Joanna Russ “I’m Not a Girl. I’m a Genius.”

Becca Anderson (author of The Book of Awesome Women) looks to Joanna Russ and the need for more women in science fiction.

Joanna Russ was a speculative fiction novelist, reviewer, essayist, and creator of many short stories and nonfiction best known for her landmark feminist science fiction novels The Female Man (1975) and We Who Are About To (1977). She was born to two school teachers in the Bronx in 1937 and began writing and illustrating her own works of fiction at an early age. She also evinced talent in the sciences, winning a Westinghouse science prize as a high school senior in 1953 for a biology project on the growth of fungi, but later focused on literature at Cornell, where she studied with noted author Vladimir Nabokov. She graduated with a BA in 1957 and went on to Yale Drama School, where she obtained an MFA in playwriting in 1960. She taught at a number of universities including Cornell before teaching at the University of Washington, where she eventually became a full professor.

She had started reading science fiction as a teenager because she was attracted to stories of worlds “where things could be different”; in 1959, she sold her first SF story to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, where she continued as a reviewer off and on for two decades. She was briefly married to a journalist
in the mid-sixties but divorced after four years. Her first novel, 1968’s Hugo- nominated Picnic on Paradise, was the first in a series depicting Alyx, a female mercenary who became an exemplar for later strong female SF protagonists; it was also some of the earliest time-travel fiction written by a female author. Russ became a leading voice in the New Wave of American science fiction, integrating the political movements of the time into her writing, particularly feminism; her writing is flavored with anger intermixed with humor and irony. Her novel And Chaos Died (1970) experimented with portraying telepathy, and she also wrote The Female Man in 1970, though it did not see print until 1975, around the time that she began to come out as a lesbian. In 1973, she won a Nebula Award for her short story “When It Changed”; her story “Souls” won both the Hugo and Locus Awards ten years later.

Concurrently, she produced influential literary criticism expressing her political insights, including 1983’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing; 1985’s Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans & PervertsTo Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction (1995); and her 1998 book What Are We Fighting For? Sex, Race, Class, and the Future of Feminism. She received retrospective Tiptree Awards in 1995 for “When It Changed” and The Female Man (1975) for exploring sex and gender in speculative fiction. In the mid- 1990s, she retired from teaching at the University of Washington due to worsening health, and in 2011, she died in Tucson after a series of strokes. Following her death, Russ was named a Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master and inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. The University of Oregon maintains an archive of her papers.

There are plenty of images of women in science fiction. There are hardly any women.

Joanna Russ

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women Writers by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

The Book of Awesome Women

Boundary Breakers, Freedom Fighters, Sheroes & Female Firsts

Super women as female role models. From the foremothers who blazed trails and broke barriers, to today’s women warriors from sports, science, cyberspace, city hall, the lecture hall, and the silver screen, The Book of Awesome Women paints 200 portraits of powerful and inspiring role models for women and girls poised to become super women of the future. Discover some of the most awesome women known to history while celebrating the greatness of females all over!

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