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Joanna Russ was awarded a posthumous Solstice Award at the 2015 Nebula Awards, which serves as a kind of Not Quite Grand Master Award to professionals who've had a great influence on the field. There was another one awarded to former Analog editor Stanley Schmidt too, but since he's alive to receive his, he got to speak for himself. Joanna's, on the other hand, consisted of a memorial letter written by editor David Hartwell, read by author Mary Anne Mohanraj. My objections are entirely about the content of that letter, for the record. We got about a minute and half of "Yep, she was a genius. Brilliant." Followed by several minutes of the great tragedy of her final years, illness, electroshock, loss of self, loss of genius, etc. With a sidebar anecdote assuring us that even though she was a super-angry lady (I'm not sure the word "lesbian" was uttered; if it was, I don't remember it), she didn't hate the menz.

At this point, I spotted erstwhile Tor editor and serial sexual harasser Jim Frenkel at the back of the room and thought Really? I'd love to have seen the list of exceptions to that.


My thoughts then and now pretty much boil down to: Fuck that Noise. Seriously? This is one of the finest minds in the genre, incredibly groundbreaking for her time, a woman who paved the road for many of us who came after her, a brilliant critic and we get sad, sad, sad, but no worries, she liked guys too. Not one word about her works being largely out of print. Not one word about what they were or how we could bring them back or how to honor her legacy. Not. One.

One of the books that Russ wrote (when not busy being sad and sick) was a book called How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983). In it, she catalogs many of the ways that women's voices are silenced, their writings and opinions devalued and forgotten. She talks about the barriers we face, the cultural obstacles consistently placed in front of women as writers and artists to prevent them from being read and remembered: She didn't really write it. She wrote it, but she's an anomaly. She wrote it, but she only wrote one of them. It is still horribly, horribly accurate today, 32 years later. When I think about that, I feel sick and sad.

Which is why I then turn to her writings (I shall always love the Alyx stories, among others) and to writings that truly celebrate her brilliance. For instance, Annalee Newitz wrote this excellent piece for I09 on Russ:
How to Remember and Discover Joanna Russ. Brit Mandelo's essay We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-Telling and Farah Mendlesohn's nonfiction anthology On Joanna Russ talk about her work in detail, what it meant and what its impact was. These are real memorials and this is how she should be remembered, by being read and discussed. And let's get her oeuvre back out there; works of sfnal genius are too rare to be wasted.


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