Interview with Jarvis Sheffield
“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.”
~ an excerpt from the DSFL Mission Statement, adapted from the Luther College diversity center in Iowa.
Dragon Con has always had panels to promote critical thinking about diversity. In 2015, the con hosted a round table discussion panel titled Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Comics. Writer Brynna Owens wrote a great, in-depth article about that panel titled Contemporary Comics Face, and Overcome, Diversity Missteps, published in the convention’s Daily Dragon newsletter. In 1999, there was the Women in Gaming panel writer Jason Mitchell wrote about in his article of the same name. That’s just a couple of examples, but there have many diversity panels throughout the years.
Dragon CON 2018 introduced a new track for fans titled Diversity in Speculative Fiction & Literature Fandom, organized under the direction of Jarvis Sheffield whose passion, unique insight, and experience helped make the track a huge success this year.
For the last 10 years, Sheffield has been the administrator of the Black Science Fiction Society, a “social network for black people around the planet who like science fiction” with more than 5,000 registered members worldwide and around 12,000 on the Facebook group. The society also has a Genesis anthology series (Book I & Book II), and the Genesis Science Fiction Radio Show—it’s a lot to manage.
In addition to running the BSFS, he is also the editor-in-chief for the society’s Genesis Science Fiction Magazine. “We also go to different events, the different cons—particularly the ethnic cons around the country. So, I get to be involved in all kinds of diverse environments,” said Sheffield. For his day job, he works in special collections for the Tennessee State University library and manages a 3-D Maker space there. And if that is not enough, he also manages the Universal Africana Literary Arts Movement Facebook page, and he is pursuing a doctorate in education with a focus on leadership.
Sheffield gave insight into how the track came into existence. “There had been some discussion between Mr. Pat Henry and one of my friends that I met in the Black Science Fiction Society, Glenn Paris. He mentioned a couple of years ago that they were thinking of adding some diversity to Dragon CON, and I was like ‘Well, if that happens, just let me know. I’d be more than happy to chip in were I can.,’ Sheffield said. “And so, we had that same discussion again last year at another con; he linked me up with Mr. Henry and we talked. Shortly thereafter, I became one of the directors and since January, I’ve been doing stuff in the background to prepare, learning all the processes behind Dragon CON and facilitating the different aspects that I wanted to bring to the track.”
He said that the reception to the track has been fantastic. “I think that more than half the panels that we’ve had have been standing room only,” said Sheffield. “I’ve been getting really good feedback. People are excited about being acknowledged and feel they are being embraced more by Dragon CON.” The track covers a wide range of topics, such as LGBT, Diversity in Comics, Women’s Issues, Race, and Disability, and others. “We’re trying to cover the entire spectrum of attendees,” said Sheffield.
The track was in the standard discussion format followed by a Q&A session, but there were also interactive workshops which also included a Q&A segment. Panelists were chosen from the list of pre-approved individuals in the Dragon CON directory for the first draft, and for the second draft, Sheffield connected with individuals he’s met over the past 10 years from attending different conventions. 2018 topics included the definition of diversity, diversity in cosplay, a woman’s perspective, gender and sexuality in writing, age and disability, and others. No diversity panels were offered on Thursday, but the track had full days for the rest of the convention, not closing until 2:30 p.m. on Monday.
“This has been a great opportunity and a great experience being a part of Dragon Con. I have a list of great things to add. We were able to have photographers cover the event; but, next year, we want to add video for documentation, so if someone misses something, they can pull it up and watch it,” Sheffield said. “Some of the people I wanted to add to the roster this year weren’t able to appear because of scheduling conflicts, or they weren’t an approved vendor. They didn’t have a badge and couldn’t pay to come, which is understandable.” Sheffield is hoping that those panelists who couldn’t come this year, will be able to participate in the track for Dragon CON 2019.
Sheffield is also encouraging everyone to use the Dragon CON app, which can be found on the convention’s website, iTunes, and Google Play, to rate events. He is hoping for a lot of fan feedback. “That’s one of our points of the group is to try to get input, so that we can grow this,” said Sheffield. “If there is something we didn’t do this year, that you are interested in seeing, or if there is something that we can do better, let us know.”
Those wanting to contact Director Sheffield can message him on Facebook.