RIP Joanna Russ

Multiple sources are reporting that Joanna Russ has died following a series of strokes. She was 74.

I don’t even know how to talk about her: her influence on writing, on writers, on the direction of the genre, on generations of readers, and especially on other women in all areas of the field. She was tremendous. I read The Female Man when I was in college, and was awed. I read “When It Changed” some time later, I think when it was first reprinted on SciFi.com (for which I am very grateful to Ellen Datlow, the site’s fiction editor, who ran a phenomenal series of reprints there), and I read it again today when Graham Sleight posted a link to it. It is just as powerful as I remember. Do yourself a favor and read or reread it now; it isn’t long, and is well worth the little time and effort it requires. I always expect it to end differently, or maybe I want it to end differently: the simple ending, the brute force ending. But that wasn’t Russ’s way; she always went for the complex ending, the realistic ending, the ending that is not really an ending because human stories don’t end in that neat and tidy way.

Her story also has not ended, as long as we remember her–which I hope will be for a very, very long time.

10 thoughts on “RIP Joanna Russ

  1. John Stevens

    Very sad to hear. I read THE FEMALE MAN in high school and it shattered a lot of my sad little assumptions about gender and the human condition. Very sad that I never go to meet her and thank her for helping me develop some critical faculties about writing.

  2. C W Johnson

    I was lucky enough to take writing classes from Joanna Russ in the late 1980′s at the University of Washington. In addition to her classic writings, she was an excellent teacher. Goodbye, Ms. Russ.

  3. Chaz Brenchley

    Oh, hell – is she gone now? I am going to miss her … profoundly. Unmentionably. Ongoingly. Friend and mentor and what more: artist and creator and writer. That above all, that she wrote and I read and that was actually enough.

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  7. tone blevins

    there is hardly any writer who has had such a profound influence on many writers, myself included, than Johanna Russ. Not only was the work radical in its content; but her writing itself was revolutionary. Not since then has anyone tried to expand the limits of any writing genre. There was no safety in her work. And for that, we can only be truly grateful…RIP

  8. J. Sarayda Shapiro

    I am very sad to hear of the passing of Joanna Russ. ” When I was quite young, I read “When It Changed,” and it had a profound impact on my thinking. Like John Stevens, who posted above, I wish I had had the chance to meet her and thank her personally.

  9. Mike Emery

    Joanna Russ was and will continue to be major with me. I read “When It Changed” in 1972, when it was first published in Harlan Ellison’s anthology, AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS (Doubleday), which I got through the Science Fiction Book Club. I was 16 when I read it. It won a Nebula Award the next year, by vote of the Science Fiction Writers of America. THE FEMALE MAN, published as a “Frederik Pohl Selection” by Bantam Books in 1975, blew my mind. It is her best novel and continues to have an impact. I visited a university Russ was teaching at to interview for a graduate program (which I didn’t get into). Although she was known as a progressive, and had repudiated much of the pulp past of science fiction in her “new wave” work, I was amused that she had a large poster of an early cover of AMAZING STORIES on her door when I found her office. I am currently writing a book about science fiction from 1965 to 1975, and Russ largely determined the last year I set for this project.

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