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The Feminist World of Joanna Russ- Boogieman in Lavender

Her literary criticism was blunt and uncompromising. Her humor was sharp and stinging. Her importance to the field of science fiction cannot be underestimated. Best of all, her fiction is still being read, enjoyed and learned from.

She is Joanna Russ (1937 -2011.)

Here, I must confess that I have not read much of Russ’ work, but I am familiar with it. Her book “How to Suppress Women’s Writing” is a must-read. I sat down with one of her collections; “The Hidden Side of the Moon.” I didn’t quite know what to expect, I certainly didn’t expect her sense of humor. There’s a riff on Lovecraft as well as “The Clichés From Outer Space,” a pointed satire on sci-fi stories involving alien pregnancy and the writers and editors who have to deal with the stories. There are homages to Oscar Wilde (“Mr. Wilde’s Second Chance”) as well as Virginia Woolf, and a story dedicated to Allie Sheldon (a.k.a. James Tiptree Jr.)

Russ’ most famous novel is probably “The Female Man,” which takes its characters through several parallel worlds, including one without men. This and her novel “And Chaos Died” featured openly gay and lesbian characters.

Yes, Russ was gay. She didn’t talk or write about it much, and didn’t really come out until later in life. Several of her short stories featured characters outside the traditional gender spectrum, like “Existence,” which opens with the line: “It is impossible to call up the Devil when women are present.”

Russ was at the forefront of the feminist writers who came to prominence in the 70s and 80s. This wave can be seen as opening the door for the current LGBT literary movement.

Joanna Russ died in 2011. Her influence can still be keenly felt. The recent series of best Lesbian Speculative fiction of the year was entitled “Heiresses of Russ.” 

Jeff Baker’s fiction has appeared in “The Necronomicon of Solar Pons” and in the new QSF anthology “Innovation” (as by Skip Hanford.) His non-fiction has been posted to the Lambda Literary and Amazing Stories sites, but he acknowledges he is no Joanna Russ. He blogs about reading and writing sci-fi, fantasy and horror around the thirteenth of each month. He lives with his husband Darryl and  regularly posts fiction on his blog    and wastes time on Facebook at


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