Tanith Lee and Pamela Sargent

Check out this post with Becca Anderson author of The Book of Awesome Women Writers

The legendary Tanith Lee was the first woman ever to win a British Fantasy Derleth Award, for 1980’s Death’s Master, which tells the tale of Narasen, “the leopard queen of Merh.” She was also the winner of multiple World Fantasy Awards, as well as a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award and the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Horror. Her style is rich and poetic even in prose, and her work often features creative reinterpretations of such fantastical material as myths, fairytales, and vampire stories, as well as feminist themes and plots exploring alternative sexuality.

She was born in London in 1947 to two professional dancers. Because of her parents’ work, they moved frequently. Due to undiagnosed mild dyslexia, young Tanith was not functionally literate until she was about eight, when her father personally taught her to read in about a month; after that, she lost no time before starting to write at age nine. Though not well-to-do, the family maintained a large paperback collection, and she read and discussed classic works such as Dracula and Hamlet with her parents as well as taking in a great deal of current fantasy fiction. After high school, she spent a year at art school before realizing she would rather express herself through words than pictures. She worked as an assistant librarian and clerk and waited tables before trying her hand at writing professionally. In 1968, she made her first professional sale: a ninety-word vignette. She continued to work at day jobs while mostly collecting rejection slips for several years. But she went on to publish more than three hundred short stories and ninety novels, beginning with The Dragon’s Hoard (1971), a comic fantasy novel for children.

When The Birthgrave, an adult fantasy epic, was rejected by UK publishers in the mid-1970s, Lee sent it across the pond; with its mass-market publication by Daw Books, she was able to transition to full-time writing. She was prolific, producing F/SF novels for both adult and young adult readers, as well as horror, crime and spy fiction, historical fiction, and even erotica. Under the pseudonym Esther Garber, she created lesbian fiction as well. She was also a screenwriter for television and wrote four radio plays for the BBC. Throughout, her writing tended to capture the Goth sensibility of the pursuit of sensuality and freedom to the very edge.

She met writer and artist John Kaiine in 1987, and despite differences (he was nearly two decades younger and sixteen inches taller), the two of them hit it off in short order. In 1992, they married, and they continued on happily in the south of England until she passed away in his arms in 2015 after battling with cancer. She continued to write until her death, and the pair collaborated on many works, including The Blood of Roses (1990). Kaiine also created cover art for several of her books.

Due to shifts in the publishing industry, her works had a much harder time finding publishers in the 1990s, partly because they defied strict categorization. She shifted to smaller publishers and tried changing genres, and her works continued to garner positive attention from critics, but even so, the business end of publication was difficult for her until the rise of the small press movement and direct sales via the internet. Daw later undertook a reissue of twenty-two of her books. Perhaps Lee described herself best in a 1998 interview with Locus Magazine. “Writers tell stories better, because they’ve had more practice, but everyone has a book in them—yes, that old cliché. If you gave the most interesting life to a great writer, they could turn it into something wonderful. But all lives are important, all people are important, because everyone is a book. Some people just have easier access to it. We need the expressive arts, the ancient scribes, the storytellers, the priests; and that’s where I put myself: as a storyteller; not necessarily a high priestess, but certainly the storyteller.”

To wake, and not to know where, or even who you are, not even to know what you are—whether a thing with legs and arms, or a brain in the hull of a great fish—that is a strange awakening. But after awhile, uncurling in the darkness, I began to uncover myself, and I was a woman.

Tanith Lee, from The Birthgrave (1975)

Pamela Sargent is not only a science fiction author who has won both the Nebula and Locus Awards, she is the noted anthology editor who brought us the Women of Wonder series; starting back in 1976, she edited several volumes of science fiction and fantasy stories that were both written by women and featured women as central characters. These were the first collections ever of women writing in these genres—especially fitting considering that the very first science fiction novel, Frankenstein, was written by a woman, as is related elsewhere in this book. (See the section on Mary Shelley in Chapter Two for the particulars.)

1976 was a super busy year for this feminist dynamo; besides publishing her first novel, Cloned Lives, that same year, she also coauthored Firebrands: The Heroines of Science Fiction & Fantasy, an illustrated nonfiction exploration of female characters in the field, and edited an anthology of tales involving biological metamorphosis, Bio-Futures. Pamela Sargent sold her first short story while a college senior studying philosophy and ancient history at SUNY Binghamton before going on to earn a master’s degree in philosophy.

She is the author of three trilogies—Earthseed, Venus, and Watchstar—and eight other novels, as well as coauthoring four Star Trek novelizations. In 2012, the Science Fiction Research Association honored Sargent with the Pilgrim Award for lifetime contribution to scholarship in science fiction and fantasy. Earthseed, the first book in the eponymous trilogy, is in development for film adaptation by Paramount Pictures, with scriptwriter Melissa Rosenberg of the Twilight series engaged as writer and producer. Pamela Sargent’s most recent novel is 2015’s Season of the Cats.

The Book of awesome women writers

Medieval Mystics, Pioneering Poets, Fierce Feminists and First Ladies of Literature (Feminist Book, Gift for Women, Gift for Writers)

This one-of-a-kind tome takes a tour with Sylvia Beach and other booksellers as well as librarians, editors, writers, bibliophiles, and celebrated book clubs. Join women’s studies scholar Anders as she takes you on a ribald ride through the pages of history. Chapter titles include “Prolific Pens” (including Joyce Carol Oates, author of over 100 books), “Mystics, Memoirists and Madwomen”, “Salons and Neosalons”, “Ink in Their Veins” (literary dynasties), and the titillating “Banned, Blacklisted, and Arrested.”

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