The John W. Campbell Award is Now The Astounding Award

Jenn Northington

Director, Editorial Operations

Jenn Northington has worked in the publishing industry wearing various hats since 2004, including bookseller and events director, and is currently Director of Editorial Operations at Riot New Media Group. You can hear her on the SFF Yeah! podcast nerding out about sci-fi and fantasy. When she’s not working, she’s most likely gardening, running, or (obviously) reading. Find her on Tumblr at jennIRL and Instagram at iamjennIRL.

Earlier this week, Analog Science Fiction and Fact (formerly Astounding Science Fiction) announced that, given Campbell’s history of racist editorials, they are renaming the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer to The Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

This announcement comes on the heels of the 2019 Hugo Awards, during which Jeannette Ng won the Campbell Award and gave a speech calling out Campbell as a fascist, as well as one of the architects of the genre’s long-running focus on white male colonialist narratives. The irony that a Hong Kong–born author who is actively diversifying science fiction won an award named for Campbell was not lost on them, and their speech garnered a great deal of attention.

The press release from Analog does not directly name Ng as the reason for the change. It notes that:

Campbell’s provocative editorials and opinions on race, slavery, and other matters often reflected positions that went beyond just the mores of his time and are today at odds with modern values, including those held by the award’s many nominees, winners, and supporters. …

[W]e have reached a point where the conversation around the award is in danger of focusing more on its namesake than the writers it was intended to recognize and elevate, and that is something nobody—even Campbell himself—would want.

In a Twitter thread, Ng noted that others had spoken up about Campbell before, and talks more about his impact on science fiction.

World Fantasy Awards StatueThis is not the first award in the science fiction and fantasy world to get a much-needed overhaul. In 2015, thanks to the efforts of authors including Nnedi Okorafor and Daniel José Older, the World Fantasy Award was successfully petitioned to stop using H.P. Lovecraft’s image for the statuette. In 2017 the new statuette, a fanciful (and sort of creepy) tree, was unveiled.

There have been efforts by reactionary parties to push awards away from diverse writers; for example, the Sad Puppies attempted to stack the deck during voting for the 2015 Hugos. N.K. Jemisin’s historic win in 2018, as the first ever writer to win the Best Novel award three years running, was a welcome sign that the genre is indeed finally recognizing the contributions of authors of color.

I’m delighted to see this newest development, and full of appreciation for the writers doing the work not only of writing incredible sci-fi and fantasy, but calling for change as well. As readers, we can vote not only with our dollars, but with our signatures on petitions, our support on social media, and we can vote in the Hugo Awards themselves! Here’s to another year of amazing books and awards that the genre can feel proud of.