The Ignyte Ember Award celebrates the unsung contributions of people in the speculative fiction community. Nominated in this year’s Ignytes, Keidra Chaney is a writer and communicator with a career track record in communications and media for non-profit and advocacy organizations. She has a personal interest and passion for issues including feminism, disability rights, mental health, and racial justice. As a freelance writer, she focuses on pop culture, technology, and diversity issues. She’s the former editor of award-winning progressive publication Clamor Magazine, and she is the co-founder and publisher of pop culture website The Learned Fangirl. We are honored to count her among our finalists and have interviewed her here about her endeavors.
What inspired you to start the pop culture website, The Learned Fangirl?
I started TLF with Raizel Liebler back in 2007 as a space to publish the kind of critical writing about pop culture and fandom that we were really craving. At the time, at least online, there weren’t a lot of mainstream publications that published critical and thoughtful writing about the kind of pop culture we were interested in and fans of- specifically anime, comics, SFF, and not-quite-mainstream (at the time) music like k-pop and heavy metal. Also, I come from a journalism and critical media studies background while Raizel comes from a law and library background and we didn’t always see the kind of interdisciplinary perspectives that we talked about when discussing pop culture and fandom.
TLF started as a blog, a platform for Raizel and my own critical and academic writing, but over the years as we started to see more publications write about fandom and pop culture, we noticed that the voices of marginalized folks in fandom: BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled people, and folks who didn’t exist in the “acceptable” circles of journalism or academia, but still had a lot of valuable insights and ideas – people like us – were still excluded . So we had the goal of opening up the blog to more voices and making it more like a publication. TLF got a fiscal sponsor, raised some money, and were able to pay writers and creators for their writing, and experiment with other projects like mini podcasts. We were really adamant about being able to pay creators for their labor, so when we no longer had the budget for that, TLF went on publishing hiatus in 2018.
But earlier this year, with COVID-19, I wanted to do something to support marginalized freelance culture writers during this time. I spent many years working as a freelance writer and I know how writers from marginalized identities are disproportionally employed as freelance writers rather than full time staff and how those opportunities are the first to get their budgets cuts in a crisis. I wanted to do something that could be a support to so many writers and creatives who fall through the cracks during this time. We’ve raised $5,000 for the TLF Emergency Fund so far.
What do you want to see from The Learned Fangirl in the future? What are some of your goals and ambitions for the website and its content?
I would love for TLF to come out of publishing hiatus. There’s so much happening in this moment with the pandemic, with the uprisings, with the increased dialogue around disability justice, where I feel like we, the TLF editors, know so many pop culture writers and scholars with knowledge and insight to lend to this moment. I would love to be able to bring TLF back as a quarterly publication and publish work from those voices and to center marginalized people in creating and critiquing media and pop culture. But we can’t do that without money or structural support so if there’s anyone who wants to help finance this visit, please hit me up! 🙂
I’d also like to expand the TLF Emergency Fund with more monetary support for more writers. It would be amazing to be able to have a budget to support creators more broadly with monetary and career resources.
What does it mean to you to be considered for the Ember Award?
I can’t say enough how honored and humbled I am to be considered for this award, especially among such an amazing group of nominees, who I deeply admire. TLF isn’t my full-time job or my career. It’s a labor of love. There are so many people, so many Black women especially, who innovate, organize, and build community and culture within SFF and other creative spaces, who do so in their free time, in the margins, and their efforts may not always be seen or acknowledged. The nomination makes me feel seen, and the fact that this award exists makes me hopeful that other unsung creatives will be too. It inspires me to continue to use the work that I do to help uplift other marginalized people whose labor in creative spaces often gets unseen or unacknowledged.
In addition to running The Learned Fangirl, you’re also a SFF writer. What inspired you to become a SFF writer?
Actually, I’m mostly just a critical essayist and journalist. But as a writer, what has inspired me is joy, the joy of finding a story, or movie or TV that moves you, that makes you feel free. And I love exploring that and talking about it with other people and talking about what makes pop culture joyful, but also what can make it better. More inclusive, more meaningful, more welcoming. And I feel like criticism, cultural criticism is borne from this joy, from loving something enough to see where it’s not always perfect but having the hope that it can be. And I always try to write from that perspective.
Speculative fiction has done some great things in the past and continues to make some phenomenal strides and breakthroughs in the present. Is there something you’d like to particularly see from the genre that hasn’t been done before or something old you’d like to see new life breathed into?
As a disabled Black woman, I am craving to see more disabled representation in speculative fiction from the perspective of disabled people and more criticism that acknowledges this perspective. There’s no shortage of disabled characters in SFF, but I think when disability is approached it’s often from the perspective of technology or fantasy service as a cure rather than reflecting the lived experience of disabled people in fantastical worlds. That’s why I love efforts like Uncanny Magazine‘s “Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction” that really center the work of disabled people embracing and celebrating disability.
What’s your all-time favorite speculative story or even trope?
I love time travel and the concept of going back and righting wrongs from the past or trying to keep events from the past from impacting the future.
What made you fall in love with SFF?
I’m a second-generation Trek fan. My mom isn’t really into geek culture in a formal way but we spent our Sundays after church watching Star Trek: The Original Series when I was a small kid. We’d watch episodes and the original movies and talk about them and really immerse myself in the stories and the universe. So SFF was normalized in my family, even though it didn’t look the way it looks now where there are formalized fandom spaces and community experiences. I love the worlds of possibility that SFF writers and creators make in their work and how identity and lived experience can be explored in such creative and inspiring ways through genre.