Friday, March 23, 2018

James Tiptree, Jr – An Eclectic Writer

By Ruth de Jauregui

James Tiptree, Jr was a wildly talented writer who explored themes of both hard and soft science fiction. Free will, biological determination, sex, desire, aliens (and alien sex) and feminism were among the themes Tiptree explored in short stories. 

The James Tiptree, Jr Award was first awarded in 1991, after a discussion at WisCon. Science fiction authors Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler began the annual literary prize. The "Tiptree Motherboard" selects science fiction works that explore or expand the concept and understanding of gender.

Tiptree burst onto the science fiction scene with the March 1968 publication of "Birth of a Salesman" in Analog Science Fact & Fiction, which was edited by John W. Campbell. Several more short stories appeared that year in If and Fantastic

It wasn't until 1976 that Tiptree's true identity was revealed. Tiptree corresponded with other writers and fans, using a PO Box. There was never any direct contact. When Tiptree revealed that "his" mother, also a writer, had died in Chicago, Mary Hastings Bradley's obituary gave the details that friends and fans had speculated on for years. 

The revelation that James Tiptree, Jr was really Alice Bradley Sheldon was a bit embarrassing to other well-known authors who had asserted that she was a man. Robert Silverberg wrote the introduction to Tiptree's collection of short stories, Warm Worlds and Otherwise, and said, "It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing."

Sheldon wrote to her friend Ursula K Le Guin after her true identity was revealed,“I never wrote you anything but the exact truth, there was no calculation or intent to deceive, other than the signature which over 8 years became just another nickname; everything else is just plain me. The thing is, I am a 61-year-old woman named Alice Sheldon — nickname Alli – solitary by nature but married for 37 years to a very nice man considerably older, who doesn’t read my stuff but is glad I like writing."

She continued publishing short stories and her only two novels, Up the Walls of the World (1978) and Brightness Falls from the Air (1985), under the Tiptree name. She also used several other pen names from 1946 through the 70s, including Racoona Sheldon, Major Alice Davey, Alice Hastings Bradley and Alli. 

Her personal life reads like a novel, with a childhood that included trips to central Africa, finishing school in Switzerland, a short lived career as an art critic for the Chicago Sun, marriage and divorce, followed by four years in the Army, from 1942 to 1946. She married her second husband in 1945, and they both worked for the CIA beginning in 1952. She resigned in 1955 and returned to college for her BA and a doctorate. 

Sadly, she also battled depression and health issues and there were several suicide attempts In 1987, she followed through on she and her husband's suicide pact; he had been blind and unable to care for himself for more than 11 years. They were found hand-in-hand, together. 

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