From Tiptree to Otherwise

We’ve spent the last month deep in discussion about the name of this award. We’ve listened to your feedback, reflected on our own assumptions and commitments, and we have decided that it’s time for the name to change.

The Tiptree Award is becoming the Otherwise Award.

The rest of this long post describes our process in detail, shares some of the words from our community that helped us come to our decision, and explains why we’ve chosen Otherwise as our new name.

Use the navigation links below if you’d like to skip to a particular section.

The name of the Award: if you want to know why it’s changing

What we heard from you: if you want to understand how we came to this decision

What we’ve come to realize: if you want a short, snappy summary

What we feel: if you’d like to contemplate love, care, and tradition with us

So… the name? If you want to know how and why we chose Otherwise

What is not changing, and what happens next: if you’re curious about plans and timelines

A little help from our friends: if you want to support us through this transition

 

The name of the Award

When this award was founded back in 1991, its goal was to make the world listen to voices that had been ignored. Pat Murphy, cofounder of the Award and member of the Tiptree Motherboard, remembers, “We wanted to create an award that pointed out the absurdity of those who kept saying ‘but women can’t write science fiction.’ Naming the Award after James Tiptree, Jr. allowed us to celebrate Tiptree’s powerful writing and influence on the field — and at the same time, the name let us laugh at those who had dismissed women’s writing and yet had happily embraced Tiptree’s work as unquestionably masculine.”

In the beginning, the Award’s focus was on gender alone. Over the years, that focus expanded, but the Award’s goal is still to make the world listen to voices that they would rather ignore.

In mid-August 2019, in the wake of the Astounding Award’s decision to drop John W. Campbell’s name, the Tiptree Motherboard began to hear from some newly raised voices among our supporters. They were suggesting that the James Tiptree Jr Literary Award ought also to change its name. Since then, the seven of us on the Motherboard have been engaged in a deep, emotional, and intense process of discussion, introspection, and consultation.

On September 2, we published “Alice Sheldon and the name of the Tiptree Award.” That post summarizes the story of Alice and Huntington Sheldon’s deaths, and gives a full account of the events that led many to call for a name change. That story is deeply painful for many, we have realized, and we will not repeat it here. In our post, we explained why the Award’s founders named it after James Tiptree, Jr., and why, at that time, we were tentatively choosing to retain the name. In that post, we asked for you to email us with your suggestions. Many did. Thank you so much.

We received many emails and social media messages that urged us to keep the name. But we were, in the end, convinced by the many and heartfelt messages that asked us to change. We entered into this discussion as a conversation about how to interpret what happened at the end of Alice and Huntington Sheldon’s lives (a topic on which Sheldon’s biographer, Julie Phillips, has recently reflected further). But the responses to our post made us realize that this was in fact a conversation about whose lives and voices we value. And that’s a matter about which there should be no ambiguity.

We value the disabled writers and readers and artists and fans who support this award. Many of them – many of you – have told us that the Award’s current name holds negative, painful, exclusionary associations. So we’re changing it.

We know this has been a painful conversation for many. We are sorry we didn’t realize the depth of harm this would bring up.

Our decision to change the Award’s name has also caused pain. Many, even some who support the name change, feel that this change erases the work of an important woman author and the story of a complicatedly gendered life.

That’s a pain that we on the Motherboard share. The influence of Tiptree – the work published under the persona, Alice Sheldon’s life, and the history of this award – is important to the history of gender and feminism, as Julie Phillips’ 2006 biography and Rox Samer’s in-progress documentary film, Tip/Alli, document. Those of us who knew Tiptree as a man (either through letters or stories) remember the seismic shift we experienced when the identity of the person behind the persona was revealed. We will continue to honor that influence and to celebrate the feminist roots of our project. The Award’s name is not the only way to remember our important predecessors.

We do not see this new stage the Award is entering now as an erasure of its past, but as a recognition of what is needed to take us into the future. Pat Murphy and Karen Fowler came up with the idea for the Award, but they are the first to admit that they didn’t build the Award. A community built the Award and at the same time the Award built a community. Being part of that community has been serious work while being enormous fun.

We want the Award to keep encouraging writers, artists, and other creative people to invent the future that we want to live in. For that to happen, we need readers, supporters, and creators to gather together in support of the Award’s winners and of the process of choosing them. And for that to be possible, we need all the voices to be heard.

 

What we heard from you:

Some of the feedback we received suggested that the arguments for changing the name were coming from science fiction fandom’s right-wing trolls, keen to take down a social-justice-focused award as payback for the loss of the award honoring their icon John W. Campbell. We want to be very clear that this was not the source of the criticisms we received. The people who asked us to consider changing the name were people we know and trust: members of our community of supporters, with whom we have participated in feminist science fiction fandom for many years.

In this section of the post, we share some of the words from winners of the Tiptree Award and leaders within our community that helped us arrive at our decision. We encourage you to read them so that you can understand what has led us to believe that the name must change. We encourage everyone to read M.L. Clark’s beautiful essay “Letting Go of Our “Heroes”: Ongoing Humanist Training and the (Ex-)James Tiptree, Jr. Award.” Clark writes about their own process of thinking and feeling through the implications of the name change in a way that mirrors the experience of several members of the Motherboard during the last few weeks.

We appreciate how thoughtful people have been in their emails. In various ways, many have said: “The decision to change the Award name makes me very sad, but I understand why you have made this decision and I appreciate your willingness to share your process.”

It might have been possible to acknowledge the pain caused by the name and still continue to use it. Hirotaka Tobi, 2006 winner of the Japanese Sense of Gender Award – founded by the Japanese Association for Gender Fantasy and Science Fiction (G-Ken) and inspired by the Tiptree Award – urged us to do so in a letter generously translated by 2017 juror and G-Ken member Kazue Harada.

The name Tiptree has become a symbol of progress and inspiration in the literary field of science fiction.

I understand that you care about those who are hurt by the name of Tiptree, as your compassion and concerns have certainly been ‘cultivated’ by Tiptree’s works. Even though her end of life action has hurt many people’s feelings, even though there may be clues in her works that she was capable of the actions on her final day, I feel that her name cannot be dismissed. I strongly believe that the meaning of literature is to understand complex paradoxical meanings: on one hand, her works lean toward emphasizing the inevitability of death; on the other hand, these works give power to say ‘NO’ to death (suicide and murder) for readers. Our creative expression is developed and enriched through living with the pain of this paradox. I believe that you as a writer and as a scholar understand this paradox very well.

I would like to express my opinion that we should keep the name of the “Tiptree” Award, as we accept both her honor and disgrace demonstrated by her good deeds and horrible actions. In order to continue its name, I will suggest expanding the award to include nominated works recognizing new ideas of gender and sexual difference as well as authors broadcasting views of voices of those who have been suppressed because of illness and disability. I suggest grappling with not only the issues that James Tiptree Jr. was able to achieve but also the issues that she was “unable” to achieve. I propose that the award can develop into something for “those who have been killed by Tiptree.”

This award should bear the name of Tiptree in order to confirm this determination and to express its purpose. Every person is imperfect, but we seek to contemplate on our actions, hope to grow from the reflections, and live for atonement. As part of this process, the individual takes responsibility under one’s own name.

As we know, Tiptree is no longer with us. She is unable to pay for her own crime. However, we can discuss both her good and evil actions and can continue reconstructing the idea of the writer and award. We can continue developing the space for expressions of science fiction.

– Hirotaka Tobi, translated by Kazue Harada

Though this is not the path we have chosen, we include this excerpt to show our appreciation and respect for those who have thought through this issue deeply and reached different conclusions than ours.

The controversy over the name led Nisi Shawl, winner of the 2009 Award, to think deeply about her feelings about James Tiptree, Jr, and Alice Sheldon. She wrote this message for us to share:

I’ve been thinking about the controversy surrounding the James Tiptree, Jr. Award’s name ever since I first heard about said controversy, because I’m a disabled person who received the Tiptree in 2009. Also, I’ve served as a Tiptree Award juror twice, and served once as a juror for the related and similarly-named James Tiptree, Jr. Fellowship.

Looking back at my letter to Tiptree, written for the anthology of that title in 2015, I notice a couple of things. First, the conflation of those two figures, Tiptree and Sheldon. I addressed the letter to “Tip,” but I spoke of incidents in Sheldon’s life. I’m not alone in this conflation, though as the Tiptree Award Motherboard note in their carefully considered response to the controversy, the award is named not for the human being but for the trick she played on her audience.

The second thing I noticed is my wording toward the end of my letter describing the couple’s death. I’m not going to repeat it here, because taken out of context, what I wrote could cause you reading this post real pain. If you want to know the content of the two relevant sentences in my letter, contact me directly. What I’ll point out here is that my language in the letter was deliberately harsh. I wanted to scold Alice Sheldon, or “Tip,” as I addressed her, for her attitude and actions. I was assuming Ting’s acquiescence to his death, but mourning it, and decrying the emotional distance I believed it required from his killer. I referenced the dominant paradigm’s mistreatment of disabled people, but I was far from wanting to perpetuate its attitude. Yet that intention is not an antidote for the harm my words potentially could cause.

The issue of harm reduction in the naming of the award is the kind of multifaceted problem the award was founded to address–though the axis of difference on which it focused was originally gender rather than ability. And what I’ve been hearing and saying about how we respond to this problem? That is the kind of multiplex analysis the Tiptree Award’s founders were encouraging by naming it not after an historical figure but a mythic one, a mythic figure arising out of one writer’s response to powerful social pressures.

There’s still plenty to mull over here. And I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with having received the Tiptree. With having received an award named with that name.

But I don’t see how that makes it okay for me to say other potential recipients should think and feel the same way about the matter.

– Nisi Shawl

Nisi’s message offered some suggestions of ways that we might be able to continue using the name. But the responses we share below, among many others, convinced us that the change is necessary.

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, editor and writer, wrote to ask us to change the Award’s name. The themes of her response, which connects the deeply personal to the collective and political, were shared by many of disabled creators and fans who wrote to us. We share this excerpt from her email with permission:

I am a deafblind Hugo award winning editor, and speculative fiction writer. My work focuses on the intersection of disability and media, as well as the intersection of disability and gender. I was the guest co-editor in chief of Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, and I am writing to you today as a member of the science fiction and fantasy writing community, as a disabled activist, and as a writer.

First, I do believe that it is vital to change the name of the Tiptree Award. The intersection of disability and gender is an important subject, which I hope more authors will interact with. I myself write on that subject, and if I were lucky enough to be selected for the honor of the Tiptree (or its relevant lists), I could not in good faith accept it at this time. I believe many of my disabled peers could not either. The name of the award would feel antithetical to the work given the circumstances surrounding Sheldon’s murder of Huntington and her subsequent suicide. I don’t know what happened between Ting and Alice. I don’t know what their relationship was like – and based on what I’ve seen, I’m not sure anyone else does. That uncertainty means I could not fathom accepting an award named for an author who murdered someone like me. Perhaps an able bodied person could, but to me and my disabled existence it just isn’t possible.

Second, I hope that in consideration of a name change, the direction will go towards not naming it after a person. The world changes too much for legacies to remain, but ideals and constructs that do not represent persons are much more shelf stable. And we should interrogate legacies, we should try to be better.

Thirdly, I believe that the name change is important because ableism is a systemic disease. We can’t always see it, but it can be felt. It is felt deeply within our genre, and the conversation around the name of the Tiptree has only made it more clear to me: my professional field is rife with ableism, and we must seek to change that. Allowing the name to remain, with disabled people emphasizing their discomfort, implicitly allows ableism to take root. It allows us to say that disabled voices do not matter.

– Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

Among those who participated in the public conversation, two additional Award winners spoke up. Hiromi Goto, 2001 Award winner, 2001, posted this statement on Twitter:

I’m a recipient of the Tiptree award. … It behooves us to listen to & respect the experiences, concerns & corrections of the people who have systematically been & continue to be oppressed & marginalized.

My understanding is that some folks think that there was a suicide pact, others that there’s a grey area, others that it was murder-suicide. In this situation I would compare to the wording of how judges are selected for a competition. There’s that line of whether or not you have a bias or _a perceived bias_… And if so you should eliminate yourself from this jury. I think that there’s enough grey area to Sheldon’s history to outweigh the balance re: bias / perceived bias. Tiptree’s stories will always remain. They are powerful.

But with the passage of time and expansions in standpoint and we hear from voices who have never been centred we need the capacity, ability and love to be able to change. If the Tiptree Award is to honour fiction that expands or explores our ideas about gender then it would be a crying shame that the prize been perceived as one fixed in an ableist mentality.

I think it is time to #ChangeTheName I’m speaking with love and pride. I am proud to be a Tiptree Award winner. And I want to continue to be proud.

– Hiromi Goto

And Catherynne M. Valente, 2007 Award winner, posted this statement on Twitter:

If it matters, I won the Tiptree in 2007. I owe a great deal to this award. I’m trying hard to put my feelings about her work aside, as I ask others to do with regards to their heroes. She is gone & cannot be hurt, but those still here can. The name should be changed.

– Catherynne M. Valente

We saw our own decision process reflected in some emails, where people shared their own feelings about a name change. Debbie Notkin, the first chair of the Motherboard and the chair of the first Tiptree jury, wrote of the process she went through:

I cherish the Tiptree Award, and consider it one of the best endeavors I’ve ever been involved with…. In a vacuum, I would certainly argue for not changing the name of the award. All of our heroes have flaws—in fact, one of the worst aspects of having heroes is the desire that they be perfect. If we give into that, we can either have heroes or tell the truth, but not both. Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree, Jr. will always be a hero of mine.

But we are not in a vacuum. We’re in a community. And we’re in a historical moment when groups that have been horribly marginalized and abused are – often for the first time – finding that they can acknowledge their pain, make demands, make their voices heard, make change. And find allies….

I am trying to remember that it’s not only possible but common to be on many sides of a controversy at the same time. For me, the side that intensely wants to cling to the award’s name wants that because of all the history, all the sweat and tears, all the time and energy I and so many others poured into the Tiptree Award, not into some award that would someday change its name. That side also passionately cares about vindicating Pat and Karen for their courageous choices and all the world-changing that has gone on not just in Tiptree’s name, but in the name of the founding mothers.

The side of me that leans towards changing the name is about putting all my historical feelings onto a scale and weighing them against what the name is starting to mean to people who responded with their pain, and the knowledge that many more people aren’t responding because of their pain.

Debbie Notkin

 

What we’ve come to realize

The Tiptree Award was named as a joyful joke, 28 years ago.

James Tiptree, Jr/Alice Sheldon is a complicated figure who has grown more so as participants in the sff world have gained more diverse perspectives and more acute critical analyses. In 2019, the Tiptree name no longer captures what potential audiences, nominees, fans, need from an award (and, more recently, from a fellowship program) for the expansion and exploration of gender.

Some of the conversations surrounding this change, especially on social media, make it seem like a simple situation – a situation where you can say: “I am right and you are wrong. I will tell you the reasons you shouldn’t feel as you do, and you’ll stop feeling that way.”

But this is not a simple situation. It is, like life, difficult and messy and sometimes fraught with pain. But it is also, like life, brilliant and wonderful and filled with the possibility of joy.

Joy, absurdity, and irreverence have long been in the DNA of the Tiptree Award. What other award crowns the winner with a tiara, raises money with bake sales, and serenades the winner? Now, our community has spoken and said: there is too much discomfort over this history for many of us to feel joyous about this name.

Keeping the joy is more important than keeping the name.

We need a different name.

 

What we feel

In The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin writes: “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”

This is love that we’re working with here. We love our award and the community that has grown from it.

And we love our supporters, and you love the Award too. And we want to reciprocate the hospitality you have shown us. Which involves not just logistical work, (figuratively) unlocking doors and setting up chairs and getting out food everyone can eat, but also the work of gesture, to emotionally convey “you are welcome here.”

We have a tradition we are stewarding. A tradition is a mystical thing, a reverberating ritual carrying meaning that grows through repetition. We respect that a ritual – especially one whose meaning is partly a delicate multilayered joke – loses some power when changed, like a transferred plant cutting. It takes years to grow roots again.

We have a history that is important — it serves as the foundation on which we build. We are aware that the work of writers who are not part of the dominant culture is all too often erased and suppressed. Through the Award, we support the past works that serve as our foundation — and the new voices that point the way to the future.

We care so much about the continued presence of an award celebrating genre work that expands and explores gender. And we care about that award valuing – in its name, in its processes, in what work it celebrates – playfulness, flexibility, adaptability, the brashness of anyone who creates art and the humility of anyone open to reading challenging art, and affection. We can retain the spirit of the Award, preserve its playful incisiveness, through a name change.

We are optimistic about new jokes. And we are optimistic about bridging the traditions we’re keeping (tiara, auction, jury, Honor List, free and open nominations, WisCon, a speech and a choral filk, bakesale, original art, Fellowships to encourage and recognize emerging creators) with broader hospitality and welcome – salt and new bread – for a constituency we cherish.

 

So… the name?

In deciding on a new name for the former Tiptree Award, there were a few things we tried to bear in mind:

  • We were in agreement with the prevailing opinion that awards should not be named after people, no matter how wonderful those people might be.
  • We thought it wise to avoid overt textual references as well, for similar reasons.
  • We wanted to capture what excites us about the works and writers that the Tiptree Award has honored – which is never the same from year to year and jury to jury.
  • We wanted to love the new name, and we want you to love it too.

We think we’ve found a name that meets all these criteria. We hope you will agree. And we’d like to introduce you to:

The Otherwise Award

Isn’t the possibility of imagining, thinking, dreaming, living otherwise what draws us to the genre we love – whether we call it science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, magical realism, or something else?

At the heart of the creative work this award has honored for the last 28 years is the act of imagining gender otherwise. We have honored those who expand or explore gender by imagining the world otherwise. Over the next 28 years and more, we expect people’s lived experiences of gender to shift, change, and multiply in ways we can’t possibly imagine. But whatever happens, writers and artists will make sense of it, and push at the limits, by imagining otherwise.

Otherwise means finding different directions to move in—toward newly possible places, by means of emergent and multiple pathways and methods. It is a moving target, since to imagine otherwise is to divert from the ways of a norm that is itself always changing.

With the addition of a space, the name also means “other, wise”: that is, wise to the experience of being the other. Such wisdom might come from direct experience or from careful, collaborative consultation.

The Black queer studies scholar and creative writer Ashon Crawley has a beautiful essay “Otherwise, Ferguson” that speaks to the possibility of otherwise politics:

To begin with the otherwise as word, as concept, is to presume that whatever we have is not all that is possible. Otherwise. It is a concept of internal difference, internal multiplicity. The otherwise is the disbelief in what is current and a movement towards, and an affirmation of, imagining other modes of social organization, other ways for us to be with each other. Otherwise as plentitude. Otherwise is the enunciation and concept of irreducible possibility, irreducible capacity, to create change, to be something else, to explore, to imagine, to live fully, freely, vibrantly. Otherwise Ferguson. Otherwise Gaza. Otherwise Detroit. Otherwise Worlds. Otherwise expresses an unrest and discontent, a seeking to conceive dreams that allow us to wake laughing, tears of joy in our eyes, dreams that have us saying, I hope this comes true.

We’ve always sought and found the works that bring all this to mind and heart. We’re excited to name the Award with a word that encapsulates what we feel it stands for.

 

What is not changing

Beyond the name, the traditions that have grown up around this award are very important to us. These include:

  • Open nominations, where anyone can nominate any work (including their own) at any time of the year and at no cost
  • Celebrating MANY works, not just one or two per year, and trying to avoid the heartache of competition among them
  • Supporting emerging creators with our Fellowship program, where each year’s Fellows help to choose those who will be honored in the following year
  • Funding our program activities primarily through communal efforts, like the bakesale and auction, that transparently reflect your support
  • Our WisCon rituals of song, tiara, art, and chocolate
  • Space Babe

All of these will continue, and we hope that the Otherwise name will inspire new traditions.

 

What about all the Tiptree winners?

We will consider everyone who has won a Tiptree Award, been named on the Honor or Long List, or awarded a Tiptree Fellowship, to be retroactive Otherwise honorees. Whether you describe your achievement with the Tiptree or Otherwise name – or with both – is up to you.

 

What happens now?

For the next two weeks, we’re going to hold off on making any permanent changes while we listen to responses from you – just in case there are any compelling reasons not to use Otherwise that we have missed. You can reach us at feedback@tiptree.org if you would like to share your thoughts.

Then, we will start the process of changing our website, our publications, and all the rest. The actual name change will take a while — and we’ll need help from the community to accomplish it. The administrative aspects of the name change involve a lot of practical details, from getting the new domain names and revising the web site to dealing with the IRS, the State of California, and various vendors. But we are committed to making this change, as quickly as we can manage.

The next round of fellowships (2019) will carry the new name. And at WisCon 44 in May 2020, we will present our 29th award: the first Otherwise Award.

 

A little help from our friends

Here’s another tradition that will continue: this is an award that exists because of the community that supports it. We can’t do this without you.

Are you excited to join us in imagining Otherwise? Do you have a little time and energy to spare? The Award has always been run by volunteers, and this is a moment where we could really use some help.

We’re taking this opportunity to revisit the way we have administered the Award in the past, to see how we might be able to do things better. We’ll be looking for folks to help us with special projects related to art and design; web and social media; organizational support for the auction at WisCon; and service on the juries that choose the Award and Fellowship winners.

One of the first efforts after the announcement of the Tiptree Award at WisCon was the creation of a cookbook: The Bakery Men Don’t See. Who knows what projects will arise from the Otherwise Award?

If you’d like to help, please email us at info@tiptree.org. (Yes, we’ll be working on changing the addresses.)

There’s a lot to do. Come and help us change the world some more.

Alice Sheldon and the name of the Tiptree Award

Further update: Wednesday September 11, 2019.

We said we would be listening and we have. We’ve read your thoughtful and pain-filled emails, tweets, and Facebook posts. We are sorry for the harm that’s been done, especially to some of the most marginalized members of our community.

We recognize that the award is necessary to the community, but can’t go on under its existing name. Now we need to figure out what to do next and how to do it. We’re working on it. And we’ll say more within a month.

Update: Wednesday September 4, 2019.

We’ve seen some people discussing this statement and saying we’re refusing to rename the award. Of course it’s easy to read what we’ve written in that way; our apologies. While this post focuses on the reasons why we have not immediately undertaken to rename the award, our thinking is ongoing and tentative, and we are listening carefully to the feedback we are receiving. We are open to possibilities and suggestions from members of our community as we discuss how best to move forward. You can contact us at feedback@tiptree.org.

Content notes for discussion of suicide, mental illness, caregiver murder

In recent days, we’ve seen questions raised on social media about whether the name of the Tiptree Award should be reconsidered. The Award was named after James Tiptree, Jr., the persona under which Alice Sheldon published. The questions relate to Alice Sheldon’s actions at the end of her life. On May 19, 1987, she shot first her husband, Huntington Sheldon, and then herself.

The Tiptree Motherboard, the seven volunteers who administer the award, has been deep in intense reflection and conversation. While we are far from finished with our discussions, we wish to share some important information and some of our thoughts.

For reasons we share in this post, the Motherboard does not believe that a change to the name of the Tiptree Award is warranted now. But we believe that this is a very important discussion, and we do not think it is over. The community that has grown up around this award since its founding in 1991 deserves to have its voice heard in any conversation as significant as renaming.

Alice and Huntington Sheldon’s story

We on the Motherboard, those who remember Alice Sheldon and those who do not, have long known the story of how she and her husband, Huntington Sheldon (known as Ting), died.

Friends and family — and the science fiction community at the time — viewed this tragedy as resulting from a suicide pact: the desperate and tragic result of a combination of physical and mental illness and the Sheldons’ desire to die on their own terms. He was 84 years old; she was 71.

However, some who have read accounts of the Sheldon’s deaths more recently have pointed out a different interpretation. The story can also be seen as an act of caregiver murder: where a disabled person is killed by the person, usually a close family member, who is responsible for their support.

Both narratives fit the story. We see how much of the discussion of the Sheldons’ deaths, including our own, reflects the rhetorical tendencies identified in David Perry’s report, specifically the centering of those who kill over those who are killed. In the world outside of science fiction, Huntington Denton “Ting” Sheldon would be considered the more significant member of the couple. “Ting” Sheldon was Director of the Office of Current Intelligence of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy and is credited with building that office of the CIA.

In her 2006 biography of Tiptree, Julie Phillips quoted some sources who suggested that Ting may not have been ready to die. Since the conversation about the Sheldons’ deaths has become public, however, Phillips has shared further details from her research, reporting that Ting’s friends and family understood his death and Alice’s as the fulfilment of an agreement between the two of them. On Twitter, Phillips writes:

The question has come up whether Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr) and her husband Ting died by suicide or murder-suicide. I regret not saying clearly in the bio that those closest to the Sheldons all told me that they had a pact and that Ting’s health was failing.

Ting’s son Peter Sheldon also said there was a pact, and that Ting was declining. Alli probably wanted to die more than Ting did. But the pact didn’t have to do with his blindness or disability. He was going, and they chose to go out together.

In an email to the Tiptree Motherboard, quoted with permission, Phillips writes:

Ting didn’t leave a statement, but all Ting’s friends that I talked to plus his son Peter were unanimous that it was a pact, and that Ting’s health was failing when it happened. The only one who cast doubt on that was the lawyer who talked to her on the last night, James Boylan. He didn’t know either Ting or Alli very well, and I have doubts about how well he understood what was happening. I’m planning to write up what I know, because I left too much room for doubt when I wrote the book.

Putting Alice Sheldon’s death in the context of her life, Jeff Smith, Alice’s friend and literary executor and a longtime Tiptree Motherboard member, shares his recollection of it this way:

I knew Tiptree through correspondence, and Alli through phone calls and visits. She was very open about the suicidal tendencies that had plagued her throughout her life. She also told me that neither she nor her husband, Ting, wanted to outlive the other. (Whenever I talked to Ting, the subject never came up.) There were times when Alli said she had her gun out (including at least once when I was talking to her on the phone), but that “Ting isn’t ready yet.”

Ting’s health began to steadily decline. I hadn’t spoken to Alli in the weeks leading up to that final night, so I don’t know exactly what she was going through at that time. I know she wrote notes that she left around the house, with instructions and information that the responders and her lawyers might need. She took the unfinished manuscript of her last novella (a love story) out of her office and placed it in the living room. She called her lawyer and told him what she intended to do. He called the police, who got to the house while she was still making preparations. She convinced them the lawyer had misunderstood her. They checked in on Ting, and then they went away. Alli completed her task.

We her friends knew it was coming, but that knowledge didn’t make it less distressing. Could anyone have stopped it? Probably not: This was 1987, and the actual suicide note left out with all the new instructions was dated 1979.

We ultimately do not know what happened on May 19, 1987. We can’t know with certainty and we don’t see how anyone can know except the ones who cannot tell us. But we are as convinced as we can be, given the unknowability of the facts, by the evidence that Alice and Huntington Sheldon chose to die together.

We respect that not everyone who reads this will have the same interpretation. We recognize that the unconscionable murder of disabled people by their caregivers happens daily, driven both by the devaluation of disabled life and by the lack of available care and support. Therefore we do not seek to defend or exonerate Alice Sheldon, but to make sure the context of her actions remains part of any conversation about them. We are grateful to our community for raising these important issues and bringing them to our attention.

The “Tiptree” Award

Perhaps competing narratives about what happened in an unknowable, devastating moment more than 30 years ago are beside the point. We are in the midst of a movement away from naming awards after people, of putting intense weight on influential historical figures who inevitably disappoint when held up to scrutiny, especially at historical distance. If we want our award to continue into the future, we must be willing to re-examine the individuals, stories, and assumptions that have shaped it so far.

We think it is important to understand how the Tiptree got its name. In 1991, founding mothers Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler made a conscious choice to name the award not after Alice Sheldon herself but after the assumed persona –– more than a pseudonym –– under which Sheldon published fiction and participated in fandom. In its conception, the James Tiptree Jr Literary Award hoped to acknowledge and celebrate Sheldon/Tiptree’s dual gender identity, the boundary-crossing work published under Tiptree’s name, and the havoc the revelation of Tiptree’s gender wreaked on the male-dominated science fiction world of the 1970s.

Sheldon was a complicated individual, aspects of whose personal story have long been woven tightly into and through the idea and spirit of the Award. Yet the Award was not intended to reference a figure whose approval winners might imagine gaining or toward whose example they might aspire, in the way that other awards named for iconic individuals – most notably the former Campbell – appear to do. Jeanette Ng’s speech reminded us that science fiction has long since eclipsed the bounds by which Campbell, whose racist and fascist sympathies are a matter of public record, hoped to define it. In renaming the Astounding Award, Dell Publishing moved the focus from creator to creation, honoring the publication (Astounding Science Fiction magazine) that he edited and whose reach and influence far exceeded his grasp. The Tiptree Award is already named after Alice Sheldon’s creation.

In the years since 1991, “Tiptree” has come to hold significant meaning in the SFF world, its reach perhaps even exceeding Sheldon’s own. “Tiptree” gets used as an adjective for stories that do something particularly interesting with gender; we often meet people who know of the Award through its winners and have not heard of Sheldon’s work or life. We are very wary of losing that history and recognition, which has opened significant doors for our honorees, and has helped us to sustain and expand the award over the last 27 years.

Discussions about the naming of the award relate to broader issues that the Motherboard has been contemplating for some time. When we return to the stories Alice Sheldon wrote as Tiptree, we often find a pessimistic tendency that can seem, at times, like a horrible foreshadowing (though this is far from the only way to read them). Tiptree’s work describes the contours of gender oppression acutely and rarely, if ever, sees a way out. We have been reflecting this week on how many of our feminist icons were also women who could not see a way out. Tiptree’s stories, then and now, provide scope for multiple and complex politics. If we look at the work of our honorees, winners, and fellows, among their greatest commonalities are broad, deep, and diverse commitments to finding, or creating, ways out.

We have been, before this current conversation, asking ourselves some questions. What would an Award look like, Tiptree or otherwise, that honored what we want to honor now, the complex and overlapping intersections through which gender is lived? That’s a question we can’t answer in one single burst of sustained self-reflection. We believe it is far more important to make the right decisions than to make decisions quickly.

And so: we do not think that an immediate renaming is called for at this moment. But we do not know what the future might hold, and we recognize that this Award belongs to the community that has supported and sustained it, at least as much as it does to us. Going forward, we will be reaching out to members of the Tiptree community to seek out their thoughts. Your voices are a necessary part of our reflections.

We will begin writing individually to members of our Tiptree community this week, as quickly as our schedules allow (which is rarely as quickly as we would like). If you would like to reach us in the meantime, please email feedback@tiptree.org.

2019 Tiptree Fellowship Applications Due October 31

For the fifth year, the Tiptree Award is welcoming applications for Tiptree Fellowships: $500 grants for emerging creators who are changing the way we think about gender through speculative narrative.

If you think that description could apply to you — even if you are not working in a format most people would recognize as part of the science fiction or fantasy genre — you are eligible to apply for a Fellowship. Tiptree Fellows can be writers, artists, scholars, media makers, remix artists, performers, musicians, or something else entirely. So far our Fellows have been creators of visual art, poetry, fiction, and games.

The Tiptree Fellowship is designed to provide support and recognition for the new voices who are making visible the forces that are changing our view of gender today. The Fellowship Committee particularly encourages applications from members of communities that have been historically underrepresented in the science fiction and fantasy genre and from creators who are creating speculative narratives in media other than traditional fiction. In keeping with the focus of the Tiptree Award, the selection committee is seeking projects that explore and expand understandings of gender, particularly in relationship to race, nationality, class, disability, sexuality, age, and other factors that set individuals or groups apart as “other.” Fellowship applicants do not need a professional or institutional affiliation, as the intention of the Fellowship program is to support emerging creators who lack institutional support for their work.

Applications are due on October 31, 2019. To apply, you will need to write short responses to two questions and to share a sample of your work – you can learn more about the application process at this link.

To read about the work of our previous Fellows, click on their names below:

The 2019 Fellows will be chosen by Rox Samer (committee chair), Gabriela Damián Miravete, Ana Hurtado, and Vida Cruz.

Gabriela Damián Miravete wins 2018 Tiptree Award! Honor and Long List Announced

Gabriela Damián Miravete has won the 2018 Tiptree Award for her short story “They Will Dream In the Garden,” translated by Adrian Demopulos and published online by Latin American Literature Today (May 2018).

About the Winner

“They Will Dream In the Garden,” a beautifully written and translated story, uses the future tense to imagine a Mexico in which femicides are already part of history. In a collective attempt by survivors to preserve memory and justice, traces of the minds of the women murdered are encapsulated in interactive holograms “living” in a beautiful garden. The story looks at the economic, social, and racial dimensions of violence against Mexican women today, focusing on indigenous women, poverty, and unemployment, on repression of women’s educational opportunities, and of women’s ability to move about freely. The story hints at positive change as some women decide to fight back through collective action, mutual support, and self-defense, eventually shifting the public perception of gendered violence and improving the actions of the next generation. By offering a possible look into the future, far from giving the sense of a closed chapter, the story itself is a device of memory preservation, a call to action, and a fine example of science fiction as a tool for feminist exploration and social change.

Gabriela Damián Miravete is a writer of narrative and essay, a film and literature journalist, a professor at CENTRO university, and (according to her bio) the imaginary granddaughter of Ursula K. Le Guin. Miravete was part of “The Mexicanx Initiative,” a group of Mexican and Mexican American artists who attended WorldCon 76. With other authors, artists and people from different scientific disciplines, she co-founded Cúmulo de Tesla, a collective that wishes to strengthen the relationships between art, science, and science fiction. She has published short stories in several anthologies in Spanish. You can find her work in English in Three Messages and a Warning, an anthology of contemporary Mexican stories of the fantastic (Small Beer Press, 2010) and in A Larger Reality. Speculative Fiction from the Bicultural margins, an anthology of 14 stories, presented in both Spanish and English.

The Tiptree Award judges also wish to recognize Adrian Demopulos, the translator of “They Will Dream in the Garden,” with a special honor for a wonderful translation.

About the Honor List

In addition to selecting the winners, the judges choose 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. These notes on each work are excerpted and edited from comments by members of this year’s jury. This year’s Honor List is:

A collection of delightful, thought-provoking stories that fulfill the intended purpose of normalizing diverse pronouns as well as suggesting that the binary can be broken or even left behind. Buchanan writes: “In English, the personal pronouns we’re most used to are he and she. Not only do these require the speaker to know the gender of the person they’re talking about, but they only properly cover two genders. Humans don’t always fit in these boxes.” This collection addresses the complaint that people find it hard to learn new pronoun sets. Buchanan writes that the answer is to normalize new pronouns — “in conversation, yes, but also in our stories, in fiction, in all media. In stories about spaceships and about magic, heroism and exploration, families and home.” As an added bonus, the authors and editor make recommendations for other works to read.

This ghost story set in a small depressed Ontario town in the 1990s explores concepts around sexual agency and slutdom with extraordinary doses of humanity, humor, and lyricism. With issues of women’s sexual autonomy being currently (and always) very much under the spotlight, the author presents myriad ways in which the book’s characters’ sexualities clash with (or struggle under) patriarchal power structures and lays them across queerness, whiteness, poverty, religious and moral values, and public opinion. Through the eyes of the protagonist and of the queer ghost who is haunting her, the reader experiences the pains and thrills of inhabiting a gendered, sexualized, queer body in this story full of caustic language and powerful images. WARNING: descriptions of child sexual abuse and adult suicide.

This cerebral, investigative novel presents a future society in which humans have divided into Paxans and Outsiders. Paxans are committed to “a collegial, laterally organized meritocracy.” In this technologically advanced society, Paxans spend only a small portion of their lives in “meatspace” and the majority of their lives in virtual realities, inhabiting and conversing with their secondary and tertiary bodies, which represent selected and isolated aspects of their consciousness. Paxans have been given FTL travel by an alien race they call Delta Pavonians, and some women, cis and trans, are able and willing to undergo body modification and training to be able to communicate with the aliens. The story traces the mystery of a second alien planet, La Femme, and its telepathic inhabitants. The novel is an absorbing exploration of the many ramifications of the notion of gender and the myriad ways in which it is represented and exploited.

  • Meg Elison, “Big Girl” Fantasy and Science Fiction (Nov/Dec 2017)

A story about a common problem in society—fat shaming. This is especially a problem for women, both white and of color, and for teens who lack self-confidence and easily fall prey to ads and movie portrayals. With satirical condemnation of society and media reactions, this story portrays how internalizing the perceived norms of “feminine” leads to low self-esteem.

As the cover promises, so the book delivers: 15 graphic short stories by “seventeen women, demigirls, and bi-gender creators of color.” The rich heart-warming fantasy stories deal with folk tales, fairy tales, disability, immigration, race, grandmothers, baking, depression, romance, and much more magic. This anthology is a good way to find authors you’ll want to read again, and a great display of the dramatic potential and innovative storytelling in contemporary comics today.

An anthology of over 30 short stories and poems. About half were originally published in Glittership Magazine, and all have queer themes and characters. “The Little Dream” by Robin M. Eames (in which a character wears a t-shirt that reads “IN SPACE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU INSIST THERE ARE ONLY TWO GENDERS”) and “Graveyard Girls on Paper Phoenix Wings” by Andrea Tang are particularly recommended. A wonderful variety of stories and a great way to find authors you want to read more of.

Because of a plague that kills men more frequently than women, one society in this polluted future has mostly women. But men still have more power and women still need to fear sexual assault. The other society is all women — many with special powers, including doublers who have multiple clone births, “starfish” who can grow new body parts, and girls given special treatment so they can help breast feed the multiple babies. The religion is Mother-based. A beautifully written novel.

This album follows the struggles, joys, incarceration, and eventual liberation of a queer, Black woman who is punished by a system that seeks to “cleanse” her of all elements in her life that deviate from the norm. She is sent to a prison in which her memories (each of which is a separate music video and an ode to mutual love in rebellion) will be erased. The workers in charge of the erasure, who sit back and enjoy the memories prior to destruction, serve as a sharp metaphor of the white supremacist, cisheteropatriarchal system that is obsessed with Black bodies and creativity while still remaining profoundly anti-Black. This concept album forms a cohesive science fictional narrative, introducing futuristic elements in a way that is rarely seen so explicitly in the medium, opening up new pathways for the musical exploration of feminist science fiction.

This story portrays a culture in which gender pronouns change depending on a multitude of factors for each individual at any given time. This story shows a character at the beginning of a new life whose sense of identity is affected by this new language with a multitude of unfamiliar pronouns. The story also touches on issues of immigration, poverty, unemployment, romance, and building a new family. The reader is given linguistic issues and endearing characters in a well-done story.

This young adult novel was translated from Swedish. In it, a society of women (in groups acknowledging the Maiden, Mother, and Crone) live apart from a patriarchal world. They populate their society by rescuing women and girls from poverty, evil men, and lack of education. The leader of the Abbey is the First Mother. This story is told in the time of the 32nd First Mother. The women of the Abbey preserve knowledge within a vast library. The novel ends with the narrator, a teenage girl, deciding to go back out into the world to see if she can help change how men and women see themselves and one another.

This visceral story with vivid writing explores in a literalized way the dysphoria that can come with being trans. The monster in the basement works as both a powerful metaphor and a plot device.

But Wait — There’s More!

In addition to the honor list, this year’s jury also compiled a “long list” of twenty-eight other works they found worthy of attention.

Now What?

The Tiptree Award winner, along with authors whose works are on the Honor List, will be celebrated at WisCon in Madison, Wisconsin during Memorial Day weekend. The winner will receive $1000 in prize money, a specially commissioned piece of original artwork, and (as always) chocolate.

Each year, a panel of judges selects the Tiptree Award winner. The 2018 judges were Margaret McBride (chair), Marina Berlin, Ritch Calvin, and Arrate Hidalgo.

The 2019 panel of judges will be chaired by Carol Stabile, and reading will begin soon. The Tiptree Award invites everyone to recommend works for the award. Please submit recommendations via the recommendation page. Full information on all the books mentioned above will be in the Tiptree Award database by late April 2018.

 

2018 Fellowship Recipients Announced

We are pleased to announce the selection of two Tiptree Fellows: Vida Cruz and Ana Hurtado.

Vida Cruz is a Clarion graduate and the first Filipina to win first place in the Writers of the Future contest. She was born in the Philippines and is currently based there.

In her application, Cruz described the many faces of feminism and resistance in the Philippines: “Together, warrior, witness, writer, and witch amount to a uniquely Filipino feminist identity that live on in strains despite the erasure of colonization. I hope to reclaim and round these out by telling stories led by such characters.” Funding from the Tiptree Fellowship will help Cruz continue her work on an ongoing series of alternate-history stories set in a present-day Philippines inhabited by Filipinos and local mythological creatures. Each story is written as a feature article by a sharp-eyed Filipina journalist who seeks to heal and galvanize her society by writing and bearing witness, and eventually by becoming a warrior and perhaps even a witch.

Cruz’s fiction has appeared in LONTAR (The Journal of Southeast Asian speculative fiction), Expanded Horizons, Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up to No Good, Kathang Haka: The Big Book of Fake News, the Philippine Speculative Fiction series, and Phantazein.

Ana Hurtado holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University and is a professor of English at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador. Her work has been published in Uncanny, Strange Horizons, Noble/Gas Qtrly, RHINO Poetry, and other publications. Her writing falls under the genre of magical realism and reflects a blending of Andalusian traditions, indigenous cosmovision, and African mythology, all shaped by Hurtado’s Venezuelan origin and location in Ecuador.

In her application, Hurtado wrote about the role of ghosts in her young-adult novel-in-progress: “In this novel, gender is explored in the ‘real’ world and ‘ghost’ world; when these two collide, we understand how sexuality is fluid..…. With an entire cast of ghosts, my young adult novel wants to highlight the pre-Columbian cosmovision of ancestors: ancestors, like ghosts, never leave us – they are forever between us and with us, sharing their ancestral knowledge and guessing our future.”

The Fellowship Committee also awarded honorable mentions to Eleanna Castroianni, Theresa Hottel, Lulu Kadhim, Zora Mai Quynh, and Courtney Young.

The Tiptree Fellowship program, now in its fourth year, is designed to provide support and recognition for the new voices who are changing our view of gender today. Each Fellow will receive $500. The work produced as a result of this support will be recognized and promoted by the Tiptree Award.

Over time, the Fellowship program will create a network of Fellows who can build connections, provide mutual support, and find opportunities for collaboration. This effort will complement the ongoing work of the Award — that is, the celebration of speculative fiction that expands and explores gender roles in thought-provoking, imaginative, and occasionally infuriating ways.

The members of the 2018 selection committee for the Tiptree Fellowships were the 2017 Tiptree Fellows, H. Pueyo and Ineke Chen-Meyer, past Tiptree honoree Julie Phillips, and Motherboard member Gretchen Treu.

If you would like to donate to the fund for future Tiptree Fellowships, you can do so here. Let us know if you would like your donation to support the Fellowships program specifically.

To read about the work of our previous Fellows, click on their names below.

 

Applications for Tiptree Fellowships due October 31

For the fourth year, the Tiptree Award is welcoming applications for Tiptree Fellowships: $500 grants for emerging creators who are changing the way we think about gender through speculative narrative.

If you think that description could apply to you — even if you are not working in a format most people would recognize as the science fiction or fantasy genre — you are eligible to apply for a Fellowship. Tiptree Fellows can be writers, artists, scholars, media makers, remix artists, performers, musicians, or something else entirely; so far our Fellows have been creators of visual art, poetry, fiction, and games.

The Tiptree Fellowship is designed to provide support and recognition for the new voices who are making visible the forces that are changing our view of gender today. The Fellowship Committee particularly encourages applications from members of communities that have been historically underrepresented in the science fiction and fantasy genre and from creators who are creating speculative narratives in media other than traditional fiction. In keeping with the focus of the Tiptree Award, the selection committee is seeking projects that explore and expand understandings of gender, particularly in relationship to race, nationality, class, disability, sexuality, age, and other factors that set individuals or groups apart as “other.” Fellowship applicants do not need a professional or institutional affiliation, as the intention of the Fellowship program is to support emerging creators who lack institutional support for their work.

The deadline is coming up soon, but there is still plenty of time to submit – applications are due on October 31. To apply, you will need to write short responses to two questions and to share a sample of your work – you can learn more about the application process at this link.

To read about the work of our previous Fellows, click on their names below:

 

A note about the WisCon 42 Tiptree celebrations

This was originally posted at WisCon’s official blog. We are grateful to WisCon for making the post for us.

It has come to our attention that, at WisCon 42, our introduction and celebratory song & materials for Tiptree Award winning book Who Runs the World / The XY by Virginia Bergin contained language that suggested the novel portrays a trans-exclusionary view of gender. We want to apologize unreservedly for any harm this caused to audience members. While Bergin’s novel was exciting to the jury because of what they believe to be its trans-inclusive, non-essentialist approach to a trope that has often relied on a dangerously reductive understanding of gender, we also now recognize that the invocation of the trope can in itself be harmful.

Since the ceremony, the Tiptree Motherboard has spent time discussing what we can do to make sure a similar situation does not arise again. We have set in place a policy for vetting of future Tiptree songs and materials prior to public announcement, and we have reaffirmed our commitment to making sure each Tiptree Award jury incorporates a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. We also recognize that no oppressed community is a monolith and that any representative marginalized community member’s reaction, opinion and experience differs from another’s, and as such we need to be careful to include multiple marginalized perspectives in all aspects of the Tiptree organization, including the development and approval of celebratory materials for the winning work. This discussion is ongoing and we welcome suggestions and recommendations.
(more…)

Visit our online auction!

For those in the Tiptree community who aren’t attending the Tiptree Award auction at WisCon, we created an online auction. We don’t want you to miss out on all the fun—and the opportunity to possess something beautiful, really cool, or wonderfully odd.

So we put together an auction of ten items, all with a connection to the Tiptree Award—from an amazing silk-screened print created by Freddie Baer to a votive candle featuring Saint Karen Fowler for those who agree with Karen’s contention that writing should be more exuberant than is strictly tasteful.

Check it out. Submit a bid. The auction will run from midnight on May 15 to midnight on June 16. And as those of you who have attended the Tiptree Auction already know, extra karmic points for bidding prime numbers!

Success!

We are pleased to announce that our Giving Tuesday campaign has now raised more than $3000. The Tiptree Award can claim the full $2400 of matching funds available for this effort.

With $2400 in donations matched by dollar-for-dollar, we have raised over $5400. Our thanks to everyone who contributed to this campaign, to everyone who shared our call for donations on social media, and to the donors who offered to match donations.

It’s not too late to add your support to this successful effort. With your donations, you make possible our efforts to encourage the creation of speculative fiction that explores and expands our understanding of gender. And since the Tiptree Award is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, all donations are tax-deductible.

Double Your Donation

November 28 is Giving Tuesday, a day to celebrate generosity and to remember that there’s more to the holidays than consumerism and commercialization. This year, the Tiptree Award is joining in this national day of generosity and giving.

How can you participate?

  • Consider making a donation to the Tiptree Award. Thanks to a group of donors, all donations made from now through the end of the year will be matched, up to $2400. Your generosity will be doubled. If we make our match, we’ll raise $4800 for the award —over half of our annual budget.
  • If you haven’t already, share the latest Tiptree winner and honor list with friends on social media. (What could be more generous than sharing a good book?)
  • If you’re shopping for holiday gifts, remember the Tiptree store. Our new edition of The Bakery Men Don’t See has many recipes that are perfect for holiday baking.
  • Help us get the word out on social media via Twitter and Facebook. (If you haven’t joined the Tiptree Facebook page or followed us on Twitter, now’s a good time.)

Events of the last year make it clear that our society still has a long way to go regarding gender issues. At the Tiptree Award, we think that the first step in moving forward is to imagine a new world, one that is feminist, decolonial, anti-racist, anti-ableist, anti-fascist, and supportive of all gender identities. We see the Award and the Tiptree Fellowships as investments in the imagination we need to create that future. With your help, we’ll raise the funds we need to continue supporting and promoting speculative fiction that imagines worlds that are very different from the one we live in today.

Thanks for your support!