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April 29, 2011

Joanna Russ, 1937-2011
Posted by Patrick at 04:38 PM * 75 comments

Go, little book, trot through Texas and Vermont and Alaska and Maryland and Washington and Florida and Canada and England and France; bob a curtsey at the shrines of Friedan, Millet, Greer, Firestone and all the rest; behave yourself in people’s living rooms, neither looking ostentatious on the coffee table nor failing to persuade due to the dullness of your style; knock at the Christmas garland on my husband’s door in New York City and tell him that I loved him truly and love him still (despite what anybody may think); and take your place bravely on the book racks of bus terminals and drugstores. Do not scream when you are ignored, for that will alarm people, and do not fume when you are heisted by persons who will not pay, rather rejoice that you have become so popular. Live merrily, little daughter-book, even if I can’t and we can’t; recite yourself to all who will listen; stay hopeful and wise. Wash your face and take your place without a fuss in the Library of Congress, for all books end up there eventually, both little and big. Do not complain when at last you become quaint and old-fashioned, when you grow as outworn as the crinolines of a generation ago and are classed with Spicy Western Stories, Elsie Dinsmore, and The Son of the Sheik; do not mutter angrily to yourself when young persons read you to hrooch and hrsh and guffaw, wondering what the dickens you were all about. Do not get glum when you are no longer understood, little book. Do not curse your fate. Do not reach up from readers’ laps and punch the readers’ noses.

Rejoice, little book!

For on that day, we will be free.

—Joanna Russ, The Female Man (1975)

ADDENDUM: TNH remembers Joanna.

Comments on Joanna Russ, 1937-2011:
#1 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 04:51 PM:

"Civilization must be preserved," says he.

"Civilization's doing fine," I said. "We just don't happen to be where it is."

—Joanna Russ, We Who Are About To

#2 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 04:55 PM:

Science fiction, political fiction, parable, allegory, exemplum--all carry a heavier intellectual freight (and self-consciously so) than we are used to. All are didactic. All imply that human problems are collective, as well as individual, and take those problems to be spiritual, social, perceptual, or cognitive--not the fictionally sex-linked problems of success, competition, "castration," education, love, or even personal identity, with which we are all so very familiar. I would go even farther and say that science fiction, political fiction (when successful), and the modes (if not the content) of much medieval fiction all provide myths for dealing with the kinds of experiences we are actually having now, instead of the literary myths we have inherited, which only tell us about the kinds of experiences we think we ought to be having.

--Joanna Russ, "Why Women Can't Write"

#3 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 04:56 PM:

Science fiction is the only modern literature to take work as its central and characteristic concern.

--Joanna Russ, "Towards an Aesthetic of Science Fiction"

#4 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 04:58 PM:

This book is written in blood.

Is it written entirely in blood?

No, some of it is written in tears.

Are the blood and tears all mine?

Yes, they have been in the past. but the future is a different matter. As the bear swore in Pogo after having endured a pot shoved on her head, being turned upside down while still in the pot, a discussion about her edibility, the lawnmowering of her behind, and a fistful of ground pepper in the snoot, she then swore a mighty oath on the ashes of her mothers (i.e. her forebears) grimly but quietly while the apples from the shaken apple tree above her dropped bang thud on her head:


--Joanna Russ, The Female Man

#5 ::: Nonny ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 05:07 PM:

I love her work so much. RIP Ms. Russ, and thank you.

#6 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 05:19 PM:

She was also the first academic to pay attention to slash fiction, and the one who named it (IIRC). Not an easy person, but an essential one.

#7 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 05:36 PM:

Things that turn up on Flickr.

Yes, it's her. At 16. From this set of 1953 photographs. She can be spotted in a few other shots as well.

Joanna's contest entry had something to do with growing a specialized bacteria. It's definitely the same Joanna; she reminisced about it to TNH in 1981 or 82.

#8 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 05:58 PM:

And the event was the national Science Talent Search, which is going on still today.

Of all the things I knew about Joanna, I did not know she had been a teenage science geek.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 06:09 PM:

And she won on Jeopardy for a couple of days running.

#10 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 06:10 PM:

I wish I'd had a chance to meet her. From reports she was a marvelous person to know, in addition to being an excellent writer. I'm glad I DID have a chance to enjoy her writing, and can continue to do so.

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 06:10 PM:

In the group shot, she's standing next to the shortest person in the back row.

#12 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 06:23 PM:

I could have told you she was a teenaged science geek. She talked about it.

Her project for this contest is identified as "Growth of Certain Fungi Under Colored Lights and In Darkness."

#13 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 06:27 PM:

Time for me to go do some memorial rereading. I never met her, but her books profoundly influenced me and move me in ways I have a hard time expressing.

#14 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 07:11 PM:

Xopher, she was wonderful. She was also scary. I liked that about her.

Joanna and I first connected at a fannish party one night in Seattle when one of us quoted something from Chaucer, and the other replied in kind -- on my side, it may have been the opening lines of the Wife of Bath's prologue -- and we shortly thereafter were talking a mile a minute, half in Middle English, while everyone else moved away from us on the Group W bench. I have an audio file in my head of her perfect delivery of "'Tehee!' quod she, and clapte the wyndow to." It's one of the ways I can date when I started falling over laughing, because I didn't fall over when she said it.

We got into the habit of going grocery shopping together because she had two things I didn't: a car, and a back injury that made it impossible for her to lift anything heavier than a medium zucchini. We'd go shopping after work, then go to her house and put her groceries away, then sit down at the kitchen table and talk until Patrick phoned to ask where the hell I was. I'd tell him we were nearly finished putting the groceries away, and Joanna would drive me home.

We got buzzed on conversation.

I was nonplussed when she found out about slash fiction, and borrowed a stack of it from a local fan who shall remain nameless unless she outs herself. One night not long after that we were at the Continental (a Greek restaurant on University Avenue), and she started talking about Kirk and Spock fanfic in terms of images and patterns and literary theory.

As she observed, quite accurately, you can sometimes see patterns more clearly in badly written fiction than in the good stuff. Some major themes: the ways Spock was described and characterized in fanon. ("Spock is a woman," she said; and in that context, she was right.) The persistent association of power and hiding. The persistent tension and significance around touching and not touching. The inverse relationship between having sex and dying: if they yearn but don't touch, one or both will die by the end of the story, "Even if they practically have to walk over a cliff to do it."

I have a small knack: if you show me the patterns or shapes of something, I can sometimes tell you what other things share them. That night, I listened to her analyzing and pattern-fitting this slash fanfic; and when she finished describing how arbitrary (and therefore required) the deaths of one or both characters were in stories where they didn't act on their mutual attraction, I said "Which is not to say that The Left Hand of Darkness is a Kirk-and-Spock novel."

Joanna's jaw dropped, and we stared at each other in wild surmise. Then we dived straight into it, talking as fast as we could. We knew we were on to something. It turned out to be a set of patterns that turn up in a great deal of fantasy and SF written by women, a sort of Rosetta Stone of literary analysis. As I said at the time, it felt like wrestling snakes and lightning. If I got a phone call near midnight, what I'd hear as soon as I picked up the receiver was Joanna saying "I've thought of something else."

There haven't been many other times in my life when I've had that much fun that intensely. I regret not having had the sense in later years to just phone her, identify myself, and say "Now, about Spike --"

#15 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 07:19 PM:

Because, indeed, the one thing I know about Joanna in her later years is that she became quite a Buffy fan.

I never saw her after we moved away from Seattle in 1983. But a few years ago, at a Wiscon, Chip Delany conducted a public interview with her over a phone hookup. Avedon Carol and I watched from the back of the large function room, and nearly killed ourselves laughing at Chip's distinct bemusement over the fact that the single thing Joanna seemed most avidly interested in talking about was BtVS.

(Chip is of course capable of containing multitudes etc., and was entirely gracious. It was funny because one so rarely sees Chip knocked even a millimeter off his poise.)

#16 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 07:45 PM:

She seemed a right good broad, and I'm sad I never met her. But I'm glad y'all did.

"Davy" taught me sex was more than what I had imagined, and what furtive reads of mainstream porn imagined....

#17 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 08:18 PM:

Can the rest of us quote favorite passages too?

The one that I remembered (and, e.g., tracked down to post on my own blog as soon as I read this) was this one, from a few pages before #4 above:

"Man" is a rhetorical convenience for "human." "Man" includes "woman." Thus:
1. The Eternal Feminine leads us ever upward and on. (Guess who "us" is)
2. The last man on earth will spend the last hour before the holocaust searching for his wife and child. (Review of The Second Sex by the first sex)
3. We all have the impulse, at times, to get rid of our wives. (Irving Howe, introduction to Hanly, talking about my wife)
4. Great scientists choose their problems as they choose their wives. (A. H. Maslow, who should know better)
5. Man is a hunter who wishes to compete for the best kill and the best female. (everybody)

-- Joanna Russ, The Female Man

It's probably wrong of me, but I take a small piece of consolation in the fact that the parenthesis for number 4 -- where Joanna Russ talks about "my wife" -- now sounds far more natural than it did when the book came out 36 years ago; and that I suspect (or at least hope) that twenty-year-olds who read it 36 years from now won't get why it was supposed to sound odd at all.

#18 ::: Susanna J. Sturgis ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 09:29 PM:

I never met Joanna, and if I'd had the opportunity, I'm not sure I would have had the nerve, but she's been my lodestar as a feminist, a writer, and a feminist writer for more than 30 years. In January 2010, my account of my closest encounter with Joanna Russ was published in the Women's Review of Books blog: I've been missing her voice for many years -- but so far hardly anything she ever wrote seems remotely out-of-date.

#19 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 09:52 PM:


I read everything of her that I could get my hands on, once I came of age as a feminist. Her writing was powerful.

#20 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 10:24 PM:

I missed this bus.

I hope the road I took was half as rewarding as this one looks from here.

#21 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 10:26 PM:

One of the things I liked about Joanna's writing was that sometimes the book *did* reach up from the reader's lap and punch you in the nose. (See "The Two of Them.")

"The Second Inquisition" -- I always thought of this as Mary Poppins for people who would grow up to participate in the Stonewall Riots.

Anyway, I won't forget her (or the way she moderated feminist panels at conventions, where guys were allowed to attend as long as they promised to observe and listen, rather than pepper the air with their own opinions).

#22 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2011, 11:15 PM:

Well, dang.

My memory of Joanna is of when she picked up my girlfriend at a convention. My girlfriend, sometimes referred to affectionately as My Wicked Ex-Girlfriend, was the six foot tall gorgeous one in head-to-toe black and red leather. Joanna apparently sailed up, looked her up and down, and asked whether that was a fashion statement or a lifestyle choice. When my dear Wicked Ex (who was, of course, not Ex yet at that point) said it was the latter, Joanna dropped her coat on the floor and said, "In that case, carry my coat. And take me to lunch." And out they went.

My Wicked Ex was in a very good mood when we eventually got her back. This caused me to think well of Joanna both for her skill at being fascinating and for her skill at handling large wild beasts. I hope she had at least as much fun as the Wicked Ex did at that lunch.

Rest in peace, and I hope there's excellent conversation where you are, Joanna, and people to carry your coat and take you to lunch and whatever else you might like.

#23 ::: zxhrue ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 12:48 AM:

PNH @ 7 and TNH @ 11 -- see the next to last shot in that set, the one of the top ten winners, where she is the only female. my irony is broken.

I would quote something from Picnic on Paradise but I am away from my copy, and besides, it would probably have ended up being the whole damn book.

sigh. we will not see her like again soon, if ever.

#24 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 12:54 AM:

I only met Joanna once; when I was in Seattle for a Westercon. Jon Singer and I were on our way to or from that mad chocolate place (the name of which escapes me) (we also stopped by Twice Sold Tales).

We stopped by his favorite thrift store, and we happened upon Joanna in the women's clothing section. She and I siumultaneously spied a gauzy peasant blouse in a truly righteous shade of purple. Tussling ensued, but Joanna was gracious enough to concede, and I have it to this day.

#25 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 01:35 AM:

Dammit, why was it not till today that someone actually stuck a piece of Russ's fiction under my nose? (Note: Readability makes it readable.)

#26 ::: John-Henri Holmberg ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 08:14 AM:

I thought her one of the two finest modern literary artists working in sf. But more than that, her thoughts and analyses influenced many of us, even in Sweden where few of her works have been published and few have ever heard of her. Since it was published, I have pressed "How to Suppress Women's Writing" on hundreds of students, writers, critics and readers. "The Female Man" was hotly discussed among Swedish fans for years; among its champions were Eva Gabrielsson and Stieg Larsson, who admired it as much as I did. I went on finally to publish it in a Swedish translation. Stieg, of course, went on to write his own novels on the theme of men's hatred for women. I am not claiming that his were inspired by her in any direct sense. But those of us who were influenced by her never forgot, and in that way I suspect were changed by her words. She mattered; she made a difference.

#27 ::: Stepehn Frug ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 09:39 AM:

Avram #25: That Readability tool is fabulous, at least based on one or two web sites. Thanks for pointing it out.

#28 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 09:45 AM:

"That is my companion. It is not intended as a tip."
"This cannot be my room because I cannot breathe ammonia."
"Waitress, this meal is still alive."
"My eating orifice is not at that end of my body."

... and much more.

#29 ::: judyt ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 10:05 AM:

Delurking to say: there are some writers whose work has made it possible, in bad times, for me to go on, and Joanna Russ is one of them. Was, dammit.
Ave atque vale.

#30 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 10:23 AM:

"Sir or madam, that is mine [extrinsic]."

"Sir or madam, that is mine [intrinsic]."

#31 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 10:39 AM:


(I hope not, but it's how I feel at present.)

#32 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 10:55 AM:

Avram @ 25: I clicked on that, and realised, from the title, that it was the one piece of Russ that I had read: it was anthologised in a collection of Nebula and Hugo winning stories edited by Asimov = one of the first science fiction collections I read. (I seem to remember that it also had wonderful stories by Harlan Ellison, Gene Wolfe, and Arthur C. Clarke). I was a serial re-reader as a child, so as soon as I re-read the first paragraph it started to come back. (And because of when I read it, it's one of the things which is almost definitive of what science fiction should be to me.)

(And now I've re-read it and it brings tears to my eyesç)

But I'm also now remembering why I haven't read any more Russ - namely that a couple of years later, I picked up a cheap copy of 'And Chaos Died', which I bought, eagerly, and then bounced off in a couple of attempts. I can't remember why - and itis a book that I've never heard anyone discuss. Any thoughts?

#33 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 12:44 PM:

pgbb, I found ACD fairly opaque. IIRC it's written in a kind of stream-of-consciousness, from the POV of an uncontrolled telepath. This is a literary tour de force, but it's tough going.

#34 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 01:23 PM:

praisegod barebones:

I have never read that one, but I know I've heard other people mention it as her most difficult book.

The Female Man is the book I fell in love with, the symphony of which 'When It Changed' is merely one melody. Start there, in my opinion. I have just begun rereading it this morning, in one big slurp.

We Who are About To is a harrowing dig into the underpinnings of SF shipwreck and castaway novels.

#35 ::: Glaurung_quena ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 02:31 PM:

@ 32, praisegod barebones:

And Chaos Died is, IIRC, her second novel and not, IMO, her best work. Since her writing was still becoming better and more interesting with each new book when her career was cut short by disability, you may want to start near the end, with Extra (ordinary) People (a collection of 4 novellas) and work your way backward from there.

#36 ::: John-Henri Holmberg ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 03:00 PM:

Please, even if it happens not to be sf, don't forget ON STRIKE AGAINST GOD, which I would put very high among her works. A beautiful, vibrantly alive novel.

#37 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 03:01 PM:

Another person who took the wrong impression from And Chaos Died, now to my embarrassment.

#38 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 03:09 PM:

I seem to be the outlier, as And Chaos Died was the one I liked immediately, whereas as a teenager I wasn't quite ready for The Female Man.

#39 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 03:29 PM:

"When It changed" is one of the early sf shorts I read that burned into my brain, probably from the same collection that praisegod barebones @32 mentioned. I'm sure I've read other anthologised shorts by Russ, but it's decades since I've read most of those 1970s anthologies I devoured at school. I have the Women's Press editions of "The Adventures of Alyx" and "(Extra)ordinary People" downstairs, found by chance in a remainder bookshop, and I think it's time I re-read Alyx. I will be forever grateful to Russ for a heroine who wasn't simply a bad conduct prize for the hero of the story.

#40 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 04:26 PM:

Istr a talk on when no other word than "fuck" will do. I thought it was at an early Wiscon.

Jacque @ 24

#41 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 04:44 PM:

Charlie Stross @31 said it.

I read The Female Man a second-hand copy picked up, like much of the SF I read at the time, at the Liguanea Plaza Bookstore (it was still going strong eight years ago, and still selling second-hand books including SF/F) in the mid-1970s. I've always wondered who the original purchaser was.

#42 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 06:26 PM:

I read "The Female Man" when it first came out and was shocked, then I thought about it and wasn't. "Picnic on Paradise," Alyx, and really everything I read by her was unforgettable.

It's time to go down into my "archives" and pull everything by her out, re-read it and raise a glass.

#43 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 06:55 PM:

Oh that just aches.

She was one of the most important writers in my life, and I only wish I could have passed on to her how much that meant.

For me the big one was "The Second Inquisition". I read it when I was nine or ten and it's one of the small number of special stories which have messed up my head permanently.

I got the Farah Mendelsohn edited book about her last year and felt a nagging dissatisfaction with it. In the end I decided the problem was that I wanted to read something as acute as Joanna Russ, not the words of lesser mortals.

#44 ::: Henry Wessells ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 07:41 PM:

The Country You Have Never Seen (2007) is a really great collection of essays and criticism by Russ. It is a book that shows precisely what the field lost when her voice fell silent. Over the years, I received a few short typed letters, composed at great cost to her, but full of brilliant comments (and the asides were pretty amazing too).

#45 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 09:45 PM:

FYI: some commentary on her novels and short stories. (I found this link while searching for stuff that would jog my memory about stories concerning her Trans-Temporal Authority. The TTA is the macguffin that hooked me into reading the rest of her work.)

#46 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2011, 10:22 PM:

why was i never assigned any of her stuff in college? she would have fit perfectly in the anthropology class i took based on donna haraway's cyborg manifesto. hell, that class would have gained a lot from some of the other female scifi writers as well.

#47 ::: jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2011, 04:03 AM:

I was never smart enough, quick enough, or around enough to get to know Joanna personally, but she was a lodestar. Another mother gone by mother's day.

I HATE the way the world tilts. Donald Trump alive and Joanna Russ dead. It does not compute.


#48 ::: laura ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2011, 05:05 AM:

#14 "Even if they practically have to walk over a cliff to do it."

The sex and death thing is stuck in my head, and I think The Blind Assassin might fall into this category too? (sry spoiler)

but - what does it mean? is it an evolution/biological thing? no sex = genetic material not passed on so we're going to die out? or is that explanation too simple?

#49 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2011, 10:33 AM:

Patrick, I'm pretty sure she was still in Seattle later than 1983, because I was still her student in 1984.

#50 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2011, 10:34 AM:

Patrick: Never mind. I misread what you wrote. You moved, not she moved.

#51 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2011, 10:42 AM:

Transplated from my Facebook page:

Joanna Russ talking about being at a Norwescon many years ago: A young man came up to her and said, Excuse me. This is Norwescon, right? I'm told you can get laid here. Where can I get laid? Joanna directed him to the con suite.

I have pulled the Joanna Russ folders out of the basement file drawer where Patrick & Teresa filed them about 25 years ago. In a letter to David in May of 1980, she writes, "It was lovely to see you at the convention. If only the convention hadn't been there."

‎. . . and then there is a really articulate letter from November 1981 in which Joanna explains her decision to have electroshock therapy.

In May of 1977, Joanna Russ wrote David a note on the occasion of the birth of his son Geoffrey, in which she mentioned that she'd just received a job offer from the University of Washington: $19,000 a year and tenure. She was amazed and relived at getting tenure.

And then one misfiled item (in the Joanna Russ file, that shouldn't be there) from a different writer whose last name begins with R. He proposed to do a guide to X-Rated video tapes. Attached to the letter is a polite rejection from David's associate editor, Ellen Kushner.

Joanna Russ's 2nd draft of an essay on the movie of Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog." She says, "Now sending a woman to see A Boy and His Dog is like sending a Jew to a movie that glorifies Dachau; you need not be a feminist to loathe this film, only female." In handwritten notes toward a subsequent draft, she says, "I find the story very different from the film — no one is totally sympathetic."

Based on my previous status report, Facebook has a new item in the Recommended Pages section:
Dachau concentration camp
126 people like this.
And I am given the opportunity to like Dachau.

Joanna Russ in a really long 1977 letter to David on Tiptree's Up the Walls of the World (which I think he'd sent her for quote) she says, "Also, the two Lesbians are unreal. Oh, Tiptree, Tiptree, must I teach you _everything_? (much fussing and stamping of feet) Well, there's no way she could know."

We are now looking through her plays.

#52 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2011, 12:50 PM:

Laura @47, it's an "I must satisfy this longing or I will die" thing.

#53 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2011, 01:02 PM:

Avram @ 51: Maybe it's (distantly) connected to the Renaissance "death = sex" metaphor?

I've just reserved How to Suppress Women's Writing at my local library; seemed like a good time for it.

#54 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2011, 01:36 PM:

We've been mourning her over here: brilliant writer, amazing thought processes. Picnic on Paradise was one of the first books Soren read to me, and images from it still linger.

Damn, damn, damn.

#55 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2011, 01:53 PM:

Laura #47 et seq.: Possibly their "crime" was failure to seize the moment?

#56 ::: Larkspur ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2011, 09:32 PM:

I treasure my copies of How To Suppress Women's Writing and On Strike Against God. I never met Joanna Russ, but she is irreplaceable and essential and precious. I sure wish I'd had a chance to talk BtVS with her. That would have been a lot of fun.

I know her life was suffused with intractable pain, and that she's free now. I'd do anything to have eased her pain many, many years ago. I'd love to have seen her at a healthy, feisty 100 years old. I won't forget her.

#57 ::: Ericka Barber ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2011, 01:09 AM:

Oh my! What a night! I came to see the comments about bin Laden...only to find Joanna gone. I'm so very grateful to TNH for letting me meet Joanna. I remember feeling that she was much the way I saw Teresa. A very strong outside (I'm not saying this well), but with a very soft and curious inside. It seems strange, but I always felt like I'd see her again. Good night. Sleep well.

#58 ::: frc fv ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2011, 11:41 AM:

Wh ll th mpng? n f th wrst crmnls n th hstr f th wrld gt zppd!

#59 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2011, 11:52 AM:

Yes, we know. We're talking about that over here. On this thread, we are talking about the death of a valued collegaue, mentor, and friend, and when people do that sort of thing they tend to mope. It's called grief; it's a thing real people feel. Deal with it politely, or go away.

#60 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2011, 12:58 PM:

Seriously, force five, what fidelio said. Just because it's the most important thing to you doesn't mean it's the only thing anyone should talk about.

#61 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2011, 01:40 PM:

Note that force five's VAB shows only 2 comments. Unless this is a new e-mail address, it's either a drive-by or someone who seriously does not understand the concept of "online community".

#62 ::: David G. Hartwell ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2011, 02:31 PM:

She was my good friend for four decades and an important person, as well as an important writer, in my life. i miss her. I have gone back to reading my file of correspondence with her, and feel badly that so little of it is recent.

#63 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2011, 03:25 PM:

Disemvoweling needed on aisle 58.

#65 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2011, 09:27 PM:

Kathryn@64: we are the same age, and I too grew up in Seattle (still live there, or rather returned after intervals elsewhere). It would be interesting to swap memories sometime. I regret not having known Joanna Russ. It didn't seem like a possibility to contact her at the time. I do remember getting my mother to read one of her anthologies (Mom was impressed).

#66 ::: Jennifer Stevenson ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2011, 09:02 AM:

When I was geting my pht (putting hubby through) at Yale, I read Russ's MFA thesis play about the death of Alexander the Great. Very weird experience. The Russ knife applied to the death of a great man who was also a bully and gay, and written in a voice compounded of Russ, Heinlein, and Bernard Shaw.

#67 ::: Chris Willrich ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2011, 01:24 PM:

I took two writing classes from her in the late 80s. Today I pulled out some of her handouts. Some striking bits:

In a section on various approaches to point of view, there's an excerpt from _Finnegans Wake._ Her heading is "Stream-of-Consciousness (DON'T.)"

In a section on dialogue, I hand-wrote something she said in passing: "Spock is one of the few characters who just give info." (In the sense of "As you know, Bob.")

In another section on dialogue, she says that legitimate substitutes for "said" are "words which describe the physical act of speaking" -- shouted, screamed, muttered, whispered, growled, hissed, shrieked, yelled, snapped, and murmured. After using all of the above in a sample dialogue, she adds "The above is over-emphatic. In fact, it sounds like feeding time in a bear-pit. A few of these go a very long way."

She gave us a very helpful and practical handout on How To Get Published (dated 1984.) I think some of the information is likely out of date, like specific dollar amounts and the advice "Once you have sold a novel is the time to find an agent." I think people still do it that way, but more often I hear it in the opposite order. She warned us not to ever submit dot-matrix printouts. (Well, I think that's still a good suggestion!)

She hand-drew how a manuscript submission should look. That hasn't changed.

There is blunt advice on money. CAN YOU MAKE A LIVING WRITING? is the section. The first paragraph is, "No."

Later she says,

"Writers usually have a second income. I make about $5,000-$8,000 a year _at most_ after taxes -- not enough to live on, not if "live" means a professional income. Yet some of my books have sold 100,000 copies in paperback."


"Most writers who live off writing live poorly, and write at least a book a year, usually more. That speed is destructive of talent, thought, lying fallow, originality, freshness, everything."

I didn't know her well, but enough to say hello at parties a few times. I remember her being very annoyed at the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Worf has spinal damage, because the writers went for the happy ending. I remember her saying Fritz Leiber was one of the few male writers of his generation who actually seemed to like women.

I remember her suggesting that science fiction writers invent planets that resemble places resonant with their childhoods. In her case, her planets tended to look like parks. What about yours? she asked. I said mine tended to look like shopping malls. I think she was more amused than horrified.

She also said, in so many words, that I was taking myself a bit too seriously. That was excellent advice, once it finally worked in. She also encouraged me to apply to Clarion West.

I liked her a lot. I didn't feel I could impose on her, so I didn't talk much to her beyond the context of class. She made an impression, though, and this news hurts. I'm glad so many people remember her fondly.

#68 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2011, 03:31 PM:

Neil in Chicago @40: Dilettante?

The link is borked, but I presume you mean, "Is this the chocolate shop you're referring to?" That sounds like a reasonable guess.

#69 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 02:24 PM:

Thank you to everyone who's sharing their memories of her. I would like to have known her, other than through her books.

#70 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2011, 01:53 AM:

Joanna Russ saved my life.

Let me refine that: Reading Joanna Russ' work saved my life.

I've missed her voice for years.

#71 ::: grendelkhan ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2011, 04:18 PM:

I am, as in so many instances, too far behind in my reading, and will only be able to become familiar with her works posthumously. (So far, I only knew her as the author of "When it Changed", which I'd read in an anthology somewhere, and as the woman who gently propositioned Tiptree.)

Reading the recollections and anecdotes above, I'm at the same time happy--I have a lot of great reading ahead of me--and sad, in that while I can read the same stories, I won't be reading them in their historical context, and they won't exactly mean to me what they meant to everyone who read them in the 1970s and 80s.

#72 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2011, 04:26 PM:

Grendelkhan: context is a funny thing. I've been reading at Trial Run, an old Dick Francis novel originally published in 1978. It's set in Cold War Moscow.

It's proving to be quite hard to read. I remember that world--I'm in my 50s--but it seems to be a very long time ago and isn't anywhere near as scary now as it would have been then.

otoh, when I've reread other kinds of books--ones where the attitudes of the characters are more important than the style of clothes they wear--it doesn't matter so much that it was published "back then."

A lot of feminist works from the 70s and 80s "work" just fine in the modern world. There are so many ways in which we haven't come all that far. I don't think I feel this way just because I originally read those books and stories when they were first published; I think many of them honestly continue to speak truth to power, as it were.

#73 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2011, 02:43 AM:

I hadn't thought I had anything of weight to add, apart from an ache where Joanna Russ ought to be in my mental landscape of the living. And, then I remembered something else she wrote, which I don't think has yet been mentioned. "My Boat" is one of my favorite -- top five, probably top three, possibly just plain top -- Cthulhu Mythos stories not written by Lovecraft. It doesn't deal with Outer Gods or Eldritch Slithery Things. It's just a quiet little story drawing on the Dreamlands material. If I could get it down to eight minutes reading time, I could tell it in story circles. Hm...

#74 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2011, 10:57 AM:

I think that this remarkable sentence from the NYT Obit needs to separated out, highlighted and polished for all to admire:

"The science fiction writer has the privilege of remaking the world. Because of this, the genre, especially in the hands of disenfranchised writers, has become a powerful vehicle for political commentary."

#75 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 12:35 PM:

I'm 50 pages or so into Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'Herland' and struck by the extent to which Joanna Russ's 'When It Changed' could be seen as a commentary on it (I think it was probably the discussion of parthenogenesis in CPG that started to ring bells.) 1

From the impression that I've got from what I've read here, it seems unlikely that that could be an accident; but does anyone know whether JR had read 'Herland'?

1. Having left this in preview while I took my son into town for his Special Ed. lessons, I've now read the next 50 pages of 'Herland' in the light of the hypothesis that 'When It Changed' is a commentary on it; and I've decided a) that it almost certainly is and b) it's a really interesting one. 2 But I'd still like to know for sure.

2. If I'm wrong I shall just have to settle for a Persse McGarrigle-like thesis about the influence of Russ on Gilman.

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