The Ignyte Ember Award celebrates the unsung contributions of people in the speculative fiction community. Nominated in this year’s Ignytes, Malon Edwards has served the community as a writer, editor, and grant administrator for the Speculative Literature Foundation for years, getting sometimes much-needed funds to marginalized writers to help them pursue their projects. We are honored to count him among our finalists and have interviewed him here about his endeavors.
You’ve spent the last twelve years as the grants administrator for the Speculative Literature Foundation. What’s been important to you about playing this role?
Over the years, I’ve had two main goals every grant cycle for each of our six grants: to make sure every applicant gets positive and constructive feedback on their writing samples, and for jurors to enjoy the jury process.
I’ve never done anything like this before, so in the beginning, being grants administrator was a bit daunting. I was a baby writer, a nobody in the speculative fiction community. But I knew what I wanted to do as grants administrator and I found my groove early on.
As that baby writer, when I first started submitting stories to magazines, I didn’t get personal feedback for rejections. I saw that some other writers craved it also, and when they received it, they were so appreciative. I know that most magazines can’t provide it, but I wanted our applicants to get it, especially since many of them were early in their writing career or hadn’t been published yet.
So, I do my best to make sure each applicant receives honest, helpful feedback, and encourage jurors to provide it. One of the best things after each grant cycle is when applicants are so thankful for the feedback they receive, and after the winner is chosen, when jurors say they’ve enjoyed the experience and offer to be a juror again the next year.
What does the Speculative Literature Foundation mean to you?
For me, the Speculative Literature Foundation means opportunity, persistence, hope, and determination.
Some of our applicants for the Working Class Writers Grant have computers so old that they’re not sure it will boot it up the next time they try to turn it on, or don’t have computers at all and have to go to the library and use the computers there to write. Many of our applicants apply year after year for our grants. One of our applicants applied nine times for the Older Writers Grant before she won.
Many of our applicants for our Diverse Writers Grants and Diverse Worlds Grant write about characters and places they didn’t see when they first started reading speculative fiction, and these are some of the most creative stories I’ve ever read.
And so many of our applicants send us their first story they’ve ever written. In their emails, I can see how much they cherish and love these stories, and it’s so wonderful to see that unabashed hope as they send their work out into the world.
What do you hope the SLF is doing for the community?
We’re doing some good things right now.
We’re developing the Portolan Project, an open-source creative writing resource — sort of a Khan Academy for fiction.
We’ve begun interviewing masters of the field, so far including George R.R. Martin, Nalo Hopkinson, and Kate Elliott, on aspects of craft. We’re building out a free website to host those interviews, along with syllabi, lesson plans, individual lectures and assignments on aspects of craft, like plot and structure, language and style, setting and world building — the writing business, and the writers’ life.
We’re also interviewing emerging writers from across the planet, developing a better understanding of the international speculative fiction landscape, and the challenges and opportunities for writers in both independent and traditional publishing. We also have academics helping us build a searchable database of speculative literature, to make it much easier to find stories that are relevant to writers and their own work.
While we have no plans to become an accredited MFA, the Portolan Project hopes to offer many of the same benefits of such a program, for free, to anyone in the world.
We also have the Deep Dish Reading Series where, in October 2017, the SLF partnered with SFWA and CNSC, the Chicago Nerds Social Club. It’s a science fiction/fantasy reading series hosted at Volumes Book Cafe in Chicago, where writers of speculative fiction can read their latest work in front of an audience, but we’re looking to expand the reading series to make it global in other cities, where they establish their own local flavor. Interested writers can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speaking of local, we’ve established local SLF chapters in Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area, and we’re looking to form more in other cities around the world. These local SLF chapters have some great plans, and we support them fully if that includes establishing a local reading series in their cities.
And, of course, we will continue to provide grants for writers of speculative fiction because we truly want to cultivate opportunity and validation for writers, who, for various reasons, can’t find it to help nourish, enrich and empower individuals throughout the world, which in turn strengthens the speculative fiction community as a whole.
What has been your favorite part about doing this work?
Connection with the applicants and the jurors.
As I said before, some applicants send us the first story they’ve ever written and this is the first time they’ve ever put it out into the world, so they have a lot of questions about our grants and how to submit. Helping them makes the long hours worth it.
And then, recruiting the jurors and working with them to choose the most deserving applicant is, to be completely honest, fun. I’ve come to admire and respect a number of our grant winners and jurors. I truly enjoy being part of the SLF. It’s a real privilege that I don’t take lightly.
You’re also an incredible writer. What has driven your work over the years?
Thank you for the kind words. I’ve just wanted to be a better writer and improve my craft.
What subjects are you hoping to write about in the future?
I want to write about Black space explorers who go to distant planets and use their expertise to terraform worlds. I want to write about a generation ship where Black grandmothers and grandfathers pass down wisdom that’s fully intact hundreds of years later when these explorers land on those distant planets.
Where do you hope the speculative fiction community is headed in the next several years?
I hope the speculative fiction community becomes more accepting and inclusive.
What does it mean to you to be considered for the Ember award?
It’s humbling. I’m just truly honored that my volunteer service for the Speculative Literature Foundation has been noticed.