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Joanna Russ (February 22, 1937 – April 29, 2011)

Joanna Russ (February 22, 1937 – April 29, 2011) was an American writer, academic and feminist. She is the author of a number of works of science fiction, fantasy and feminist literary criticism such as How to Suppress Women's Writing, as well as a contemporary novel, On Strike Against God, and one children's book, Kittatinny. She is best known for The Female Man, a novel combining utopian fiction and satire.

Joanna Russ was born in The Bronx, New York City to Evarett I. and Bertha (née Zinner) Russ, both teachers. She began creating works of fiction at a very early age. Over the following years she filled countless notebooks with stories, poems, comics and illustrations, often hand-binding the material with thread.

Russ graduated from Cornell University, where she studied with Vladimir Nabokov in 1957, and received her MFA from the Yale Drama School in 1960. After teaching at several universities, including Cornell, she became a full professor at the University of Washington.

Russ came to be noticed in the science fiction world in the late 1960s, in particular for her award-nominated novel Picnic on Paradise. At the time, SF was a field dominated by male authors, writing for a predominantly male audience, but women were starting to enter the field in larger numbers. Russ, an out lesbian, was one of the most outspoken authors to challenge male dominance of the field, and is generally regarded as one of the leading feminist science fiction scholars and writers. She was also one of the first major science fiction writers to take slash fiction and its cultural and literary implications seriously. Over the course of her life, she published over fifty short stories.

Along with her work as a writer of prose fiction, Russ was also a playwright, essayist, and author of nonfiction works, generally literary criticism and feminist theory, including the essay collection Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans & Perverts; How to Suppress Women's Writing; and the book-length study of modern feminism, What Are We Fighting For?. Her essays and articles have been published in Women's Studies Quarterly, Signs, Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Science Fiction Studies, and College English. Russ was a self-described socialist feminist, expressing particular admiration for the work and theories of Clara Fraser and her Freedom Socialist Party. Both fiction and nonfiction, for Russ, were modes of engaging theory with the real world; in particular, The Female Man can be read as a theoretical or narrative text.

Russ's writing is characterized by anger interspersed with humor and irony. James Tiptree Jr, in a letter to her, wrote, "Do you imagine that anyone with half a functional neuron can read your work and not have his fingers smoked by the bitter, multi-layered anger in it? It smells and smoulders like a volcano buried so long and deadly it is just beginning to wonder if it can explode." In a letter to Susan Koppelman, Russ asks of a young feminist critic "where is her anger?" and adds "I think from now on, I will not trust anyone who isn't angry."

For nearly 15 years she was an influential (if intermittent) review columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Though by then she was no longer an active member of science fiction fandom, she was interviewed by phone during Wiscon (the feminist science fiction convention in Madison, Wisconsin) in 2006 by her friend and member of the same cohort, Samuel R. Delany.

Russ won a 1972 Nebula Award for her short story "When It Changed" and a 1983 Hugo Award for her novella "Souls." Her fiction has been nominated for nine Nebula and three Hugo Awards, and her genre-related scholarly work was recognized with a Pilgrim Award in 1988. Her story "The Autobiography of My Mother" was one of the 1977 O. Henry Prize stories.

Her work is widely taught in courses on science fiction and feminism throughout the English speaking world. Russ is the subject of Farah Mendlesohn's book On Joanna Russ and Jeanne Cortiel's Demand My Writing: Joanna Russ, Feminism, Science Fiction. Russ and her work are prominently featured in Sarah LeFanu's Chinks in the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction (1988).

In her later life she published little, largely due to chronic back pain and chronic fatigue syndrome.

On April 27, 2011, it was reported that Russ had been admitted to a hospice after suffering a series of strokes. Samuel R. Delany was quoted as saying that Russ was “slipping away” and had long had a “Do Not Resuscitate” order on file. She died early in the morning on April 29, 2011.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joanna_Russ


Joanna Russ, 1998, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1125704)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/giard.html)


Further Readings:

To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction by Joanna Russ
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: Indiana University Press (June 22, 1995)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0253209838
ISBN-13: 978-0253209832
Amazon: To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction

"To Write Like a Woman is a rare example of a feminist tackling science fictuion using postmodern theory, which makes for a much more sophisticated and nuanced appraisal than the usual fare." —Passion

"Russ' essays are witty and insightful. An excellent book for any writer or reader." —Feminist Bookstore News

"In her new book of essays... Russ continues to debunk and demand, edify and entertain.... Appreciative of surface aesthetics, she continually delves deeper than most critics, yet in terms so simple and accessible that her essays read like lively, angry, humorous dialogues conducted face-to-face with the author. Russ is the antithesis of the distant critic in her ivory tower." —Paul Di Filippo, The Washington Post Book World

"... 20 years of the author's feisty reports from the front lines of literature." —The San Francisco Review of Books

"This is a book of imaginative and provoking essays, but you should read it for the sheer fun of it." —The Women's Review of Books

"Collects more than two decades of criticism by Joanna Russ, one of the most perceptive, forthright and eloquent feminist commentators around." —Feminist Bookstore News

"... a super book....This is a book that, for once, really will appeal to readers of all kinds." —Utopian Studies

"If you enjoy science fiction, this is definitely a book that you'll want to talk about. I found myself sneaking a few pages at times when I really didn't have time to read." —Jan Catano, Atlantis

Classic essays on science fiction and feminism by Nebula and Hugo award-winning Joanna Russ. Here she ranges from a consideration of the aesthetic of science fiction to a reading of the lesbian identity of Willa Cather. To Write Like a Woman includes essays on horror stories and the supernatural, feminist utopias, popular literature for women (the "modern gothic"), and the feminist education of graduate students in English.

Demand My Writing: Joanna Russ, Feminism, Science Fiction (Liverpool University Press - Liverpool Science Fiction Texts & Studies) by Jeanne Cortiel
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Liverpool University Press (July 1, 1999)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0853236240
ISBN-13: 978-0853236245
Amazon: Demand My Writing: Joanna Russ, Feminism, Science Fiction

In this major study of the work of Joanna Russ, Jeanne Cortiel gives a clear introduction to the major feminist issues relevant to Russ’s work and assesses its development. The book will be especially valuable for students of SF and feminist SF, especially in its concern with the function of woman-based intertextuality. Although Cortiel deals principally with Russ’s novels, she also examines her short stories, and the focus on critically neglected texts is a particularly valuable feature of the study.

"I recommend this book to any reader interested in Russ’s fiction, or in women’s science fiction generally."—Science Fiction Studies

In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction by Sarah Lefanu
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: The Women's Press Ltd (May 1988)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0704340925
ISBN-13: 978-0704340923
Amazon: In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism and Science Fiction

More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices


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