andrew j. offutt (1934-2013)

offuttandy offutt, perennially popular convention toastmaster, prolific sf/fantasy author and two-term President of SFWA (1976-1978), died April 30 at the age of 78.  

offutt, who typed his byline in lower-case, wrote dozens of published novels, many under pseudonyms (most frequently, “John Cleve”), producing fiction so rapidly he teased that his idea of “writer’s block” was getting stuck for 45-minutes as he dramatized in the introduction to his story “For Value Received” in Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions.

i fought. i kept sitting down and trying to type. i snarled, cursed, cussed, obscenitized. Kept on fingering keys. (i use three fingers, one of which is on my left hand. it gets sorest.) i kept on. Come on, damn you! i know what a block is. i’d liefer forget, and i will never stop at a stopping point again!

His first professional sf story was the winner of the College SF Contest sponsored by If.  “And Gone Tomorrow” appeared in 1954. His next sale, “Blacksword,” appeared in Galaxy in 1959. “Population Implosion” was selected by Wollheim and Carr for Ace’s World’s Best SF (1968). His first science fiction novel followed a Sixties vogue for funky titles – Evil Is Live Spelled Backwards (1970).  

Prior to becoming a full-time writer offutt worked several years for Proctor & Gamble, then ran insurance agencies in three Kentucky towns.

He married Jodie McCabe in 1957. They have two daughters and two sons, including author Christopher Offutt.

An energetic and amusing speaker, offutt was constantly in demand as a convention toastmaster. But, at the peak of his popularity, when called upon to emcee the 1974 Worldcon banquet, things seemed to get away from him. He extemporized for so long it was perceived as a discourtesy to GoH Roger Zelazny. Although offutt’s reputation suffered, his friends rallied and showed their affection by making him the 1975 Midwestcon guest of honor – the only GoH the con had ever had up to that time.

offutt promptly rebounded in professional circles and was twice elected President of SFWA. Jodie Offutt wrote that among her husband’s greatest pleasures as president was giving the Grand Master Award to Clifford B. Simak (1977).

“Cliff,” he said, lip trem­bling as he handed it to him, “I’ve got tears in my eyes just presenting this. Why the heck aren’t you cry­ing?”

“Andy,” Cliff told him, “when I’m in my room by my­self and I look at it, then I’ll cry.”

Highly regarded by pros, offutt also was fan-friendly, often writing for fanzines. He contributed “A Chatty, Preferably Controversial Column” to Tom Reamy’s Trumpet, actively participated in all the arguments in Richard Geis’ various fanzines, and wrote letters to Algol, Mobius Trip and my own zines (though I heard from Jodie far more often).

He was honored with the Phoenix Award for lifetime achievement at the 1986 DeepSouthCon – where he was also, of course, toastmaster.

Later in life he had various health problems: a heart bypass in 1999, and a perforated ulcer in 2001 that forced him to step aside as toastmaster for Kubla Khan 29.

One of his collaborators, Richard K. Lyons, recalls:

As things worked out, Andy and I wrote and published four novels together. The problem that finally made us stop was that we were having too much fun. While that was fine by me since I was in it mostly for fun, Andy had a living to earn and the fun was eating a lot of his time.

For a man who needed to make a living, andy offutt was always remarkably generous with his time and writing talents. I won’t forget that.

[Thanks to Sam Long for the story.]

11 thoughts on “andrew j. offutt (1934-2013)

  1. I met andrew and Jodie Offutt a few years ago, when I finally attended my first sf convention — Chambanacon in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, where I live. As I remember, andy was just there as an attendee, not a big name Guest, although my memories of him in fanzines would have quickly elevated him to that status. In fact, I went back to my apartment, looked through my boxes of old fanzines, and found an early 1970s copy of Pete Weston’s Speculation (one of the first fanzines I ever received), with an article in it by andy. Showing it to him, he said he didn’t remember writing it, but that it looked like something he would have done, and signed it for me. I was in pure BNF worship mode, finally, after 35 years, and andy was very gracious about it.

  2. One other aspect of the Discon II Hugo Banquet that didn’t help andy – or anyone else for that matter – was that the hotel A/C was having a hard time dealing with the number of people in the ballroom and the Labor Day humidity of DC.

    I recall meeting andy & Jodie at Midwestcon and undoubtedly other cons back in the 70s – they were nice people.

  3. I remember andy’s GoH speech at the 1973 PghLange, which was great, and I remember being surprised at how poorly he seemed to be doing, the following year at Discon, not just extemporizing for a long time, but seeming to be meandering aimlessly. I wasn’t aware at the time that his reputation had suffered; I, along with others I spoke to in the following months, just thought that he had been having a bad night.

    I haven’t seen andy at any cons in quite a few years; I’m sorry that he’s gone.

  4. @Morris: There are plenty of fans who see it your way, while there are others even today who repeat the story of that night anytime offutt’s name comes up. I have an old e-mail from one of the latter claiming that 1974 performance helped end Worldcon banquets altogether, an untrue statement both because there have been other banquets since then, and the sentiment against them existed at least as early as the first Worldcon I went to in 1972. (That’s why Elst and I held the first Ranquet, after all…)

  5. The one thing I remember most clearly about that banquet was Harlan getting up from his seat while andy was speaking, slowly walking up to andy, and saying something softly into andy’s ear. I don’t think that anyone except Harlan and andy ever knew what Harlan said, but this action got a laugh from the audience.

  6. I knew Andy pretty well, all the way back to the mid 1970s. We crossed paths each year at Midwestcon until a few years ago, when he stopped attending. He was also author of one of my 10 favorite SF stories, “Population Implosion”. Gonna miss him.

  7. I was saddened to hear about Andy Offutt. Although I had been out of touch with anyone in the family since I moved to Australia, I guess you could say I was a friend of Andy, Jodie and met the ‘kids’ at various times, including a visit to their house while in KY seeing other friends. Further, I assisted Andy in putting on a SFWA party at the Algonquin once, as well as being ‘Tuckerized’ in one of his stories as “old ivied Smoire Hall” Overly-long ;speeches notwithstanding, there was much to admire about Andy, and I’m sure many people here will mention them.

    Two of the things I admired about him was his mind that raced a mile-a-minute, resulting not only in a prolific writing ability, but in a quick wit and good sense of humor. Some of you reading this will not know that I was diagnosed in 1991 with ADHD (had it all my life, which explains a lot…), but it also gave me a great interest to have people whose mind worked like Andy’s (as friends and/or acquaintances) in my life. One other thing many of you won’t know is that Andy was Blue-Green color-blind; I admired his ability to pick matching socks from others of similar color & shades. I know it’s an insignificant ‘skill’ but I can’t imagine being in a world where a significant number of things were simply shades of grey to me.

    With regrets for not keeping in touch more, I would like to pass along my sympathies to Jodie & family on the loss of a man with a great sense of humor, a creative and substantive amount of publications, and (though a bit late), a friend. Andy died before his due-date.

  8. Andy was a regular guest at Swampcon, Coastcon and DeepSouthcon (and many more) for many years. A fine toastmaster and an articulate, knowledgeable and quick witted panelist, he was the consummate Southern Gentleman. He combined a lifetime of professional experience as a writer, editor and SFWA President with a fannish enthusiasm for many other writers in the field. It was a pleasure to listen to Andy tell stories of his youth in Kentucky one minute and other famous writers the next. Fond memories of sneaking off with Andy and Dave Roberts for seafood after many a convention. I assume the Tucker Hotel will be adding an Oyster Bar ….

  9. I didn’t know him, I never heard him speak, and I didn’t get that many fanzines he was in, but I really enjoyed his short stories.

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