In Memoriam – Rachel Pollack

Rachel Pollack (17 August 1945 – 7 April 2023) was a prolific and groundbreaking comics and science fiction writer and world-renowned expert on the Tarot. She was known for a writing style that blended speculative fiction and spirituality, and her wide-ranging body of work included the revered tarot resource 78 Degrees Of Wisdom, the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novel Unquenchable Fire, and the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Godmother Night. In the mid-nineties, she worked for Vertigo, the mature imprint of DC Comics, writing the monthly comic Doom Patrol in a run that was recently collected as a trade paperback. Pollack recognized the opportunities enabled by this team of normal people whose acquired superpowers had turned them into societal outsiders. She used the comic to discuss topics such as menstruation and gender identity, introducing the highly metaphorical “bandage people” and creating DC’s first transgender superhero. Coagula was a powerful and complicated character who famously mused about being herself while casually wearing a button that said “Put a Transsexual Lesbian on the Supreme Court.” 

Pollack was born in Brooklyn, New York City, and continued to live and work in the region, settling in the Hudson Valley with her wife, Zoe, and writing prolifically while teaching at the State University of New York, the Omega Institute, and Goddard College. She was known to be warm, effortlessly erudite, wryly witty and extremely generous with her time, often helping students after their courses had concluded and continuing to correspond with them. 

Charlie Jane Anders, Marvel’s Voices and New Mutants author, said, “Rachel Pollack’s imagination was huge and ferocious. She created worlds that were breathtakingly strange and full of mysterious signifiers, and I have loved getting lost in them. As a trans creator, she was a vitally important pioneer in both comics and prose, and all of us who are writing today owe her a huge debt. I’m sad I never got to meet her, but I’m glad I got to tell her many times how much her work meant to me. We’re all going to celebrate her forever.”

Author Neil Gaiman, who often consulted Pollack for her expertise, said “Rachel had one of the sharpest minds I’ve encountered, had a glorious sense of humor, and was kind to people. She was also an astonishingly good writer, and created her own genre, a sort of Upstate NY magic realism. You could call it the Poughkeepsie School, but Rachel was the only person there.”

Former DC Comics editor and author Alisa Kwitney, who was in a writing group with Rachel, said “Rachel was a scholar, and a shaman, and a guide, all leavened with sly humor and spiced with absurdist glee.” She kept that spark of joy and humor until the very end.  

“To learn to play seriously,” Pollack said in The Forest of Souls: A Walk Through the Tarot, “is one of the great secrets of spiritual exploration.”  

Rachel Pollack lived 77 years.