The administrators of the Tiptree Award are retaining the name after discussing the challenges to the name and requests for change raised in social media. Their decision is explained in-depth in “Alice Sheldon and the name of the Tiptree Award”.
They reviewed the author’s history which is behind the controversy.
Alice and Huntington Sheldon’s story. We on the Motherboard, those who remember Alice Sheldon and those who do not, have long known the story of how she and her husband, Huntington Sheldon (known as Ting), died.
Friends and family — and the science fiction community at the time — viewed this tragedy as resulting from a suicide pact: the desperate and tragic result of a combination of physical and mental illness and the Sheldons’ desire to die on their own terms. He was 84 years old; she was 71.
However, some who have read accounts of the Sheldon’s deaths more recently have pointed out a different interpretation. The story can also be seen as an act of caregiver murder: where a disabled person is killed by the person, usually a close family member, who is responsible for their support.
Both narratives fit the story. We see how much of the discussion of the Sheldons’ deaths, including our own, reflects the rhetorical tendencies identified in David Perry’s report, specifically the centering of those who kill over those who are killed. In the world outside of science fiction, Huntington Denton “Ting” Sheldon would be considered the more significant member of the couple. “Ting” Sheldon was Director of the Office of Current Intelligence of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy and is credited with building that office of the CIA.
After quoting from Tiptree biographer Julie Phillips and Sheldon’s friend and literary executor Jeffrey Smith, the Motherboard sums up:
We ultimately do not know what happened on May 19, 1987. We can’t know with certainty and we don’t see how anyone can know except the ones who cannot tell us. But we are as convinced as we can be, given the unknowability of the facts, by the evidence that Alice and Huntington Sheldon chose to die together.
We respect that not everyone who reads this will have the same interpretation. We recognize that the unconscionable murder of disabled people by their caregivers happens daily, driven both by the devaluation of disabled life and by the lack of available care and support. Therefore we do not seek to defend or exonerate Alice Sheldon, but to make sure the context of her actions remains part of any conversation about them. We are grateful to our community for raising these important issues and bringing them to our attention.
Then they review why the award is named for Tiptree:
We think it is important to understand how the Tiptree got its name. In 1991, founding mothers Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler made a conscious choice to name the award not after Alice Sheldon herself but after the assumed persona –– more than a pseudonym –– under which Sheldon published fiction and participated in fandom. In its conception, the James Tiptree Jr Literary Award hoped to acknowledge and celebrate Sheldon/Tiptree’s dual gender identity, the boundary-crossing work published under Tiptree’s name, and the havoc the revelation of Tiptree’s gender wreaked on the male-dominated science fiction world of the 1970s.
Sheldon was a complicated individual, aspects of whose personal story have long been woven tightly into and through the idea and spirit of the Award. Yet the Award was not intended to reference a figure whose approval winners might imagine gaining or toward whose example they might aspire, in the way that other awards named for iconic individuals – most notably the former Campbell – appear to do.
The rationale for keeping the Tiptree Award name includes consideration of the meaning of her work:
Discussions about the naming of the award relate to broader issues that the Motherboard has been contemplating for some time. When we return to the stories Alice Sheldon wrote as Tiptree, we often find a pessimistic tendency that can seem, at times, like a horrible foreshadowing (though this is far from the only way to read them). Tiptree’s work describes the contours of gender oppression acutely and rarely, if ever, sees a way out. We have been reflecting this week on how many of our feminist icons were also women who could not see a way out. Tiptree’s stories, then and now, provide scope for multiple and complex politics. If we look at the work of our honorees, winners, and fellows, among their greatest commonalities are broad, deep, and diverse commitments to finding, or creating, ways out.
See the post for the full discussion, which is about twice as long as these excerpts.
[Thanks to Pat Murphy and Jeffrey Smith for the story.]