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James Tiptree, JR.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon

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James Tiptree, JR.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon Cover

ISBN13: 9780312426941
ISBN10: 0312426941
Condition: Standard
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Review-A-Day

"Phillips's account of Sheldon's evasion and ultimate unveiling provides an engrossing read. Even more interesting is Phillips's take on Sheldon's increasingly isolated life after the truth about Tiptree was revealed....The portrait that emerges captures a complicated woman who circumscribed assumptions of gender while struggling with their constraints." Anastasia Masurat, Bitch (read the entire Bitch Magazine review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Tiptree burst onto the science fiction scene in the 1970s with a series of hard-edged, provocative short stories. Then the cover was blown: the author was actually a 61-year-old woman named Alice Sheldon — world traveler, debutante, chicken farmer, CIA agent, and experimental psychologist. This fascinating biography is based on full access to her papers.

Review:

"Journalist Phillips has achieved a wonder: an evenhanded, scrupulously documented, objective yet sympathetic portrait of a deliberately elusive personality: Alice Sheldon (1915–1987), who adopted the persona of science fiction writer James Tiptree Jr. Working from Sheldon's (and Tiptree's) few interviews; Sheldon's professional papers, many unpublished; and the papers of Sheldon's writer-explorer-socialite mother, Phillips has crafted an absorbing mlange of several disparate lives besides Sheldon's, each impacting hers like a deadly off-course asteroid. From Sheldon's sad poor-little-rich-girlhood to her sadder suicide (by a prior pact first shooting her blind and bedridden husband), Sheldon, perpetually wishing she'd been born a boy, made what she called 'endless makeshift' attempts to express her tormenting creativity as, among others, a debutante, a flamboyant bohemian, a WAC officer, a CIA photoanalyst, and a research scientist before producing Tiptree's 'haunting, subversive, many-layered [science] fiction' at 51. Sheldon masked her authorship until 1976, and afterward produced little fiction, feeling that a woman writing as a man could not be convincing. Through all the ironic sorrows of a life Sheldon wished she hadn't had to live as a woman, Phillips steadfastly and elegantly allows one star, bright as the Sirius Sheldon loved, to gleam. 16 pages of b&w photos." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"If you lived in McLean, Va., in the 1960s and '70s, you probably ran into Alice B. Sheldon. You might have seen her shopping for dresses at Lord & Taylor's or buying gardening supplies at Hechinger's. But you would not have known that under the pseudonym 'James Tiptree Jr.,' she wrote works that were at the vortex of gender wars that raged in the world of science fiction.

Sheldon (1915-87)... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"Ms. Phillips does a fine, perceptive job of piecing together the patchwork of her subject's personality." New York Times

Review:

"From the opening montage of contradictory scenes in her subject's amazing life, to its copious citations of sources, Julie Phillips' biography of science fiction's trickster genius is a wonder." Seattle Times

Review:

"Phillips is more than adept at plumbing Sheldon's writing to expose her anger at the role gender plays in sex, creativity and power. A compelling portrait of a conflicted feminist." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"Phillips' long-overdue biography probes the mystery behind Sheldon's clandestine lifestyle while mapping out the many adventurous turns in her continuously reinvented identity as she changed roles from graphic artist and CIA agent to psychologist and award-winning author." Booklist

Synopsis:

James Tiptree, Jr., burst onto the science fiction scene in the late 1960s with a series of hard-edged, provocative stories. He redefined the genre with such classics as Houston, Houston, Do You Read? and The Women Men Don't See. For nearly ten years he wrote and carried on intimate correspondences with other writers--Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin, though none of them knew his true identity. Then the cover was blown on his alter ego: "he" was actually a sixty-one-year-old woman named Alice Bradley Sheldon. A feminist, she took a male name as a joke--and found the voice to write her stories.

 

Based on extensive research, exclusive interviews, and full access to Alice Sheldon's papers, Julie Phillips has penned a biography of a profoundly original writer and a woman far ahead of her time.

Julie Phillips is a journalist who has written on film, books, feminism, and cultural politics. James Tiptree, Jr. is her first book. She lives in Amsterdam, Holland.
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Winner of the Locus Award
Finalist for the Hugo Award
Shortlisted for the British Fantasy Society Award
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of of the Year
A Washington Post Best Book of the Year
A Times Literary Supplement Best Book of the Year
One of Booklist's Top 10 Women's History Books
One of Publishers Weekly's 100 Best Books of the Year
An American Library Association Notable Book for Adults
Recipient of a Special Recognition Award by the James Tiptree, Jr. Award Jury
 
James Tiptree, Jr., burst onto the science fiction scene in the late 1960s with a series of hard-edged, provocative stories. He redefined the genre with such classics as Houston, Houston, Do You Read? and The Women Men Don't See. For nearly ten years he wrote and carried on intimate correspondences with other writersPhilip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin, though none of them knew his true identity. Then the cover was blown on his alter ego: "he" was actually a sixty-one-year-old woman named Alice Bradley Sheldon. A feminist, she took a male name as a jokeand found the voice to write her stories.

 

Based on extensive research, exclusive interviews, and full access to Alice Sheldon's papers, Julie Phillips has penned a biography of a profoundly original writer and a woman far ahead of her time.

"If it is getting more and more difficult to tell scholarly biographies from mass-market ones, there nevertheless remain examples that hold great promise for literary biography. Take Julie Phillips's James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, which came out last year from St. Martin's. Not only has Phillips, a journalist, offered vigorous citations for her sources, including specific dates for letters, but she has chosen a subject where it is almost inconceivable to consider the writer apart from the writings . . . Phillips has carefully sifted through the public record,, as well as gone out of her way to interview many of the people who talked with Tiptree, and the magic combo clarifies any quibbles scholars and loved ones might have. Thus we have accountability and transparency . . . We get a strong sense of Sheldon's feminism through historical and anecdotal evidence. Phillips presents the political climate of 1947 and Tiptree's letters to friends about the 'woman problem.' If Phillips speculates, she doesn't often let matters linger there. She follows up. In presenting details about Sheldon's sexuality, we are informed that 'she couldnt have an orgasm through intercourse' and given multiple sources (for example, Tiptree's journal and an unfinished memoir) discussing her sexual wants. In light of her impersonation of a man throughout her writing career, that is a valid line of inquiry. Phillip's book represents the literary biography done right."Edward Champion, The Chronicle of Higher Education
 
"In Julie Phillips's engrossing and endlessly revelatory biography, the woman behind the alias is at last allowed to step into the spotlight, emerging as neither a malicious prankster nor a defiant contrarian, but simply as a writer for whom science fiction proved to be the ideal genre to tell her own story . . . [Phillips's] writing achieves its own kind of narrative tension, a spell that obliges even the readers already clued in to Tiptree's secret to turn the book's pages with increasing suspense as they wait for its real-life inhabitants to catch up with them . . . [a] thoughtful and meticulous biography provides both the expert and the novice with a Rosetta stone to the Tiptree catalog an opportunity to extract from these stories the many layers of personal resonance they once held only for Sheldon herself. And it gives a new generation of readers the chance to prove to Sheldon, who in her final years wrote that she was “trying to become nothing,” just how supremely wrong she was."Dave Itzkoff, The New York Times Book Review
 
"An incredible life, done elegant justice. Tiptree-Sheldon is one of the century's astonishing figures, somewhere between Katharine Hepburn, Philip K. Dick, and Billy Tipton."Jonathan Lethem, bestselling author of The Fortress of Solitude
 
"An exemplary biography of a fascinating lifethe brilliantly elusive woman who, as a writer, called herself James Tiptree, Jr. Never oversimplifying, never over-interpreting, Julie Phillips illuminates a formidably complex psyche wihout invading it."Ursula K. Le Guin, Hugo- and National Book Award-winning author of The Dispossessed
 
"The meticulous, emotionally intelligent biography of an extraordinary writer. Alice Sheldon is easily the most intriguing figure in late 20th-century American science fiction. Julie Phillips has given 'Tiptree' the book she deserves."William Gibson, New York Times bestselling author of Pattern Recognition
 
"A fascinating subject, an engrossing read. Philips provides sharp, insightful portraits of the real Alice Sheldon, the fictional James Tiptree, Jr., and the complicated partnership of their work and lives. This is a biography written with equal parts sympathy, respect, research, and honesty. And a real page-turner, too."Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club
 
"In this deeply thoughtful, rivetingly readable biography of James Tiptree, Jr., Julie Phillips traces the life and work of a woman whose self-presentation in her writing made her seem so much 'like a man' that she confounded our culture's myths of gender and genre, convincing even the most sophisticated readers that 'Tiptree'in 'real' life a woman named Allie Sheldonwas and had to be 'really' a man. This is a fascinating investigation of a fantastic literary career."Sandra Gilbert, distinguished scholar and editor of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women
 
"[James Tiptree, Jr.] documents not only an extraordinary life but all the fault lines of what it meant to be female in the twentieth century. I think this may be the rare case when a biography actually exceeds what I expect from a novel . . . I hope everyone reads this book."Dorothy Alli

Synopsis:

James Tiptree, Jr., burst onto the science fiction scene in the late 1960s with a series of hard-edged, provocative stories. He redefined the genre with such classics as Houston, Houston, Do You Read? and The Women Men Don't See. For nearly ten years he wrote and carried on intimate correspondences with other writers--Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin, though none of them knew his true identity. Then the cover was blown on his alter ego: "he" was actually a sixty-one-year-old woman named Alice Bradley Sheldon. A feminist, she took a male name as a joke--and found the voice to write her stories.

 

Based on extensive research, exclusive interviews, and full access to Alice Sheldon's papers, Julie Phillips has penned a biography of a profoundly original writer and a woman far ahead of her time.

About the Author

Julie Phillips is a journalist who has written on film, books, feminism, and cultural politics. James Tiptree, Jr. is her first book. She lives in Amsterdam, Holland.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Shoshana, June 21, 2009 (view all comments by Shoshana)
A fascinating biography of Alice Sheldon, better known as award-winning science fiction author James Tiptree, Jr. Phillips gives us a great deal of detail but the narrative does not bog down; though most people picking up the book know that Tiptree's identity was eventually revealed, and of her life's distressing ending, I doubt most people knew that she went to Africa as a child, or that she was a talented artist who illustrated two of her mother's books and had an illustration published in The New Yorker. Phillips provides copious life details, tracing Sheldon's moves, careers, and relationships over time. Sheldon's correspondence with Harlan Ellison, Barry Malzberg, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and others is a great delight to read. Phillips has chosen her excerpts judiciously.

Most interesting is Sheldon's psychological state, which seems rarely to have been good. I would have liked to know even more about this; at points this compelling information is presented in a flat, superficial way. This may reflect the fact that many of Phillips' informants are still living and may not have shared some information or given consent to publish. It is quite evident that Sheldon's use of a male pseudonym goes beyond convenience or privacy and has greater symbolic resonance in the context of her many issues and concerns related to sexual identity and gender.

Phillips occasionally speculates about Sheldon's psyche. I can't diagnose from afar. However, I can wonder about a person's life narrative. Based on what Phillips has provided, I don't think the diagnosis of cyclothymia (given by a therapist at some point in Sheldon's life) is a sufficient description of her psychological and interpersonal difficulties. I'm also not sure whether it could be accurately diagnosed given her amphetamine abuse. Sheldon was quite terrified at a number of times during her family's African sojourns. Her mother was flirtatious and at at least one point made a sexual overture to her then-adolescent daughter (reminiscent of Anne Sexton's daughter's description of Anne's behavior toward her). Sheldon is severely depressed and often suicidal, anxious, self-doubting, reckless, conflicted about sexuality, and drawn to abusing substances. Though expressing discontent with it, she manages to spend much of her life in a sexless marriage. Her behavior and emotions often edge into the Borderline Personality Disorder spectrum. For these reasons, I wonder if something sexually traumatic happened to her as a child, either in Africa or within her family of origin. My non-diagnostic speculation is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. This is a better fit than cyclothymia and would, if true, contribute to a more coherent understanding of Sheldon's pervasive discomfort and unhappiness.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780312426941
Author:
Phillips, Julie
Publisher:
Picador USA
Subject:
Women
Subject:
Authors, American
Subject:
20th century
Subject:
Authors, American -- 20th century.
Subject:
Tiptree, James
Subject:
Biography-Women
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
20070631
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Includes two 8-page bandw photo sections
Pages:
560
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.50 in

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Product details 560 pages Picador USA - English 9780312426941 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Journalist Phillips has achieved a wonder: an evenhanded, scrupulously documented, objective yet sympathetic portrait of a deliberately elusive personality: Alice Sheldon (1915–1987), who adopted the persona of science fiction writer James Tiptree Jr. Working from Sheldon's (and Tiptree's) few interviews; Sheldon's professional papers, many unpublished; and the papers of Sheldon's writer-explorer-socialite mother, Phillips has crafted an absorbing mlange of several disparate lives besides Sheldon's, each impacting hers like a deadly off-course asteroid. From Sheldon's sad poor-little-rich-girlhood to her sadder suicide (by a prior pact first shooting her blind and bedridden husband), Sheldon, perpetually wishing she'd been born a boy, made what she called 'endless makeshift' attempts to express her tormenting creativity as, among others, a debutante, a flamboyant bohemian, a WAC officer, a CIA photoanalyst, and a research scientist before producing Tiptree's 'haunting, subversive, many-layered [science] fiction' at 51. Sheldon masked her authorship until 1976, and afterward produced little fiction, feeling that a woman writing as a man could not be convincing. Through all the ironic sorrows of a life Sheldon wished she hadn't had to live as a woman, Phillips steadfastly and elegantly allows one star, bright as the Sirius Sheldon loved, to gleam. 16 pages of b&w photos." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Phillips's account of Sheldon's evasion and ultimate unveiling provides an engrossing read. Even more interesting is Phillips's take on Sheldon's increasingly isolated life after the truth about Tiptree was revealed....The portrait that emerges captures a complicated woman who circumscribed assumptions of gender while struggling with their constraints." (read the entire Bitch Magazine review)
"Review" by , "Ms. Phillips does a fine, perceptive job of piecing together the patchwork of her subject's personality."
"Review" by , "From the opening montage of contradictory scenes in her subject's amazing life, to its copious citations of sources, Julie Phillips' biography of science fiction's trickster genius is a wonder."
"Review" by , "Phillips is more than adept at plumbing Sheldon's writing to expose her anger at the role gender plays in sex, creativity and power. A compelling portrait of a conflicted feminist."
"Review" by , "Phillips' long-overdue biography probes the mystery behind Sheldon's clandestine lifestyle while mapping out the many adventurous turns in her continuously reinvented identity as she changed roles from graphic artist and CIA agent to psychologist and award-winning author."
"Synopsis" by ,
James Tiptree, Jr., burst onto the science fiction scene in the late 1960s with a series of hard-edged, provocative stories. He redefined the genre with such classics as Houston, Houston, Do You Read? and The Women Men Don't See. For nearly ten years he wrote and carried on intimate correspondences with other writers--Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin, though none of them knew his true identity. Then the cover was blown on his alter ego: "he" was actually a sixty-one-year-old woman named Alice Bradley Sheldon. A feminist, she took a male name as a joke--and found the voice to write her stories.

 

Based on extensive research, exclusive interviews, and full access to Alice Sheldon's papers, Julie Phillips has penned a biography of a profoundly original writer and a woman far ahead of her time.

Julie Phillips is a journalist who has written on film, books, feminism, and cultural politics. James Tiptree, Jr. is her first book. She lives in Amsterdam, Holland.
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Winner of the Locus Award
Finalist for the Hugo Award
Shortlisted for the British Fantasy Society Award
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of of the Year
A Washington Post Best Book of the Year
A Times Literary Supplement Best Book of the Year
One of Booklist's Top 10 Women's History Books
One of Publishers Weekly's 100 Best Books of the Year
An American Library Association Notable Book for Adults
Recipient of a Special Recognition Award by the James Tiptree, Jr. Award Jury
 
James Tiptree, Jr., burst onto the science fiction scene in the late 1960s with a series of hard-edged, provocative stories. He redefined the genre with such classics as Houston, Houston, Do You Read? and The Women Men Don't See. For nearly ten years he wrote and carried on intimate correspondences with other writersPhilip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin, though none of them knew his true identity. Then the cover was blown on his alter ego: "he" was actually a sixty-one-year-old woman named Alice Bradley Sheldon. A feminist, she took a male name as a jokeand found the voice to write her stories.

 

Based on extensive research, exclusive interviews, and full access to Alice Sheldon's papers, Julie Phillips has penned a biography of a profoundly original writer and a woman far ahead of her time.

"If it is getting more and more difficult to tell scholarly biographies from mass-market ones, there nevertheless remain examples that hold great promise for literary biography. Take Julie Phillips's James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, which came out last year from St. Martin's. Not only has Phillips, a journalist, offered vigorous citations for her sources, including specific dates for letters, but she has chosen a subject where it is almost inconceivable to consider the writer apart from the writings . . . Phillips has carefully sifted through the public record,, as well as gone out of her way to interview many of the people who talked with Tiptree, and the magic combo clarifies any quibbles scholars and loved ones might have. Thus we have accountability and transparency . . . We get a strong sense of Sheldon's feminism through historical and anecdotal evidence. Phillips presents the political climate of 1947 and Tiptree's letters to friends about the 'woman problem.' If Phillips speculates, she doesn't often let matters linger there. She follows up. In presenting details about Sheldon's sexuality, we are informed that 'she couldnt have an orgasm through intercourse' and given multiple sources (for example, Tiptree's journal and an unfinished memoir) discussing her sexual wants. In light of her impersonation of a man throughout her writing career, that is a valid line of inquiry. Phillip's book represents the literary biography done right."Edward Champion, The Chronicle of Higher Education
 
"In Julie Phillips's engrossing and endlessly revelatory biography, the woman behind the alias is at last allowed to step into the spotlight, emerging as neither a malicious prankster nor a defiant contrarian, but simply as a writer for whom science fiction proved to be the ideal genre to tell her own story . . . [Phillips's] writing achieves its own kind of narrative tension, a spell that obliges even the readers already clued in to Tiptree's secret to turn the book's pages with increasing suspense as they wait for its real-life inhabitants to catch up with them . . . [a] thoughtful and meticulous biography provides both the expert and the novice with a Rosetta stone to the Tiptree catalog an opportunity to extract from these stories the many layers of personal resonance they once held only for Sheldon herself. And it gives a new generation of readers the chance to prove to Sheldon, who in her final years wrote that she was “trying to become nothing,” just how supremely wrong she was."Dave Itzkoff, The New York Times Book Review
 
"An incredible life, done elegant justice. Tiptree-Sheldon is one of the century's astonishing figures, somewhere between Katharine Hepburn, Philip K. Dick, and Billy Tipton."Jonathan Lethem, bestselling author of The Fortress of Solitude
 
"An exemplary biography of a fascinating lifethe brilliantly elusive woman who, as a writer, called herself James Tiptree, Jr. Never oversimplifying, never over-interpreting, Julie Phillips illuminates a formidably complex psyche wihout invading it."Ursula K. Le Guin, Hugo- and National Book Award-winning author of The Dispossessed
 
"The meticulous, emotionally intelligent biography of an extraordinary writer. Alice Sheldon is easily the most intriguing figure in late 20th-century American science fiction. Julie Phillips has given 'Tiptree' the book she deserves."William Gibson, New York Times bestselling author of Pattern Recognition
 
"A fascinating subject, an engrossing read. Philips provides sharp, insightful portraits of the real Alice Sheldon, the fictional James Tiptree, Jr., and the complicated partnership of their work and lives. This is a biography written with equal parts sympathy, respect, research, and honesty. And a real page-turner, too."Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club
 
"In this deeply thoughtful, rivetingly readable biography of James Tiptree, Jr., Julie Phillips traces the life and work of a woman whose self-presentation in her writing made her seem so much 'like a man' that she confounded our culture's myths of gender and genre, convincing even the most sophisticated readers that 'Tiptree'in 'real' life a woman named Allie Sheldonwas and had to be 'really' a man. This is a fascinating investigation of a fantastic literary career."Sandra Gilbert, distinguished scholar and editor of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women
 
"[James Tiptree, Jr.] documents not only an extraordinary life but all the fault lines of what it meant to be female in the twentieth century. I think this may be the rare case when a biography actually exceeds what I expect from a novel . . . I hope everyone reads this book."Dorothy Alli

"Synopsis" by ,
James Tiptree, Jr., burst onto the science fiction scene in the late 1960s with a series of hard-edged, provocative stories. He redefined the genre with such classics as Houston, Houston, Do You Read? and The Women Men Don't See. For nearly ten years he wrote and carried on intimate correspondences with other writers--Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin, though none of them knew his true identity. Then the cover was blown on his alter ego: "he" was actually a sixty-one-year-old woman named Alice Bradley Sheldon. A feminist, she took a male name as a joke--and found the voice to write her stories.

 

Based on extensive research, exclusive interviews, and full access to Alice Sheldon's papers, Julie Phillips has penned a biography of a profoundly original writer and a woman far ahead of her time.

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