I had the privilege and honor of taking an advanced writing class with Joanna Russ at the University of Washington in Seattle. I was studying literature mostly, but took a few writing classes. Russ stood out as brave in that time of worship of “high literature” over popular or (God forbid) genre fiction. In addition to her excellent critiques, she gave sound advice about how to keep writing in a world in which we’d have to work full time for a while, if not for our adult lives. I remember her suggesting that we might want to take a job that didn’t consume our writing energy so we’d have that left to write during off hours. She suggested not writing junk fiction to make a living, as our “real” work would start to resemble it.
My two favorites of hers are in fiction, The Female Man, with four women who come from the worlds that embody the variety of gender roles often discussed in the 1970’s. Meet especially Jael, warrior with steel teeth and catlike retractable claws, from an earth with separate-and warring-female and male societies. But then there’s the librarian waiting to get married.
Her nonfiction is equally revolutionary. I loved How to Suppress Women’s Writing, published at a time when a male student said to me in all seriousness after class once that no woman had ever written a classic nor ever would. Yes, this was in the 20th century. I told him he was a moron and not to talk to me anymore.
Thank you Joanna Russ for all you have done for us—entertaining, teaching and clearing the way!