Suzette Haden Elgin (1936-2015)

Elgin_S_LVersatile sf author, poet and linguist Suzette Haden Elgin died January 27. She’d been experiencing health troubles for a long time, and abandoned several newsletters and her blog a few years ago due to the effects of Fronto-Temporol Dementia which, as her husband, George, explained in 2012 — is “a condition that develops more rapidly than Alzheimer’s disease, and does not respond to any form of treatment or medication.”

Elgin began her career as a science fiction writer in the late Sixties. Having remarried after being widowed, Elgin found herself a mother of five and at the same time a graduate student in linguistics at UC San Diego. She began writing sf to pay her tuition.

Andrew Porter recalls, “I pulled her first short story, ‘For the Sake of Grace’, out of the slushpile when I was assistant editor at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Ed Ferman published it in 1969. It was subsequently widely reprinted and anthologized. She was one of the few authors I discovered who went on to a wide-ranging and productive career.”

Elgin completed her grad school work by writing two dissertations, one on English, the other on Navajo. She was later hired by San Diego State University, where she taught until she retired in 1980.

Elgin’s first novel, The Communipaths, published in 1970 as half of an Ace double, marked the beginning of her Coyote Jones series, followed by Furthest and Star-Anchored, Star-Avenged.

She then wrote the Ozark Trilogy, Twelve Fair Kingdoms, The Grand Jubilee and And Then There’ll Be Fireworks. Coyote Jones also appeared in another book set in that universe, Yonder Comes the Other End of Time.

In the mid-1980s she produced her best-known work, Native Tongue, The Judas Rose and Earthsong – sf novels where women create, word by word, a language of their own called Láadan to help free themselves from men’s domination. (A Láadan grammar and dictionary was published in 1988 by SF3 of Madison, Wisconsin.)

Elgin made another key contribution to the genre by founding the Science Fiction Poetry Association in 1978. For awhile she edited its newsletter, Star*Line. Her poem “Rocky Road to Hoe” won SFPA’s Rhysling Award in 1987. The organization also honored her by creating the Elgin Award in 2013.

Although Elgin admitted other poets disagreed, her essay “About Science Fiction Poetry” defined genre poetry in this way —

It seemed to me that the field of sf poetry badly needed rigor (the quality that makes hard sf hard), so that there’d be a way to stand up and argue for its literary value. People look at Picasso’s abstract paintings and object that their six-year-old child could do that — but Picasso could put a pencil on a sheet of paper and draw a magnificently realistic horse (or anything else you asked him for) as a single line, without ever lifting the pencil from the paper. That’s rigor. Because he could do that if he chose, he could also break all the rules if he chose; that’s fair. I wanted sf poetry first to prove that it could do the thing rigorously; after that, if it wanted to fly off into the never-nevers, it would at least be possible to point to the body of rigorous work and say, “When sf poets choose to, they can write like this; they’ve proved that, and now they have the right to break the rules.” So I assumed “poem” as defined, and proposed that an sf poem was one that had two parts: a science part, and a fiction — narrative — part. Like most grandiose projects, mine didn’t go far; the sf poets shouted me down in short order. But I still think it was, and is, worth a try.

Elgin’s other nonfiction enterprises were considerably more influential. Her Ozark Center for Language Studies was dedicated to reducing violence in the U.S. and getting information about linguistics out to the public. She wrote a remarkable book called The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, whose goal was “To establish an environment in which verbal violence almost never occurs and which — on those rare occasions when it cannot be avoided — it is dealt with efficiently and effectively, with no loss of face on either side.” (I used it in my own work.) She taught four basic principles: “Know that you are under attack. Know what kind of attack you are facing. Know how to make your defense fit the attack. Know how to follow through.” She taught workshops based on the material, and wrote several follow-up books, one of which was a novel, Peacetalk 101.

She was a widely respected professional in multiple fields who will be truly missed.

2014 Elgin Award Winners

The Science Fiction Poetry Association’s 2014 Elgin Award winners have been announced.

Named for SFPA founder Suzette Haden Elgin, the awards are presented in two categories, Chapbook and Book. Eligible chapbooks contain 10-39 pages of poetry, while books must contain 40 or more pages of poetry.

Elgin Book Award

Winner: Demonstra by Bryan Thao Worra (Innsmouth Free Press, 2013)

Second Place: Unexplained Fevers by Jeannine Hall Gailey (New Binary Press, 2013)

Third Place: Dark Roads by Bruce Boston (Dark Renaissance Books, 2013)

Elgin Chapbook Award

Winner: The Sex Lives of Monsters by Helen Marshall (Kelp Queen Press, 2013)

Second Place: The Edible Zoo by David C. Kopaska-Merkel (Sam’s Dot Publishing)

Third Place: Inhuman: Haiku From The Zombie Apocalypse by Joshua Gage (The Poet’s Haven, 2013)

Suzette Haden Elgin Medical Status

A full update about Suzette Haden Elgin’s medical situation by her husband, George has been posted. In part it says:

Suzette has developed a Fronto -Temperol Dementia. A condition that develops more rapidly than Alzheimer’s disease, and does not respond to any form of treatment or medication. Somedays, for hours at a time, her behavior is almost normal. Most of the time she has no problem with filling up her day. She reads all kinds of books, and sometimes reads them over and over again. We are fortunate in living near a used book store, that has a vast assortment of titles that I can buy for 26 cents apiece. I’ve been buying 30 to 40 every 2 or 3 weeks. She reads them all! Then I pass them on to anyone who wants them.

When we first moved here, 15 months ago, I bought her a new Macintosh iMac computer. She started off using it daily, and said she was writing a new science fiction story. After a few months she stopped working on the story, and then stopped using the computer altogether. Now She won’t use it even to read or answer her email.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Wooster’s Comments on Invented Languages Book

By Martin Morse Wooster: I finished Arika Okrent’s In the Land of Invented Languages (Spiegel and Grau, 2009). The book mentions sf fandom in several places. She attended a Lojban conference that was held at the 2006 Philcon. She also discusses Suzette Haden Elgin’s feminist language Laadan, and discusses Wiscon’s role in promoting discussion of this language. She also says that Lojban adapted some of Laadan’s features, and did so because of Lojban founder Bob LeChevalier’s connections with fandom. Finally, there are several chapters about Klingon, and the work of Lawrence Schoen’s Klingon Language Institute is discussed.

I wouldn’t say that artificial language fandom is something that spun off of sf fandom (except for Klingon) but rather that artificial languages are something that fans are interested in.

Diana would want to know that Tolkien is discussed, including his creation of Quenya. But I thought the Tolkien discussion was rather slight.