Kate Wilhelm (1928-2018)

Kate Wilhelm

Kate Wilhelm died March 8 following a brief illness Her son, Richard, made the announcement on Facebook:

Her warmth, humor, and immense talent will be deeply missed. Her life as a loving mother, prolific author, friend, and generous mentor will be cherished by many. We’re proud to continue her legacy, publishing her backlist and recent work through infinityboxpress.com… A celebration of life will be held in Eugene on Friday, June 8, 2018, Kate’s birthday. Details will be announced.

Wilhelm’s first published short fiction was “The Pint-Size Genie” in the October 1956 issue of Fantastic. The next year, her first accepted story, “The Mile-Long Spaceship”, was published by John W. Campbell, Jr. in Astounding.

She won the Best Novel Hugo for Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang in 1977, and the Best Related Book Hugo for Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in 2006. She won three Nebula Awards, for the short stories “The Planners” (1969) and “Forever Yours, Anna” (1988), and the novelette “The Girl Who Fell into the Sky” (1987).

She married Joseph Wilhelm in 1947, and had two sons. They couple divorced in 1962, and she married Damon Knight in 1963.

In addition to their literary achievements, Wilhelm and Knight made major contributions to the sf field as the creators of sf writing workshops. As Gordon Van Gelder said in his thorough appreciation of Kate Wilhelm’s for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 2001 (read it here) —

…You’ll note the author bio mentions that she lived in Milford at the time. As many readers of this magazine already know, her home there was a big Victorian house called the Anchorage with her second husband, a writer and critic by the name of Damon Knight.

The reason so many readers are aware of this fact is because Kate and Damon hosted many, many writing workshops there. I can’t recall for certain if they met at a workshop, but as far as the history of science fiction is concerned, they might as well have. By way of writing groups in Milford, Clarion, and eventually in Eugene, Oregon (their home for the past three decades), Kate and Damon have consistently surrounded themselves with vibrant literary communities—they’ve practically raised contemporary American science fiction.

… She and Damon helped Robin Wilson found the Clarion workshops and for more than twenty years they taught the final two weeks. I saw Kate in action once, about ten years ago, and marveled at her ability to analyze a story and gently but firmly bring out the weaknesses in a constructive manner. It is no wonder that writers can quote her twenty years later. It is no wonder that the roster of writers she helped foster includes such luminaries as Kim Stanley Robinson, George Alec Effinger, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Robert Crais, Nicola Griffith, Lucius Shepard, and dozens more. In the year 2000, all four winners of the Nebula Award for fiction were former students of Kate’s.

Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight were guests of honor at the 1980 Worldcon.

Wihelm was inducted to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2003.

16 thoughts on “Kate Wilhelm (1928-2018)

  1. I remember seeing both Wilhelm and Le Guin at Wiscon 30 back in 2006, when Wilhelm was the GoH that year. It doesn’t seem that long ago, as I count the years. But the years pass on by relentlessly, as we all learn eventually if we are so lucky.

  2. Wilhelm was one of the quietly effective ones; not as stunning to read as Le Guin, but her fiction showed how subtly people could drift into evil and her discussion of writing was excellent. I hope people will continue to read her work — both the SF and her mimetic mysteries.

    She did in fact meet Damon at a Milford, when she was quite new and both of them were married to other people. (See discussions in Better than One and A Pocketful of Stars. It’s unclear how much effect she had in Milford — a lot of heavy hitters showed up there — but as long-time co-anchor of Clarion she probably affected more writers than anyone since Campbell (and I wouldn’t swear that she didn’t affect more).

  3. I read “Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang” for the first time last week, on the recommendation of my spouse. It’s a true classic. She will be missed.

  4. Whenever I hear Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go praised as groundbreaking, I make sure to note that Wilhelm was there (with post-apocalypticism and clones) long before them. RIP.

  5. The mystery community mourns her too. I was delighted to learn she was returning to the Barbara Holloway series and even more delighted to read the latest one. Kate Wilhelm was a writer whose well never ran dry.

  6. RIP Kate! I just recently discovered the Holloway series and sped through them because I couldn’t put them down! I literally just finished Mirror Mirror and was doing a google search to see if there was any talk of the next book. I am extremely saddened to see that she has passed away! She was a truly magical story teller!

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