Ellen Caswell (1953-2022)

Ellen Vartanoff (left), Bob Burrows, and Ellen Caswell (right) at a Christmas party in 2008. Photo taken by Bill Hussar.

By Martin Morse Wooster: Ellen Caswell, a long-time member of the Potomac River Science Fiction Society (PRSFS) and Knossos, the Washington chapter of the Mythopoeic Society, died on October 16 of cancer.

Ellen grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland and graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in linguistics.  She worked with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association for many years as an editor and graphic designer.

She was an avid reader not just of sf, but also mysteries and other genres.  She once read 18 Harlequin romances in two days while staying in a Boston hotel room during a snowstorm. She also read the last page of any novel first and if the ending satisfied her, she would then read the rest of the book.

Some examples of her tastes came from the books she picked for Knossos, which has a monthly book discussion.  The last five authors she picked as selections were novels. by Rosemary Kirstein, Garth Nix, Katherine Eliska Kimbriel, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Diane Duane.  It is because of her that I read Bujold’s Paladin of Souls and discovered that the book was an entertaining historical fantasy novel in the tradition of Rafael Sabatini.

Some examples of her writing come from the club newsletter, which she edited from 1986-1988. PRSFS, in its 45-year history, has prided itself on never collecting dues, and one recurring gag is for one member to say, “I vote to raise the dues” and members come up with increasingly facetious multiples of zero.  “For any who may be coming to the club for the first time,” Ellen wrote, “don’t worry, only a few people have been bankrupted by the dues.”

In another newsletter, Ellen wrote about “New Works in the Prissyfish Library.”  For Jean Dunnington, who worked in the Folger Shakespeare Library and liked to knit, Ellen came up with Shakespearean Crochet.  Another member who liked cats and Jewish culture was presented as the author of Yiddish Cat Tales.  Two other members who had recently moved were the joint authors of Surviving Torture:  A Guide to Moving Incredible Numbers of Books.

Ellen spent a few years as a caregiver or her parents and had enough money from the inheritance to rent a small old house which we used for several pleasant meetings.  She was an active officer of the local community association until her death.  She also kept up membership in her two clubs, including more than one meeting where the Zoom connection was made from a hospital bed.

In personality, Ellen was very calm.  She certainly let you know what she thought but she never tried to dominate a conversation.  She always had plenty to say—and she always kept reading.