Cat Rambo: Volunteering with SFWA: Why?

Rambo_Near-CoverPerhaps because of my Midwestern upbringing, perhaps because of circumstances of education, one of my core values has always been volunteerism. It’s one of the things that keeps the human race muddling along and generally pointed in an upward direction, that willingness to pitch in as needed.

I allot a part of my time to service, to volunteering. When we have household discards they go to the local Community Services for the Blind and excess paperbacks go off every few months to Women’s Prison Book Project.

I try to be efficient with it, and right now I give all of that time to SFWA. Sometimes that troubles me a little — other works have more tangible results sometimes, like the people fed by a soup kitchen or food pantry, clothing provided for those in need, or even just pitching in to help plant daffodils in my condo complex. But to me, time with SFWA is paying it forward, thanking those who helped and taught me when I was a newer writer, who gave generously of their time with very little return.

But I also find volunteer work, particularly with SFWA, has frequently benefited me. Here’s some of the ways.

New friends and acquaintances — I’ve served on several different committees and groups, and each time I’ve come away with at least one person where an acquaintanceship has blossomed into friendship. I know more people in the field than I used to, and working with SFWA has helped drive that number upward.

Chances to move outside my comfort zone — Sitting at the SFWA table during a convention has forced me to go into outgoing mode (otherwise what’s the point of being at the table?), talking to passersby, asking questions, explaining what SFWA is and what it does.

A chance to learn from others’ experience — SFWA has a lot of members, and I don’t want to guess at how many years of solid industry experience it all adds up. I’ve benefited from being able to go to peers a few years down the career track and ask their opinion about current diiculties, and it’s usually been helpful.

TPhotos from the World Fantasy Convention 2011 in San Diego, CAraining and new knowledge — Sometimes (often, actually) being on a committee or working with a project has driven me to research or refine new material and skills. Most of what I know about copyright I learned from working with an earlier iteration of SFWA’s copyright committee, listening to the discussion and researching in order to understand the matters that were at hand.

Unparalleled networking –– What other organization offers me a chance to hang with so many of my literary heroes? Every time I’ve gone to the Nebulas, I’ve had a great time and I always make use of the SFWA suite when I’m at a convention where SFWA has one.

In teaching, I tell my students that the F&SF world runs on volunteer labor and one of the things that a new writer must learn is how to say no to the millions of potential roles being urged upon them. But I do think it’s worth finding one place to put some volunteer hours in, somewhere in that world. For me, SFWA’s been the most rewarding of the ones I’ve tried, though I certainly am not in any way dissing the others, all of whom were highly worthy: Broad Universe, Clarion West, and the Speculative Literature Foundation, to name a few.

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 150+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Her short story, “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” from her story collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. Her most recent book is her debut novel, Beasts of Tabat. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction, see