Final Project Proposal: Russ’ Anger and Frustration

Joanna Russ was a renowned female fiction writer who gained fame in the 1970s. She was born in February 22nd, 1937 in the Bronx. She studied and earned her bachelor’s degree with an English major at Cornell University in 1957. Joanna Russ continued her study at Yale, and she received her master’s degree in play writing and dramatic literature. She taught at State University of New York, Binghamton but was denied tenure from the school. She moved to the University of Colorado and later yet to the University of Washington, where she finally had an offer to the tenure position.

Joanna Russ was best known with her novel The Female Man, novella “Soul” that won the Hugo Award, short story “When it Changed”  that won the Nebula Award, and many more critical works. Her role as a science fiction reviewer had won her a Pilgrim Award for science fiction critique. The New York Times also ranked Joanna Russ “among the small band of accomplished stylists in science fiction.”

In my humble opinion, I think Joanna Russ is an absolutely terrific writer who brings stories to life and tricks her readers’ minds. Let’s take “Soul” as an example. Readers are tricked into believing that Abbess Randegunde was a saint at the beginning of the story, but Joanna Russ skillfully transformed her character into someone else that made the readers confused and scratch their heads in frustration. Is Abbes Randegunde a saint or a demon? That is up to your own imagination, and that proves how good Joanna Russ was as a writer.

One of the reasons that has me drawn into investigating Joanna Russ was that she was so interesting when it comes to writing letters with her anger so strongly embedded in them. Her anger and frustration in her letters to James Tiptree Jr. as well as her non-fiction works such as papers about anti-pornography bring more attention from the readers and researchers. Why was she so angry and irritated in most of her work? Does it show that she was critical towards the issues/person she was writing to, or does it show that she was frustrated with her career and life? Why is pornography so important to Russ? She expressed a lot of irritation and anger that one can feel when he/she reads her paper “About Pornography”. It’s always her rage and resentment that make the letters and papers more interesting.

At this point, I’m not quite sure to what specific direction I’m heading, but Russ’ anger will definitely be my focus for this final project.

Bibliography

[Letters to James Tiptree Jr.] Joanna Russ papers, [Coll 261, Box 10, Folders 31-42], Special Collections & University Archive, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.

[Literary Works] Joanna Russ papers, [Coll 261, Box 13, Folders 2, 4-8, 15-16], Special Collections & University Archive, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.

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2 responses to “Final Project Proposal: Russ’ Anger and Frustration

  • cstabile

    Here are two possibilities for focusing this project — while they may not yield direct answers to your questions about Russ’s anger and frustration, I think these research questions might get you closer.

    1. We know that Russ was denied tenure at SUNY-Binghamton. She finally got tenure at University of Washington, but there’s a file in the Russ Collection (“Letter Campaign to Support Russ”). I wonder what that’s about and what bearing that might have on her tenure case at SUNY. There’s also a lot of correspondence in letters to Delany about her tenure case at SUNY. Why didn’t she get tenure? What were the circumstances surrounding her case?

    2. Samuel Delany and Marilyn Hacker (friends of Russ) both went to the Bronx High School of Science, one of the most important science magnet schools in the US. Her Wikipedia page claims that Russ won a Westinghouse Science Talent Search in her senior year of high school (around 1955). Did she attend the Bronx High School of Science (I suspect she did)? Why did she not pursue the study of science, given her background and (if the Westinghouse reference is correct) obvious talent?

    The Westinghouse Science Talent Search (now Intel) were a huge deal in the 1950s, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to track this information down.

  • kimta1009

    I did a little research for the Westinghouse Science Talent Search as you suggested, and I found Joanna Russ’ name on the Top Ten finalists list. It was in 1953 that she won the award, but the website doesn’t mention the name of her high school, just her city (New York).
    Here is the link for the website: https://student.societyforscience.org/science-talent-search-1953

    And here is another link showing Joanna Russ teaching Dr. Westmore how to eat buffalo steak: http://www.flickr.com/photos/societyforscience/4974463906/in/photostream/

    That was quite an interesting finding.

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