Welcome to the Website of the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council
“If you can’t change the world with chocolate chip cookies, how can you change the world?”
— Pat Murphy
In February of 1991 at WisCon (the world’s only feminist-oriented science fiction convention), award-winning SF author Pat Murphy announced the creation of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender. (To read her speech go to PatMurphy.pdf.) Pat created the award in collaboration with author Karen Joy Fowler. The aim of the award is not to look for work that falls into some narrow definition of political correctness, but rather to seek out work that is thought-provoking, imaginative, and perhaps even infuriating. The Tiptree Award is intended to reward those women and men who are bold enough to contemplate shifts and changes in gender roles, a fundamental aspect of any society.
The award is named for Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. By her impulsive choice of a masculine pen name, Sheldon helped break down the imaginary barrier between “women’s writing” and “men’s writing.” Her fine stories were eagerly accepted by publishers and won many awards in the field. Many years later, after she had written some other work under the female pen name of Raccoona Sheldon, it was discovered that she was female. The discovery led to a great deal of discussion of what aspects of writing, if any, are essentially gendered. The name “Tiptree” was selected to illustrate the complex role of gender in writing and reading.
The Tiptree Award for 2012 goes to two books. The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan
and Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam
Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl probably couldn’t have been written without its multifaceted consideration of gender roles and its extraordinary management of an unreliable narrator who doesn’t even trust herself. For India Morgan Phelps (aka Imp), the act of telling the story parallels the act of choosing a path or an identity as she makes her way through a maze of false memories and blurred realities. Using myth, art, and mental illness, this beautifully written novel explores the boundaries between reality and fantasy, sanity and insanity, and art and dream. It’s complex in its plot, metaphor, and style as well as in its thinking about one’s role as a woman and a daughter. In its characters, lesbian, straight, and transgender, old and young, this novel also recognizes the complexity of human beings.
In Ancient, Ancient, Kiini Ibura Salaam’s startling stories combine science fiction, fantasy, and mythology in a sensuous exploration of what it means to live while struggling to define self and other. Salaam’s language is poetic and sensuous — a unique and original voice. The stories are ambitious and challenging, demonstrating excellent range in both storytelling style and imagery, from the mundane to the fully fantastical. Salaam is particularly interested in agency in oppressive social realities and explores how oppression works on our gendered bodies.
In addition to selecting the winner, the jury chooses a Tiptree Award Honor List. The Honor List is a strong part of the award’s identity and is used by many readers as a recommended reading list for the rest of the year. This year’s Honor List is:
§ Elizabeth Bear, Range of Ghosts (Tor 2012) — A rip-roaring tale with imaginative worldbuilding, convincing exploration of gender, power, and possibility, and an intriguing juxtaposition of procreative energy, wizardly magic, and necromancy. The first book in the Eternal Sky trilogy.
§ Roz Kaveney, Rituals (Plus One Press 2012) — Tremendous fun while dealing with serious issues around power, gender, class, economics. Genre-savvy while subverting conventions and tropes. This is the first book in Rhapsody of Blood, a four-part series.
§ M.J. Locke, Up Against It (Tor 2011) — On an asteroid world, characters struggle with the social implications of altered biology. The control and betrayal of innocent AI’s are particularly fascinating.
§ Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312 (Orbit 2012) — A rare and honest effort to examine gender multiplicity in pure hard-SF terms. This vision of freedom from gender assignment could help revise the standard hard-SF future in much the same way that Robinson’s Mars trilogy revised the portrayal of Mars in science fiction.
§ Karin Tidbeck, Jagannath (Cheeky Frawg Books, 2012) — A beautifully written collection of short stories using Norse myth; the ones that involve gender identities present figures not easily forgotten, from the Aunts to the Great Mother to the characters mooning over an airship and a steam engine.
§ Ankaret Wells, Firebrand (Epicon Press 2012) — Set in the steampunk era, this fun read shows women dealing with the restrictions of society on their way to gaining political and economic power and considers how definitions of “proper” behavior worked across cultural, class, and species’ boundaries.
§ Lesley Wheeler, “The Receptionist” (in The Receptionist and Other Tales, Aqueduct Press 2012) — An overt exploration of gender and power in narrative poetry with splendidly drawn characters and pitch-perfect language.
The Tiptree Award winners will be honored during Memorial Day weekend at WisCon in Madison, Wisconsin. Each winner will receive $1000 in prize money, a specially commissioned piece of original artwork, and (as always) chocolate.
Each year, a panel of five jurors selects the Tiptree Award winner. The 2012 jurors were Joan Gordon (chair), Andrea Hairston, Lesley Hall, Karen Lord, and Gary K. Wolfe.