Carl Brandon’s story is an interesting one, and needs a little explaining. Back in the 1950s, several white fanzine fans were looking around at science fiction conventions and realizing there were no Fans of Color that they knew of. Fanwriters (at that time) Peter Graham and the late Terry Carr suggested that perhaps one should be invented. A committee was formed and sworn to secrecy, and they began by writing letters of comment (LoCs) to fanzines from Mr. Brandon, in which he eventually let it slip that he was black. Carl Brandon proved so popular that fans scoured the halls at conventions where Brandon was rumored to be in attendance, wanting desperately to meet him.
For two years Carr and Peter Graham — and a few others — kept up the facade of Carl Brandon, eventually realizing that they had created something/someone which threatened to blow up in their faces. Rather than incur even worse wrath by allowing the truth to come out on its own, they fessed up to the hoax. Instead of outrage, there was mostly disappointment. People genuinely wanted Carl Brandon to be real.
It was for this reason that the Carl Brandon Society chose their organization’s name. As a fictional character, Carl Brandon was meant to highlight the absence of people of color in science fiction fandom. Because the group’s mission is to support and promote People of Color in fantasy and science fiction, CBS co-founder and former steering committee member Ian K. Hagemann suggested that Carl Brandon would be the ideal symbol to represent them.
Such a hoax was much easier 60+ years ago — before the Internet, before television was as ubiquitous as today, even before there was a telephonic device of some kind in every house. Also different today is the attitude of people, the general hostility towards anything foreign or alien or even just different. Were such a fictional character as Carl Brandon to spring to life in a similar fashion today, he would be flamed and doxxed before anyone behind the ruse even knew what was happening.
I support the Carl Brandon Society. CBS works to promote and to increase awareness of authors of color in Sci-fi, Fantasy, and other genres. I’ve been involved peripherally for a number of years, most recently handling the shopping for their annual party/fundraiser/awareness campaign at WisCon. The group presents two juried awards annually at a science fiction convention; often the presentation has happened at WisCon, but there have been other conventions that hosted the ceremony, including Arisia, and the World Science Fiction Convention. The Carl Brandon Parallax Award is given to works of speculative fiction created by a self-identified person of color. The Carl Brandon Kindred Award is given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with issues of race and ethnicity; nominees may be of any racial or ethnic group. Both awards include a $1000.00 cash prize. CBS also awards the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship, allowing writer(s) of color to attend a Clarion writing workshop — the same workshop where the late author got her start as a science fiction writer.
Today, a fan of color would undoubtedly NOT receive the same warm welcome in many sectors of fandom, and that’s one of the main reasons why I continue to support CBS every year with my money and my time. Fandom — and not just fandom but publishing and creative endeavors at all levels — needs diversity. Humans work best when we build communities, speaking not just with one voice, but with many. Attitudes today have the distinct feel of moving backwards, seeking a return to some imagined greatness that only exists in the mind of the speaker, selectively highlighting what the speaker considers as the good while ignoring all the corresponding bad stuff. If we are great at all, it is because of the undying hope that the great American experiment might actually live up to its promise of bringing us together. Goals like that are worth working for, and I’m not ready to give up yet.
To join or learn more about the Carl Brandon Society, start by clicking HERE.