Leland Sapiro (1924-2013)

Leland Sapiro (born Shapiro) died October 8. Sapiro was best known as editor of Riverside Quarterly, three-time nominee for the Best Fanzine Hugo (1967, 1969, 1970), “an earnest little fanzine, the hand-knitted fannish equivalent of an academic journal” as described by Alexei Panshin, whose Heinlein in Dimension first saw print there.

The zine began when Sapiro, along with Jon White and Ron Smith revived the fanzine Inside Science Fiction as Inside in 1962. Eventually, Sapiro gained editorial control, renaming it Riverside Quarterly in 1964. The zine continued to appear until it went on hiatus in the mid-1970s. When he resumed publication issues came out infrequently, the last in 1993.

In the early days of academic study of science fiction Sapiro considered his Riverside Quarterly in a rivalry with Thomas Clareson’s Extrapolation. He humbly conceded first place to Clareson in a 1972 Worldcon program book ad while touting his own long list of distinguished contributors.

Among his contributors were Jack Williamson, who let RQ run an expanded version of his Ph.D. thesis H.G. Wells: Critic of Progress, James Blish, Robert Bloch, Algis Budrys, Samuel Delany, Philip Jose Farmer, Ursula K. Le Guin, Darrell Schweitzer, John Sladek and Harry Warner, Jr.

These were the early days of academic interest in science fiction and fantasy. In 1962 Sapiro, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, Sam Russell, and Arthur Jean Cox participated in a panel discussion about Lovecraft at a LASFS meeting and the published transcript (with annotations by August Derleth) became a sought after collectors item.

Sapiro lived all over North America during his lifetime – Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada, Florida, Texas and Louisiana, to name a few.

Although he had a reputation as a dry, scholarly writer, there was a passionate fan inside. So the story goes, in the 1950s a prozine published a bigoted letter by a Louisiana fan that pushed Sapiro’s buttons. Sapiro, who then lived in Los Angeles, took a plane to New Orleans and a taxi to the fan’s house. When the fan answered the door, Sapiro punched him in the face, returned to his taxi, and flew back to LA.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

9 thoughts on “Leland Sapiro (1924-2013)

  1. Yes, Leland was a major figure in those early days of academic study of science fiction. Love the punching story! He never told me that.

    Good guy!

  2. I think Riverside Quarterly was the first fanzine I ever got that wasn’t the local clubzine, and certainly the first in trade for my own. There was some good reading in RQ — I remember Bill Beardsley’s (?) columns fondly, and there were other odd pieces that caught my fancy. But RQ seemed to grow increasingly dry in time. Or maybe I just grew increasingly less interested in reading that sort of thing once I’d been in fandom a couple of years … hard to say. Nor do I have my copies anymore.

  3. I still have a good run of RQ AND the HPL book. Treasured items! Thanks for running this. I have not seen anything about Leland on the Locus or sfscope sites.

  4. I am surprised and delighted to find these warm comments about my uncle, Leland Sapiro. Leland lived near me in an Assisted Living residence in Huntington Beach, CA for the the last 4 1/2 years of his life. He taught mathematics until he was 80 years old. To the end, Leland loved reading science fiction.

    Thank you for your public expressions of appreciation for Leland and the Riverside Quarterly.

    As a correction, Leland was not “born Shapiro.” His parents were Aaron Sapiro and Janet Arndt Sapiro.

  5. I met Leland Sapiro in the late 1950′s when he came to San Antonio, Texas with his father – Aaron. They visited with my grandmother – Pauline Goldsmith Reiter. I was maybe 10 years old at the time. My strongest memory is of Aaron’s hands which were horribly disfigured by arthritis. He had a pocket watch that chimed the time – I think he told me that he had it because his eyesight was failing. Aaron was most kind about my utterly inappropriate questions about his hands and made me feel as though he was pleased with my interest in him and his watch. He amused me by demonstrating over and over again how the watch worked. I had no idea of the magnitude of the man at the time.

    I also remember Leland as a very tall, lean young man with whom I forged a friendship. He was kind and generous enough to correspond with me for several years. I think I probably had a crush on him, but what I remember best is the thrill of receiving the letters. He addressed me as though I was an adult and graciously carried on a written conversation with me about a wide variety of subjects.

    I do not know how Aaron knew my grandmother, though they appeared to be old friends. I can hardly say that I knew either of Aaron or Leland, but clearly, they both made a deep impression on me, and I remember both of them fondly.

    My sympathy to you for your loss.

  6. Thank you for your lovely memories of my uncle and grandfather Claire.

    Leland was apparently much more socially engaged than we ever knew.

    I recall similar exchanges with Aaron regarding his disfigured hands. I am also in possession of the chiming watch.

    Linda Sapiro Moon

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