Interview with Worldcon 76 Chair, Kevin Roche
Tell us a little about you and your role as Worldcon 76 Chair. What all did that entail?
Being the Chair of a Worldcon is like steering a very large ship: you set the course and have to have faith in the crew you’ve brought on board to get everybody there on time and in good shape. There is more than one way to approach this; in my case it was to be a public face for the convention and keep our vision for Worldcon in the public eye. It was also a crash course in how to be an executive rather than a manager; I was fortunate to have very good managers who shared my vision and joined the team, and then I coordinated the overall direction of the project. Lots of business details, lots of keeping people working together, lots of learning to delegate better. Fortunately I had an amazing executive assistant in Debbie Bretschneider who was instrumental in teaching me to be an effective executive.
When did you first learn about the Mexicanx Initiative? What was your first impression of the project? How involved were you in making sure it had space at Worldcon?
We had already donated a number of memberships to Con or Bust when John announced the Mexicanx Initiative. He and I talked shortly after that announcement and I was thrilled at the positive response it had immediately triggered in fandom. A quick consult with my head of Finance and we offered to provide some comped memberships (matching our donation to Con or Bust) and, as a 501(c)3 corporation, to accept, manage and track the donated funds as they came in. (I actually wrote the code that let people make donations to the Initiative and have it properly tagged for bookkeeping.) We also made sure via our Program Division that Initiative members with Mexican citizenship had the appropriate invitations and documentation they might need for visa purposes.
I was astonished and amazed at the generosity of fans for the Initiative. It was such a heartwarming contrast to some of the ugliness we see in the news every day, and real evidence that our Worldcon was going to be the kind of “big-tent” gathering of fans we hoped it to be.
How did the Mexicanx Initiative's presence at the convention match up with your expectations beforehand? Was there anything that surprised you?
Héctor’s amazing food for the reception (one of the few parties I actually got to attend) stands out as a high point of the weekend for me, and I’ve acquired a few new friends I would never have met without the Mexicanx Initiative.
How did you feel about John Picacio reading Lauren Snow's Mexicanx Initiative Manifesto at the opening ceremonies? Did you know about that in advance?
I know the reading of Lauren’s Manifesto was surprising (and controversial) to some members of Worldcon, but I think it was a worthy and worthwhile act in the face of the unusual and abnormal state of public affairs.
As opening ceremonies was one of the few events where I would have a significant on-stage presence, and would be addressing the entire membership publicly, I was brought in on what was planned several days in advance, but not the actual content of Lauren’s Manifesto. My director for the ceremony had reviewed and planned things with John, and I had faith in his judgement. I’m glad I placed that trust in both of them. It was a powerful moment at the start of our weekend.
There was also an LGBTQ Initiative. How did that come about, and how involved in that were you?
When we started sharing news of the Mexicanx Initiative on our Facebook page, someone commented (positively) on one of the posts that they wished there could be the same sort of thing for LGBTQ fans (another underserved segment of fandom); someone replied to the commenter “why not start one yourself?”
As a married gay man, I really liked the idea, but it was not appropriate for me as Chair to sponsor it myself. My friend (and LGBTQ ally) Chuck Serface mused that he was considering actually doing so, and I encouraged him. The funding donation model we’d set up for John was easily duplicated to enable the LGBTQ Initiative, and we were off. We did try to coordinate the launch of the second Initiative so as to not sap momentum from the Mexicanx Initiative.
Would you encourage future Worldcons to embrace initiatives like these?
Absolutely YES! There has been a tradition of fans sponsoring other fans to Worldcon for years, but this took that spirit of generosity to a whole new level, and let us leverage social media to get the word out. Key to both Initiatives' success was having an individual ready to do the selection process (so it was not the convention itself doing the jurying, thus eliminating conflicts of interest.)
There were several other crowdfunding campaigns for Worldcon 76, including Mary Robinette Kowal’s campaign to bring more Campbell and Hugo Finalists to the awards ceremony. The Worldcon global village was generous in so many ways this year.
What were a couple of your favorite moments from Worldcon 76?
Much of Worldcon is a blur (I had 39 items on my schedule for the weekend!), but a few things stood out:
Having a glass of wine and conversation in Spider Robinson’s suite Wednesday night.
Making the time between Opening Ceremony and the Retro Hugos to visit the Mexicanx Initiative reception. (And taste Héctor’s cooking!) (and change suits for the Retros.)
Watching Spider bound across the Retro Hugo party Thursday evening with an enormous grin on his face — and then have him promise us a new book during the Closing Ceremony!
Did you discover new authors or artists you liked because of the Mexicanx Initiative?
I did! I have so many new authors to read, and was blown away by some of the art. And Héctor presented me with a jar of one of his fabulous sauces!