and Unwin in
Novel: ‘The Wonders’ by Paddy O’Reilly published by Affirm Press in July 2014
The Norma K Hemming Award has no cash prize because it is a fan award. Fan activity is much the same all over the world, conforming to traditions of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated entity described in its Wikipedia entry at: : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worldcon#World_Science_Fiction_Society.
Why there is no cash prize for the Norma K Hemming Awards
Fan activity includes convention running, encouraging sf small press enterprises, and writer and reader education at conventions, writing groups and workshops - all run on a not-for-profit basis by volunteers drawn from, and trained within, our ranks.
Within socially acceptable parameters of passion and dispassion, we capture the young and imprint them with a sense of wonder, respect for xcience and the scientific method, and an appreciation of good story telling in literature, art and theatre. That community of interesta breeds talent.
It is why there is no cash prize for the Norma K Hemming Award, and why ASFF cannot afford to cover competition winners’ travel expenses. It is also why we go out of our way at conventions to have high profile luminaries in Literature and the Arts ‘on tap’ to represent award winners when they can’t be present to receive their trophies.
In conclusion, I wish to make the observation that ASFS does not have an exclusive patent on Norma Kathleen Hemming. She belongs to all of us. There is nothing to prevent any fannish institution, e.g. the Canberra Speculative Fiction Group (CSFG), setting up, say, the Norma K Hemming Medallion for Romance of Science in Science Fiction, under criteria that support respect for Science and the Scientific Method via storytelling.
Norma Hemming confronted gender issues head on. For its own purposes ASFF added additional categories of otherness in its award. Peak fannish institutions in each State may take different approaches.
It has been a privilege to have been entrusted with the development of the Norma K Hemming Award under the auspices of the Australian Science Fiction Foundation and it has been a pleasure as its administrator to have developed the award to its present stature.
Health issues in old age may force me to pass the baton to a younger administrator. Or ASFF might have a succession plan. In either event, having fought the good fight and won, I am content.
ASFF awards administrator
21st March 2015