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.
2014 Tiptree Award Winners! And more.
The 2014 Tiptree Award winners, honor list, and long list have been selected. Our congratulations to Monica Byrne and Jo Walton, this year’s winners!
Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road is a painful, challenging, glorious novel about murder, quests, self-delusion, and a stunning science-fictional big idea: What would it be like to walk the length of a few-meter-wide wave generator stretching across the open sea from India to Africa, with only what you can carry on your back? With profound compassion and insight, the novel tackles relationships between gender and culture and between gender and violence. It provides a nuanced portrait of violence against women, in a variety of forms, and violence perpetrated by women. Through the eyes of two narrators linked by a single act of violence, the reader is brought to confront shifting ideas of gender, class, and human agency and dignity.
Jo Walton’s My Real Children is a richly textured examination of two lives lived by the same woman. This moving, thought-provoking novel deals with how differing global and personal circumstances change our view of sexuality and gender. The person herself changes, along with her society. Those changes influence and are influenced by her opportunities in life and how she is treated by intimate partners, family members, and society at large. The alternate universe trope allows Walton to demonstrate that changes in perceptions regarding gender and sexuality aren’t inevitable or determined by a gradual enlightenment of the species, but must be struggled for. My Real Children is important for the way it demonstrates how things could have been otherwise — and might still be.
In addition to selecting the winner, each 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. This year’s Honor List (in alphabetical order by the author’s last name) is:
Jennifer Marie Brissett. Elysium (Aqueduct Press 2014) — A masterfully layered tale of star-crossed lovers, ambiguously situated before, during, and after a devastating alien invasion. Adrian/Adrianne and Antoine/Antoinette move through a liminal, re-creative space that tells spooling variations of an original story we might never see, but can reconstruct. Variously lovers, siblings, and parent and child, these relationships change in subtle and overt ways that are tied to the gender of the characters in each looping iteration.
Seth Chambers, “In Her Eyes” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, January/February 2014) — This excellently written and evocative story is about a woman who is a polymorph, capable of drastically altering her body. It’s told from the point of view of the man who loves her. Each week she becomes a different woman for him, until she changes her gender, then her very self.
Kim Curran, “A Woman Out of Time” (Irregularity, edited by Jared Shurin, Jurassic London 2014) — A fictionalized version of Joanna Russ’s classic How to Suppress Women’s Writing, based on a true history (with very mild adjustments). Time travel paradoxes, complexity theory, and alien intervention are beautifully interwoven in this lyrical exploration of the gendering of scientific discovery. The story’s epigraph will tempt readers to explore what is known of the life and work of Emile Du Chatelet, a contemporary of Voltaire and the translator and commentator of Newton’s work, and to undo the disservice she has been done by history.
Emmi Itäranta, Memory of Water (Harper Voyager 2014) (published in Finnish as Teemestarin kirja, Teos 2012) — This beautifully crafted novel, written simultaneously in English and Finnish, uses a delicately-told coming-of-age tale to examine a future replete with water crises, a totalitarian police state, and suffocating gender roles.
Jacqueline Koyanagi, Ascension (Masque Books 2013) — A fun, fast-paced space opera with surprising heft. Its beautifully diverse cast of characters explores intersections of gender and race, class, disability, and polyamory, all while racing to save the universe from certain destruction.
Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios, editors, Kaleidoscope (Twelfth Planet Press 2014) — An anthology of young-adult stories about diversity, many featuring queer or trans characters or gender issues. This is a book that should be in every middle and high-school library!
Pat MacEwen, “The Lightness of the Movement” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2014) — A solid, well-told alien-contact story about a xeno-anthropologist studying an alien species. The alien’s gender roles are well described and very alien. Though the story never enters the aliens’ minds, MacEwen does a fabulous job of making it clear how the aliens think.
Nnedi Okorafor, Lagoon (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) — This gloriously chaotic look at the day after aliens land in the lagoon off of Lagos, Nigeria’s coast approaches gender with a diversity that intersects with many aspects of modern Nigerian life: age, religion, social class and politics, among others. The character Ayodele, an alien who takes the form of a human woman to make first contact, is particularly noteworthy in how her chosen gender exposes fault lines across the panoply of characters that drive the narrative.
Nghi Vo, “Neither Witch nor Fairy” (Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older, Crossed Genres, 2014) — Two orphaned brothers try to get by in 1895 Belfast. The story focuses on the younger brother, who thinks he’s a changeling. He asks the fairies to tell him what he truly is. (Saying anything more would be telling.)
Aliya Whiteley, The Beauty (Unsung Stories 2014) — A piece of disturbing, thought-provoking horror that explores what happens to a small community of men when sentient mushrooms spring from the graves of women who died years before from a deadly fungus infection. These mushrooms, called “Beauties” by the storytelling narrator, gradually and inexorably shift their roles over the course of the narrative, starting as supposedly mindless providers of comfort and ending with roles more traditionally masculine: inseminating, caring for the male mothers, and engaging in violent battles to protect their progeny. Allegorically explores a variety of aspects of the human experience, including gender and sexuality.
It was a particularly good year for gender exploration in science fiction and fantasy. In addition to the honor list, this year’s jury also compiled the following long list of other works they found worthy of attention:
Monica Byrne, along with authors and works on the Honor List and the long list will be celebrated during Memorial Day weekend (May 22-25, 2015) at WisCon in Madison, Wisconsin. Jo Walton is unable to attend WisCon, but will be feted at an alternate celebration in San Francisco in August. (You cannot have too many celebrations.) 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 2014 jurors were Darrah Chavey (chair), Elizabeth Bear, Joan Haran, Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Amy Thomson.