Tag Archives: Jo Walton and Su Sokol


MonSFFA marked International Women’s Day with guests Jo Walton and Su Sokol at the March 10 meeting.  The following item appeared in File 770, which I thought you might want to read as it was an issue raised during the meeting. Su read Robert Silverberg’s argument that James Tiptree was obviously a man, and then his later retraction.

Su Sokol and Jo Walton, March 10, 2018

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY. Headstuff’s Aoife Martin celebrated the day by analyzing “Author Pseudonyms” used by women. A couple of instances came from sff —

Closer to modern times we have the case of Alice Bradley Sheldon who wrote science fiction under the pen name of James Tiptree Jr. In an interview she said that she chose a male name because it “seemed like good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damn occupation.” It’s interesting that Sheldon should have felt the need to do this but she was a successful science fiction writer – so much so that she won several awards including a Hugo for her 1974 novella, The Girl Who Was Plugged In and several Nebula awards. Her secret wasn’t discovered until 1976 when she was 61. Throughout her career she was referred to as an unusually macho male and as an unusually feminist writer (for a male). Indeed, fellow writer Robert Silverberg once argued that Tiptree could not possibly be a woman while Harlan Ellison, when introducing Tiptree’s story for his anthology Again, Dangerous Visions wrote that “[Kate] Wilhelm is the woman to beat this year, but Tiptree is the man.” Suitably, the James Tiptree Jr. Award is given annually in her honour to works of science fiction and fantasy that expand or explore one’s understanding of gender.

And even closer to modern times, the case of JK Rowling, from the same article:

In April 2013, publisher Little Brown published The Cuckoo’s Calling, the debut novel of Robert Galbraith who, according to the publisher, was “a former plainclothes Royal Military Police investigator who had left in 2003 to work in the civilian security industry.” The novel sold well and received acclaim from other crime writers and critics. It was described as “a stellar debut” by Publishers Weekly. Of course, as we all know, Robert Galbraith turned out to be a pseudonym of the slightly better known author JK Rowling. She did this, she says, in order to see how far she could get without relying on the success she already had. In an interview with CNN Rowling said “Sadly, in certain genres, it still helps to be a man – particularly in crime or science fiction. Sometimes it’s easier to be taken seriously as a man, and J.K. Rowling is in a difficult position as her reputation means that her work can’t be judged on merit alone.”

Even more interesting, or rather depressing, is the fact that Rowling’s publishers suggested she use her initials JK instead of her full name as the target audience of young boys might not want to read a book written by a woman. If publishers are already pigeonholing readers at that age, is it any wonder that there are female authors out there trying to subvert gender expectations? Using your initials is one method of doing this. Authors such as CJ Cherryh, AM Barnard (Louisa May Alcott), JD Robb (Nora Roberts) and so on. The question we, as readers, need to ask ourselves is why when we see an author with initials do we automatically assume they are male and, probably, white (though that’s a different issue and outside the remit of this article).