Gifted filker Renee Alper died July 27 from an infection. She was 58.
Alper discovered Tolkien while in the fifth grade, an interest which in time led her to fandom.
She developed severe arthritis after starting college and was forced to drop out. During a year-and-a-half of enforced inactivity, she read a notice that The Mythopoeic Society was forming a group in the Chicago area. She responded and helped found Minas Aeron in 1977, together with Michael Dorfman, and Greg Everitt.
A wire service story about the new club attracted out-of-town Tolkien fans to join, prompting them to rename their group the American Hobbit Association. The organization soon had more than 200 members, most from the U.S., but several from England, the Netherlands, and Hong Kong. They also recruited Christopher Tolkien, Clyde Kilby, and Raynor Unwin. The AHA newsletter was named Annuminas (West Tower) and they later published The Rivendell Review. The group continued to meet locally for 12 years.
Alper also wrote locs to many sf fanzines and was one of the first subscribers to File 770 in 1978.
Arthritis confined her to a wheelchair most of the time, but her physical challenges became much greater in February 1989 when she suffered a devastating spinal cord injury in an auto accident. While on the way home to Cincinnati, after a day trip to visit her boyfriend in Columbus, the vehicle she was in skidded on a patch of ice and crashed off the side of the road. She broke her neck in numerous places, and was in a halo brace for the next six months.
The emotional trauma accompanying the loss of mobility is described in her essay “Never Should on Yourself” (From There To Here: Gary Karp’s Life on Wheels) — as is a breakthrough she experienced during a conversation with her motion therapist, Eric:
One day Eric asked me, “Do you know that you can be completely content even if nothing in your life improved from the way it is now?” I answered, “Sure, I know, on some esoteric level, that’s true. They say that given the right attitude, even a prisoner being tortured can find contentment. But come on, Eric, look at how my life is: incredible pain, stuck in a wheelchair with spasms, limited mobility, enormous problems finding personal care help – how can I be content?”
She adds that psychotherapy, with the right therapist, was an indispensable tool to her recovery.
Alper became a teacher, a singer, songwriter, public speaker, actress, director and playwright. She used her experiences to write a play about a disability support group, Roll Model, and “Non-Vertical Girl” (2009), which presents her life story as a one-woman musical fringe show.
“Non-Vertical Girl” follows the heroine from the onset of a lifelong illness as a teen, through a devastating car crash, and ultimately to love and success. Alper began with a review of all the terms used over the centuries to refer to someone with limited use of their limbs, which changed over time as each came to have a negative connotation: crippled, invalid, handicapped, disabled.
She chaired Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative’s Cold Readings and also read for the Cincinnati New Light Festival. Other Alper works were produced by the Cincinnati Fringe Festival (“Extreme Puppet Theatre”), Talent2000USA (“Roll Model”), and The Renegade Garage Players (“Roll Model Jr.,” “Trust,” and “The Rescue”).
Drawing on her long history as a Tolkien fan, she served as “dramaturg” for Ovation Theatre Company’s adaptations of The Lord of the Rings over a three year period. Alpert told an interviewer —
I liked saying “I am the dramaturg, I speak for the text” — you know, “I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.” Because where the author deviated from the text, I basically said yay or nay, but he didn’t always listen. The biggest faux-pas he did was having Sam and Rosie get pregnant before they were married. I hopped up and down, waved my hands, did everything I could, but he kept it in the play.
Alper was a devoted and talented filksinger. Dave Weingart, another leading filker, credited her with having “a wonderful voice”.
She was a prolific songwriter, too, and was twice nominated for the Pegasus Award for excellence in filking. “Natira’s Song (For The World is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky)” was a 1991 nominee for Best Love Song. “On The Inside” was a 1994 nominee for Best Filk Song —
Virtual Reality can be deceiving
Everything is not as it appears
And only a naive soul could be so believing
To fall in love having only met
On the inside, on the inside
Alper also won or placed in the Ohio Valley Filk Fest Songwriting Contest nine times from 1991-2003, with songs like Reed Turner: Novel Hero, Deer John Letter, If I Were a Rich Fan, and Tear It Down.
She produced several tapes, including Wheelchair in High Gear, Four On the Floor, and Thoracic Park.
For a time, she hosted Filkaholics Anonymous at her home in Mason, OH.
She was a GoH at Musicon 2 (1993) in Nashville, Tennessee.
Alper even had connections to gaming fandom. Gamerati did a video interview with her in 2011.
Despite all the physical suffering she endured every day Alper retained a dry wit, and wryly concluded one post on a meetup board:
If there is an exit interview for life, I have a few suggestions for the customer service department….