Day 27 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project.
Reprinting below an earlier comment in this blog, and Doug's follow-up comments regarding pen names:
Douglas Robillard said...
"I just reread Julie Phillips' intriguing biography, JAMES TIPTREE, JR.: THE DOUBLE LIFE OF ALICE B. SHELDON. Under the Tiptree pen-name Sheldon wrote some brilliant, award-winning science fiction with a feminist slant. (See "Houston, Houston Do You Read," "The Women Men Don't See"; under the pseudonym Raccoon Sheldon, she published the absolutely horrifying short story "The Screwfly Solution"; and other noteworthy stories--one of my favorite SF authors). She maintained the pretense of being male until 1976 when she was "unmasked." Her insistence on a male identity created some awkward and poignant situations in her correspondence with Ursula K. LeGuin and Joanna Russ on feminist issues.
"Sheldon had an amazing career before turning to writing. She served in the military during WWII; interrogated Nazi scientists after the war; and worked in the nascent CIA in the 1950s. In the 60s, she completed a Ph.D. in experimental psychology (see her story "The Psychologist Who Wouldn't Do Awful Things to Rats") and, almost incidentally, started writing SF when heart problems forced her to abandon her academic career. There is also a dark side to her story: she and her aged husband had a suicide pact, which she carried out when life became unendurable.
"Most of her work, alas, appears to be out of print, though her best stories continue to be reprinted in SF anthologies.The connection between an author's name and writing identity is fascinating, don't you think? The Tiptree nom de plume apparently gave Sheldon license to speak with what she perceived as male authority.
"On the subject of women's bylines: Consider how Mary F. O'Connor dropped her first name and used her middle name to become Flannery O'Connor. Or how another Georgian, Lula Carson Smith McCullers, combined her middle name and married name to arrive at Carson McCullers. While not strictly 'male,' the names Flannery and Carson are sufficiently ambiguous."
Thanks to Doug for discussing two fascinating topics here--the science fiction writer herself and the choice of some women to use "male" pen names. There are many examples of this, and I know women writing today who prefer to use their initials rather than announce themselves with a female-sounding first name, saying that it's because they want to be taken seriously. So the fear of being dismissed simply because one is a woman still exists.
I don't think the problems are all solved yet, but it seems to me that anyone with a voice has a place to sing these days, and I am glad of it.
Yesterday afternoon a man came into the store looking for particular science fiction authors. He writes science fiction, general fiction, and poetry under three different names, and only the poetry under his own given name.