Russ, Joanna, 1937-2011

Alternative names
Birth 1937-02-22
Death 2011-04-29

Biographical notes:

American Joanna Russ (1937- ) is a feminist and an author of science fiction and literary criticism, as well as an educator. Her short stories, novels, and essays examine the limitations of late 20th century gender roles on the lives of women and posit possibilities for women outside these constructions.

From the description of Joanna Russ papers, 1968-1989. (University of Oregon Libraries). WorldCat record id: 75958892

An author of the science fiction genre.

From the description of [Papers] / Joanna Russ. 1942-1971. (Bowling Green State University). WorldCat record id: 14207830

Joanna Russ, feminist, educator, author and literary critic was born February 22, 1937 in New York City. Encouraged by her parents, especially her mother whose love of literature she credits "as one of the things that drew her to literature with a female point of view," Russ began writing when she was five years old. She graduated from Cornell University in 1957, and received an MFA in playwriting from the Yale School of Drama in 1960. Her teaching career began at Queensborough Community College in New York; she has also taught literature and writing at Cornell and the State University of New York at Binghamton and the University of Colorado at Boulder. In1977, she joined the faculty of the University of Washington in Seattle, retiring in 1990 as a full professor.

Her short stories, novels and essays examine the limitations of late 20th century gender roles on the lives of women and posit the possibilities for women outside these constructions. Her fiction is categorized within science fiction, a genre that, over its history, devolved the constraints of the western cultural literary traditions by shaping alternative realities for humanity. The profound change that Russ and her contemporaries introduced in the 1960s and 70s is the positioning of the female protagonist as a complete individual, capable of all constructive and destructive activities, entirely outside of any relationship with the male identity of western myths. The male is no longer the absolute owner of all real activity. "These are not stories about men qua Man and women qua Woman; they are myths of human intelligence and human adaptability. They not only ignore gender roles but--at least theoretically--are not culture bound." These explorations into the speculative nature of women's reality place her work in a subsection of science fiction along with the work of Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler. In a 1984 interview, Russ said, "Science fiction is a natural, in a way, for any kind of radical thought. Because it is about things that have not happened and do not happen. àIt is very fruitful if you want to present the concerns of any marginal group, because you are doing it in a world where things are different."

Russ' fury at what happens in the world humans actually inhabit, what continues to happen, drives her creations. Joanna Russ has been a voice of angry, insulted women since her first short story was published in 1959. "But holy peanut butter, dear writer," James Tiptree, Jr. wrote to Russ in 1973, "do you imagine that anyone with half a functional neuron can read your work and not have his fingers smoked by the bitter, multi-layered anger in it? àIt smells and smoulders like a volcano buried so long and deadly it is just beginning to wonder if it can explode."

Russ has won many awards including a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for 1974-75. She won the Nebula, science fiction's prestigious award, for her short story "When It Changed" and the Hugo in 1983 for Souls, a novella. She was also awarded the Pilgrim Award in 1988 for her criticism of works in the science fiction genre.

From the guide to the Joanna Russ papers, 1968-1989, (Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries)


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  • Science fiction--History and criticism
  • Feminists--Correspondence
  • Feminism and literature
  • Feminist fiction, American--Authorship
  • Science fiction
  • Feminism
  • American fiction--Women authors
  • Sex role--Fiction
  • Women authors, American--20th century--Correspondence
  • Feminists--United States--Correspondence
  • Feminism--United States
  • sexuality
  • American literature--20th century
  • Women and literature
  • Science fiction, American--Authorship


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  • United States (as recorded)