Category Archives: Blog post 5
Dear Ms. Gearhart,
You have no idea who I am, but you might as well know I’m one of those people who have been digging around in your papers at the University of Oregon. I’m sorry for reading so much of your personal correspondence, but it’s so interesting. One thing I kept wondering about whenever I read your fan mail (yes, I went through that stuff, too – sorry) was how you received/interpreted those letters. There was an outpouring of support for the “Times of Harvey Milk”, and for your role in it (and for good reason!), but I was curious how you felt about the familiarity with which some fans wrote to you.
Obviously, many of the letters were heartwarming and sweet, and there were a fair number of letters that seem to be from friends you knew before your movie-related fame. But what about the people who wrote to you as if they knew you personally? I recall reading one letter that sounded like it came from an old friend who hadn’t seen you in a few years… it was only after reading the paper attached to it addressed to SFSU and asking the first recipient there to find a way to get it to you that I realized the fan didn’t even know you well enough to have your mailing address! Did you welcome this kind of fandom? What was it like knowing that the effect of your words was so profound that people would write a lengthy letter and send it off to no one in particular in the blind hope that it would find you? It seems at once touching and impertinent, but I wonder what you thought about it at the time. Has your view changed at all since then?
Speaking of changes over time, I read that you describe yourself as “a recovering political activist”. What is it you find yourself needing recovery from the most? Is there anything you miss about the political activist life(style)? If you could go back and do it all again… would you? What would you do differently? If there was one thing you’d want future generations to remember about you, and about what you’ve done here, what would it be? I ask because I remember vividly a fan letter from a young man thanking you for your role in the Milk documentary (speaking of which, did you see the newest movie about him, and if so what did you think of it?), and your effect on his life. I remember it not only for the content, but for the small note you made in the corner: “answered 12/26/84”. I can only imagine what you wrote (do you remember?), but I’m sure it was something befitting the beauty and heart of the original letter. It made me wonder which you cherish the most: the effects you had in individual peoples’ lives or the amazing things you accomplished in the “bigger picture” (I know they go hand in hand, but I still think it’s an interesting question).
I’m really not sure how to end this letter (it’s something I’ve always struggled with, along with lengthy asides in ubiquitous parentheses), except to say thank you. For the great reads, for your role in the world we live in today, for the impact on individual hearts and minds, and for the journey you and your generation set us upon. And I’m sorry if my letter comes off as unqualifiedly familiar as the ones to which I referred earlier.
Sincerest best wishes in all regards.
Muhammad M. Khalifa
Dear Sally Miller Gearhart,
I am so fascinated and captivated by the strides and sacrifices you’ve made in your life that have directly influenced my own life, and countless people in my generation and the generations after.
I want to express my extreme never-ending gratitude for the fact that, after obtaining tenure at San Francisco State in 1973 (which is monumental in itself) you created one of the first Women and Gender Studies programs in the country. I have no doubt that without this huge achievement that you made, the program that I myself am majoring in at the University of Oregon, 40 years later, would not exist. I’m sure of this because I know that a fund created in your name supports my program, and therefore supports me and my peers.
I want to say thank you for being brave and going after tenure at SFSU, without that accomplishment you might not have been able to create a program teaching classes that were widely considered controversial. I know that some of your peers in the Science Fiction community were not so lucky as to get tenure, and I know that San Francisco and Northern California were seriously considering passing the Briggs Initiative, which would have been devastating for openly gay teachers, so the fact that you were openly a lesbian and you had the courage to fight for your right to teach and your right to tenure in a seriously adverse climate is inspiring to say the least.
I could only dream of making the impact you’ve made, and I am truly awestruck by your passion and achievements. I just want to express my thanks.
Dear Ms. Le Guin,
I am a student at the University of Oregon currently taking the Feminism and Science Fiction class and thus feel I should tell you that I have been looking through the correspondences and papers you have given to the Special Collections. It is with strange yet compelling intrigue that I read your letters and it leaves me feeling oddly thrilled at my sneaky and stalker-ish method of gaining information (In my defense, I do believe that it is everyone’s desire to learn about the daily, private lives of others). I must admit I had never read any of your work before this class, but since the start of term I have had the pleasure of learning what an amazing writer you are, your informal communications being just as well written as your short stories and novellas (your novels have been put on my ever growing list of books to read once the term ends).
Well, now that I’ve gotten through the disclaimer and fan section of this letter, the reason behind my archival snooping has been for a research paper I am working on that looks at how you have been influenced by the environmental movement. I know you grew up in Berkeley and have lived most of your life in Portland and thus have seen the growth of environmental awareness. Several of your works have an environmental aspect to them (The Word for World is Forest) as well as an anarchist feature (The Dispossessed) and I know you are involved with environmental groups and have also been in contact with anarchists. I was wondering if you could tell me a little about how you felt the environmental movement has influenced you and your writing? What major concepts and ideas do you identify with and have you incorporated into you work? Oregon has a history of people tree-sitting and blocking roads in an effort to protect the environment and I was wondering if you ever participated in any such events (I know you have been a part of numerous protest marches) as well as how you felt about the anarchist-environmental feelings that were sometimes quite strong in the Northwest.
Thank you for taking for your time and I’m excited to hear you at the symposium/talk this Friday.
PS. My dad, unlike me, apparently read all of your books when he was younger and is ecstatic that I am studying and researching you for this class. He told me to tell you that the science fiction concepts in your books were a big influence in his life.
Ms. Joanna Russ,
Hello my name is Richard, a student at the University of Oregon. I have been reading some of your papers that the UO has in the special archives. Of particular interest to me have been your unpublished works. I have read two Kirk/Spock stories and a stage play of The Hobbit. I have to say you are an excellent writer though I suppose that much is obvious. I particularly like how you depict the characters in Star Trek. In my opinion the best part of the Star Trek show is the acting between the main three characters. While at many points in the show, the writing is weak the actors carry the show regardless. You have captured that sense of humor and friendship perfectly in your writing of your Kirk/Spock stories. As I rewatch some of the original Star Trek episodes, it is hard not to imagine that the slow smiles and knowing looks between Kirk and Spock are the beginning of an as of yet unspoken relationship. But I have to say my favorite part of the story has to be McCoy. From his perspective, you see a good man struggling with realizing that his bigoted assumptions on homosexuality are completely wrong. McCoy’s journey from bigotry to understanding culminates in him apologizing to Kirk and Spock and asking for their forgiveness. It is beautiful. Coming from a more conservative part of Oregon I have many friends from high school who are good people but have some particularly intolerant views on homosexuality. I wish that they could undertake the journey that you have written for McCoy in your short story.
All gushing aside I should probably ask you about your opinions on the gender roles depicted in the world of Star Trek as I am writing a research paper on that topic. Star Trek seems to elevate the status of women slightly over what it was in the 1960’s but not all the way to equality. I would also like to hear your views on Tolkien’s work as I have found nothing from you on his work other than the aforementioned stage play. I think it highly unlikely that you will respond to this letter but if you do I would be thrilled. I would have you know however that after this class I will be reading more or your works for pure entertainment when I have the time.
Richard C. Cramer
Recently, I have become absorbed with your correspondence with Cheris Kramarae. What started out as a business relationship quickly developed into a friendship that went beyond mere communication about the writing profession.
In your letters, the emotion pours out and you seem broken down by the system that was set into place at your university. You describe yourself as disabled and you desperately try to prevent another female writer and professor from experiencing the same painful memories of your past. Now, at age 76, over 30 years after the letters were written, have you found peace? Have you been able to find ways to overcome the physical pain of your disability and emotional pain from your experiences in academia to continue to teach and influence the world despite being in a classroom?
In your letters, you speak of defeat, and yet your books demonstrate changes in language that give women power and create inclusive communities. Did your defeat come from the delayed acceptance of your ideas? Or perhaps you simply have regrets from your time in academia, and if this is the case, what advice would you give to young professors or students to ensure their success and emotional well-being? Finally, do you feel that at this moment in time have we as women have gotten back our stolen language?
Outside of the correspondence, I am curious to know as a linguist what you think the definition of feminism is and how language has helped that definition evolve over time. I am very interested in also knowing how far you think the world has come in regards to inclusive language, and how much farther we still have to go.
Thank you for your work and inspiration for future generations.
Dear master, good master,
It seems like I have a lot of questions and very little time. This is a painful contrivance. I’m sure I won’t get a chance to ask many of them tomorrow, a lot wouldn’t apply unless someone had read your letters and I don’t want to waste their time. I put some thought into these, though. Hopefully, the chance comes later this week, some time. I feel that this entire term (esp. working in the archives), we have been less learning and more developing questions about fiction and authors that yearn to be answered. I want to know.
In your early 20’s, you left your PhD program in genetics at UW and began writing in order to make a living. At that time, did you think writing would be your career, or something to do with your BA in Biology? At what point did you consider yourself a professional writer, as opposed to an amateur? What did that change mean to you?
How did your relationships with other members of the SF community change as you made the transition from fan to peer? (Esp. Russ, Le Guin, Tiptree, etc.)
Something Kelsie pointed out was the parallel between your apartment in Seattle getting robbed in college (and your files taken) and Snake having her journal stolen by the crazy in Dreamsnake. Did real life inspire fiction here? How do things in your own life inspire your writing?
So, as a young author, you didn’t hire/find a literary agent until after you won your first Nebula Award in 1973. Was this a conscious choice? … I also saw that you continued to handle a lot of business affairs as an anthology editor and workshop organized even afterwards. Do you like the financial management aspect of writing, or was this a bit of Northwest do-it-yourselfism?
As a long-time resident of the Coast Range, how were you affected by your experience living at the Le Guin Cabin in Rose Lodge? … Did you spend more time there after the mid-1970s?
You spoke a lot with Joanna Russ about your take on the feminist movement in the 1970s as a young woman. What do you feel has changed for women today, both at the university-level in general and in the sciences specifically? … What about for beginning female authors?
More so than a lot of the other authors we’ve read in our class, you have worked in Hollywood and in television. What motivated you to take your work in that direction? Was it your influence from Harlan Ellison? … Would you care to talk a bit about the upcoming production of The Moon and the Sun?
Speaking of Harlan Ellison, I was really surprised in one of your letters to see that you came up with the term “Speculative Fiction” to describe his work. Is that correct?
You seemed to collect a lot of hotel stationary. What was the best you’ve ever found?
Hopefully, the opportunity arises sometime soon.