Obituary and fact sheet: Jo Clayton
February 17, 1998
From: James W. Fiscus
Chairman, Oregon SF Emergency Fund Board of Trustees.
(503) 239-7641 Email:

Science fiction and fantasy writer Jo Clayton died Friday, February 13, 1998, in Good Samaritan Hospital, Portland, Oregon, two days short of her 59th birthday. Clayton was hospitalized in July, 1996, because of the multiple myeloma that eventually killed her. Her fight against the cancer of the bone marrow (plasma cells), mobilized the science fiction community and led to a national fund raising campaign to help her deal with the financial burden of her illness.

Jo Clayton was the author of 35 published novels and many short stories. She wrote in both the fantasy and the SF genres. Her best known SF work was the "The Diadem" series (1977), in which the Diadem is an artifact that becomes part of a person's mind. Jo Clayton's writing was marked by complex, beautifully realized societies set in exotic worlds, lyrical prose, and compelling heroines.

Not counting sales of her last series, Drums of Chaos (Tor Books) Clayton's works sold over 1,250,000 copies. Drum Warning was published as a hardcover by Tor in June 1996. The second book in the trilogy, Drum Calls, was published in 1997. Other books by Clayton include: A Bait of Dreams, Wild Magic, Shadith's Quest trilogy, the Duel of Sorcery trilogy, the Soul Drinker trilogy, and the Skeen trilogy. Also popular was Shadow of the Warmaster (science fiction). Her stories have appeared in over 12 anthologies. She has a story in the recently-published anthology, Olympus.

While in the hospital, Clayton was able to finish Drum Calls, write a number of short stories, and complete approximately half of the third volume in the Drums trilogy, titled Drums of Chaos. San Francisco writer Katharine Kerr, who collaborated with Clayton on a number of writing and editing projects, is Clayton's literary executor. Kerr is expected to either finish the third book herself or select a writer will complete it. Drums of Chaos will be published next year by Tor Books, according to Clayton's agent, Elizabeth Pomada. Pomada, of the Larsen/Pomada agency of San Francisco, is agent for the Clayton estate.

Patricia Jo Clayton was born February 15, 1939, in Modesto, California to a homesteading farm family. Jo, and her two sisters, would tell each other stories into the night, her sister, Penn, reports. Jo's stories always had an element of fantasy or science fiction in them, she remembers. Clayton attended the University of California, Berkeley, and graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Southern California, with a degree in English. In the early 1960s, she taught in Bell, California, an industrial, working-class city located in the greater Los Angeles basin.

Later in the 1960s, Clayton joined the Catholic Church, becoming a novice in a teaching order of nuns. At the request of the order, she moved to New Orleans, where she taught junior high school. She apparently began writing heavily while in New Orleans, and supplemented her income as a novice by working as an artist at Jackson Square, painting pictures of children's pets. She moved to Portland, Oregon, in the mid-1980s.

Clayton was disabled by her illness in the summer of 1996, and at the time was saved from immediate death because of the science fiction community on Genie, a nationwide computer bulletin board. Some days before she entered the hospital, Clayton reported in an on-line message that she had fallen. Los Angeles writer Deborah Wheeler and San Francisco writer Katharine Kerr, realized that Clayton had not posted for several days. Their alert triggered a rescue operation by Portland writer Mary Rosenblum, and one of Clayton's local fans, Javanne Kramer. That effort led to Clayton's hospitalization, and the diagnosis of multiple myeloma. Throughout the 18 months of her illness, Clayton was helped by a dedicated group of Portland-area writers and science fiction fans including Kramer, Sarah Perraule, and Page Fuller, with the effort led by Mark and Elizabeth Bourne. Clayton died in her hospital room, with her sister Penn, brother-in-law Don Brumm, and Elizabeth Bourne, Sarah Perrault, and Javanne Kramer beside her.

Following Clayton's hospitalization, a national campaign raised over $22,000. The effort led to creation of the Oregon SF Emergency Fund under the sponsorship of Oregon Science Fiction Conventions, Inc. (OSFCI.) Most of Clayton's direct medical bills were covered by the Oregon Health Plan, while the fund paid for living and other expenses not covered by the state's Medicaid program. Fund administrators estimate that approximately $8,000 will remain after outstanding bills are paid. They have announced that the fund will be renamed in Clayton's honor, and that it will be available to help other science fiction and fantasy writers from the Pacific Northwest. Administrators also plan an educational program to help writers avoid the delay in obtaining medical care that was imposed on Clayton by her lack of health insurance.

Jo Clayton is survived by her mother, Bessie Clayton and sister, Penn Brumm, both of the San Jose, California area, and a second sister, Pamela Larsen, of Mira Loma, California.

Full name: Patricia Jo Clayton
Born: February 15, 1939, Modesto, California.
University: Graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Southern California in the early 1960s. Exact date not known.
Died: Portland, Oregon, February 13, 1998.

Additional Contacts:

Oregon SF Emergency Fund
P.O. Box 5703
Portland, Oregon 97228

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