I am the worst, most desultory blogger. Hardly deserve the name. Over the past month, I’ve been spending a lot of time in UO’s Special Collections, reading Ursula Le Guin and Joanna Russ’s papers and I’m gobsmacked (or is is struck?) by the incredible epistolary relationships feminist science fiction writers had with each other and readers they came to care deeply about.
To whit, I just finished reading 18 folders of letters that James Tiptree, Jr. wrote to Joanna Russ over a period of 15 years (between 1972 and Tiptree’s death in 1987). I can’t even begin to capture the dazzling, fractious, erotic energy between the two of them. Heated arguments about privilege — especially when Russ believed Tiptree to be a man and routinely castigated him for his “obvious” male privilege. I had to infer much of what Russ was saying because she didn’t keep carbons of her letters, despite Tip’s repeated pleas for her to do so. But arguments over race and class, as well, which Russ was apparently less astute about.
There’s a kind of playful generosity of spirit that runs throughout Tiptree’s letters (and Le Guin’s as well — the amount of labor these women poured into the mentoring of other women writers, some of whose names you’d recognize, others more obscure!). This morning, I was edging toward the end of the Tiptree-Russ correspondence and I found myself slowing down, unwilling to come to the end, not wanting the letters to stop, exhausted by witnessing the span of a lifetime in 18 folders. At one point, Tiptree wrote to Russ that she didn’t want to talk about health issues because, as she put it, “Honey I can’t join in — because about a decade back I found out what all my symptoms mean — ONCOMING DEATH.”
I keep coming back to the relationships these writers created through their letters (I don’t believe that Tip ever met Russ ftf, but need to fact check that). While they’re performing for one another (Le Guin and Tiptree’s letters are gems, I tell you — polished bits of prose on everything from Freud to Tillie Olsen), it’s not the kind of kind of professional performances we see in the blogosphere. Hmm. Need to think more about that.
Maybe a book in all this some day, even if it’s just editing a collection of Tiptree’s letters. I think I’m in love with him. Er, her. I think Tiptree’s preferred pronoun would just have been: “Trip.”