Somewhere among my papers which are archived at the San Francisco Public Library is a postcard that I treasured for 20 years. When one of the first chapters of what became my novel, The Gilda Stories, appeared in print Joanna Russ wrote me to say she liked it. For years I kept the card over my desk like a shining star. Reclusive, idiosyncratic and brilliant Russ was one of my literary heroes. She created some of the core speculative fiction that influenced a generation of women writers.
I never got to meet Joanna Russ although I always held out hope that someday I might. I imagined scenarios as if I were a kid hoping to meet a favorite movie star because she was that iconic for me. Her imagination was expansive and dangerous; it knew few bounds. This is probably what led her to write a book entitled The Female Man in 1975 when the shock of the juxtaposition of those words was palpable.
I wrote a review of one of her story collections (Extra)Ordinary People (1985) and marveled at the different tone and design, yet at the core was always her humanist wit and playfulness that barely concealed her skepticism about the human race. She was a lesbian feminist when few writers were saying those words out loud and through that perspective made the world look like a miracle.
I rarely return to books I've read, in part I guess, because it always feels like there are too many books and too little time. But now, since I heard she passed away and we can’t expect anything new, I've pulled out the Joanna Russ books and will stack them by my bedside. I won't ever get to play out my fantasy of an endless tea time with Joanna Russ overflowing with political, literary and personal conversation between us that goes on for hours. So I'll do exactly what all writers dream will happen...I'll curl up with her books and continue being a fan, spreading the word of her genius whenever I can.