Logo from Tiptree.org
A few days ago on File 770, Chris M. Barkley wrote a guest piece called “Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #44”. In it, he presented his wrap up of the whole award name/honors messiness involving mystery writer Linda Fairstein, John W. Campbell, Jr., James Tiptree, Jr/Alice Sheldon, and yes, even the “sainted” Hugo Gernsback (the Hugos will be named after him forever, regardless of his reputation in life…go figure).
You can click the link I provided above to read Barkley’s well considered commentary, but toward the end of his lengthy missive, he said:
Logo from Tiptree.org
This morning, I read the File 770 article Tiptree Award Motherboard Decides to Keep Name and followed the link to their source material Alice Sheldon and the name of the Tiptree Award, written by Alexis Lothian at Tiptree.org.
I’m glad Sheldon’s pseudonym will remain on the award. Look, I know from one perspective, what she did was horrible, but let’s view her situation through the lens of compassion. Click on both links and read the whole story. If any of us were faced with her situation, it would be nightmarish, and who knows how we’d react.
Cover image from “Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home”
I read Alice Sheldon’s (pen name James Tiptree Jr) anthology of short stories Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home decades ago when I was a kid (all right, a young man) and recall thoroughly enjoying it. I’ve probably heard of the award named after her, but didn’t pay much attention until reading Mike Glyer’s pixel scroll this morning.
In this case, the award name may be changed due to a personal tragedy in Sheldon’s life. From Wikipedia:
Sheldon continued writing under the Tiptree pen name for another decade. The last years of her life were not happy ones, as her husband was a nearly blind invalid incapable of caring for himself, and she herself was suffering health issues caused by a lifetime of smoking. In 1976, then 60-year-old Sheldon wrote to a friend expressing her desire to end her own life while she was still able-bodied and active, but she was reluctant to act upon this intention, as Huntington would have no one to care for him, and she could not bring herself to kill him.
Eleven years later, on May 19, 1987, Sheldon finally carried through her plan—by shooting her husband in his sleep, followed by herself; she had telephoned her attorney after the first shooting to announce her actions. They were found dead, hand-in-hand in bed, in their Virginia home. According to biographer Julie Phillips, the suicide note Sheldon left was written years earlier and saved until needed. In an interview with Charles Platt in 1980, Sheldon spoke of her emotional problems and of her previous suicide attempts over the preceding 20 years.
The James Tiptree Jr. Award is given in her honor each year for a work of science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender. The award-winning science fiction authors Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy created the award in February 1991. Novels such as Half Life by Shelley Jackson and Light by M. John Harrison have received the award.
At least one person commenting on File 770 had compassion, but who knows how many other people judge without understanding what Sheldon may have been going through (I still read 770 but choose not to comment there because of how I was recently treated by some of its other readers).