In Memoriam: Joanna Russ (1937-2011)

Joanna Russ (b.1937) died on April 29, 2011, two days after entering hospice.  Russ was admitted to hospice following a series of strokes. Russ received a BA from Cornell in 1957 where she studied under Vladimir Nabokov.  She began publishing science fiction in 1959 with the short story “Nor Custom Stale.”  In 1960, she earned an MFA from Yale University and began teaching at various colleges and university in New York before moving to Boulder, Colorado and, eventually, Seattle, where she was a professor at University of Washington from 1984 until her retirement in 1994. She published her first novel, Picnic on Paradise, part of her series of Alyx stories, in 1968 and followed up with several more novels. 1975 saw the publication of her ground-breaking feminist novel The Female Man, which was awarded a retro-Tiptree and inducted into the Gaylactic Spectrum Hall of Fame. Around the time of its publication, Russ began to come out to as a lesbian. In addition to writing science fiction and horror, Russ also wrote several non-fiction works, including How to Suppress Women’s Writing and What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism.  In the 60s and 70s, Russ reviewed books for The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy and received a Pilgrim Award for her criticism in 1988. Her fiction won two retro-Tiptree Awards, a Hugo Award for “Souls,” and a Nebula Award for “When It Changed.” Her “The Autobiography of My Mother” was one of the 1977 O. Henry Prize stories.

In addition to being a feminist and writing both fiction and non-fiction that included that point of view, Russ was part of the New Wave and experimented with her writing style. Her novel And Chaos Died attempted to portray telepathy as directly as possible. Russ was the subject of Jeanne Cortiel’s 1999 Demand My Writing: Joanna Russ/Feminism/Science Fiction and Farah Mendlesohn’s 2009 On Joanna Russ.