Eligible for nomination: 2020 books & stories by past Otherwise winners

As nomination and voting deadlines get closer for the Hugo Awards (nominate by March 19th!) and other honors, we bring to your attention books and short stories published in 2020 by past Otherwise Award winners.

Also, past Otherwise winners have forthcoming books you can preorder now to read in 2021, including:


Happy reading and nominating!

2020 Otherwise Fellowships Announced

The Otherwise Award is pleased to announce the selection of three new Fellows. Usually, the Award presents Fellowships to only two emerging creators each year. But because this year has been so difficult for everyone, the Motherboard decided to choose three new Fellows this year. It is a great time to imagine futures that are unlike the world we live in today.

This year’s Fellows are speculative fiction writer Shreya Ila Anasuya, independent filmmaker Eleyna Sara Haroun, and poet FS Hurston.

Shreya Ila AnasuyaShreya Ila Anasuya writes short fiction set in real and imaginary South Asian cities. In the application, Shreya wrote, “I find that my work repeatedly asks this question – who are women and femme people in their fullest manifestations, and how does their experience of themselves contrast to their culture’s expectations and demands of them?” Her work is informed by lived experience as a queer non-binary femme person from India who lives with chronic illness. Funding from the Fellowship will give Shreya the time needed to work on a collection of historical speculative fiction set in South Asia or South Asia inspired secondary worlds. The Fellowship funding will also make it possible for Shreya to take classes that will connect her to the greater speculative fiction community, combating the loneliness of being “a writer of strange fiction in Calcutta during a global pandemic.”

The work of independent filmmaker Eleyna Sara Haroun has focused on encouraging children to to question, challenge and discuss the effects of issues like minority rights, gender equality, climate change and child abuse on their communities and themselves. Her project “Filmwalli” is a series of five short films, to be produced in both Urdu and English. Each story is a folk tale that challenges traditional narratives of women in Pakistani society. These films/folk tales will encourage children to realize that everyone has the right to live to their full potential. Funding from the Otherwise Fellowship will allow Eleyna to develop two out of the five stories into scripts, complete the research and treatments for the other three scripts, and collaborate with a storyboard artist on these tales. With that work in place, she can submit her work to festivals and writers labs and apply for greater funding to begin the animation production of the films and the development of a campaign built around these films.

Poet FS Hurston will be working on a novel in verse with a fascinating main character: a teenager in contemporary Dakar who was born with the memories of a 400-year-old shark. Through this connection with a shark, the teenager meets ghosts of the past. FS Hurston writes that each character in the novel will be based on “a queer trans African person from anthropological archives, journals of slaveowners, colonial administrative documents, slave ledgers. The story will explore “the wide and capacious space of what white anthropologists couldn’t or didn’t want to understand of queer Africans,….speculating on what is possible on the other side of the colonizer’s gaze….” The funding from the Fellowship will help cover the cost of travel in Senegal and Cameroun, the two places where most of the novel takes place.

In addition to choosing three Fellows, the Fellowship Committee announced an honors list, which includes Jasmine Moore, Kailee Marie Pedersen, Timea Balogh, and Wren Handman. These writers and artists are all doing exciting work in gender and speculative fiction.

The members of the 2020 selection committee for the Otherwise Fellowships were Martha Riva Palacio Obón, Devonix, Kiini Ibura Salaam, and Betsy Lundsten.


The Otherwise Award celebrates works of speculative fiction that imagine new futures by exploring and expanding our understanding of gender. Through the Fellowship program, the Award also encourages those who are striving to complete works, to imagine futures that might have been unimaginable when the Award began. Now in its sixth year, the Fellowship program seeks out new voices in the field, particularly from communities that have been historically underrepresented in science fiction and fantasy and by those who work in media other than traditional fiction.

Each Fellow will receive $500. The work produced as a result of this support will be recognized and promoted by the Otherwise Award.

Over time, the Fellowship program is creating a network of Fellows who can build connections, provide mutual support, and find opportunities for collaboration. This effort complements the ongoing work of the Award — that is, the celebration of speculative fiction that expands and explores gender by imagining otherwise in thought-provoking, nuanced, and unexpected ways.

If you would like to donate to the fund for future Otherwise Fellowships, you can do so here. Let us know if you would like your donation to support the Fellowships program specifically.




2020 Otherwise Fellowship Applications Due October 31

For the sixth year, we are welcoming applications for Otherwise Fellowships: $500 grants for emerging creators who are changing the way we think about gender through speculative narrative.

If you think that description could apply to you — even if you are not working in a format most people would recognize as part of the science fiction or fantasy genre — you are eligible to apply for a Fellowship. Otherwise Fellows can be writers, artists, scholars, media makers, remix artists, performers, musicians, or something else entirely. So far our Fellows have been creators of visual art, performance, poetry, fiction, and games.

The Otherwise Fellowship is designed to provide support and recognition for the new voices who are making visible the forces that are changing our view of gender today. The Fellowship Committee particularly encourages applications from members of communities that have been historically underrepresented in the science fiction and fantasy genre and from creators who are creating speculative narratives in media other than traditional fiction. In keeping with the focus of the Otherwise Award, the selection committee is seeking projects that explore and expand understandings of gender, particularly in relationship to race, nationality, class, disability, sexuality, age, and other factors that set individuals or groups apart as “other.” Fellowship applicants do not need a professional or institutional affiliation, as the intention of the Fellowship program is to support emerging creators who lack institutional support for their work.

Applications are due on October 31. To apply, you will need to write short responses to two questions and to share a sample of your work – you can learn more about the application process at this link.

To read about the work of our previous Fellows, click on their names below:

Black Speculative Fiction: Imagining Otherwise for Racial Justice

White on red text reads BLACK FUTURES MATTER, above two Black hands with line drawings of flowers and a horizon.
Image by Shyama Kuver

The Otherwise Motherboard is in solidarity with the current mass protests, in the US and beyond, that are fighting against police violence and white supremacy and for Black lives. We mourn George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and the countless other Black people whose lives have been cut short by police violence. We support the transformative coalitions now emerging to abolish white supremacist systems, structures, and institutions. We believe another world is possible.

To change the world requires that we first imagine it otherwise. One small thing that the Otherwise Award can do for the current struggle is to amplify the voices of Black authors whose visionary speculative fiction creates pathways to imagining and building a more just world. And so we offer a list of fifteen works, honored by the Otherwise Award in the past, to feed the imaginations of those engaged in this moment and this movement.

Some of the works on this list, such as Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts and The Deep, speak directly to Black people’s lived experience of oppression and uprising; others, such as Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, transport readers to worlds in which white supremacy, and whiteness itself, are absent. Andrea Hairston’s Redwood and Wildfire and Nisi Shawl’s Everfair decolonize history to center Black and Indigenous creativity, joy, and love. Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium, Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, and Hairston’s Mindscape reconfigure science fiction tropes to unmake the colonial conventions on which they rely. Three short story collections, Shawl’s Filter House, Sheree Renée Thomas’s Sleeping Under the Tree of Life, and Kiini Ibura Salaam’s Ancient, Ancient, provide multiple routes through Black history, memory, myth, and sensuality. Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Talents and N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth show people and communities in complex relationship to apocalyptic change and transformative social movement. And, in a mode that Bogi Takács describes as “speculative only so far as real life can be called such; which is, of course, considerably,” our most recent winner, Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, refuses colonial definitions of gender, self, and identity.

As you engage in this struggle in whichever ways you can, we hope these books bring inspiration, solace, escape, and pleasure.


Jennifer Marie Brissett, Elysium (Honor List, 2014)

Jennifer Marie Brissett — Elysium



Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents (Honor List, 1998)


Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater (Winner, 2019)

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi


Andrea Hairston, Mindscape (Honor List, 2006)

Andrea Hairston — Mindscape


Andrea Hairston, Redwood and Wildfire (Winner, 2011)

Redwood and Wildfire — Andrea Hairston (Aqueduct Press, 2011)


Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring (Honor List, 1998)

Nalo Hopkinson: Brown Girl in the Ring


Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber (Honor List, 2000)

N. K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season (Long List, 2015)

Nnedi Okorafor, Lagoon (Honor List, 2014)


Kiini Ibura Salaam, Ancient, Ancient (Winner, 2012)

Kiini Ibura Salaam — Ancient, Ancient


Nisi Shawl, Filter House (Winner, 2008)

Nisi Shawl – Filter House


Nisi Shawl, Everfair (Honor List, 2016)

Nisi Shawl — Everfair


Rivers Solomon, An Unkindness of Ghosts (Honor List, 2017)

Rivers Solomon, An Unkindness of Ghosts


Rivers Solomon, The Deep (Honor List, 2019)

Rivers Solomon, The Deeo


Sheree Renée Thomas, Sleeping Under the Tree of Life (Long List, 2016)

Otherwise Auction at WisCONline May 23rd

This year’s WisCon will be online, and you can register now. Register for WisCon by tomorrow — Wednesday, May 20th — to make sure you can attend!

And no WisCon is complete without our annual benefit auction! Here’s the WisCon schedule. The annual Otherwise Award auction will be Saturday night, May 23rd, 7:30pm-8:30pm Central Time.

Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com

Sumana Harihareswara as auctioneer
Sumana Harihareswara in two pairs of trousers onstage, as auctioneer, at a past auction at WisCon.

WisCon will stream the auction — including comedy, stunts, and special guest stars — via YouTube, and you’ll be able to bid and converse using a live Discord chat. And the entire auction will be hosted by auctioneer Sumana Harihareswara and live-captioned by a CART (“Communication Access Realtime Transcription”) transcriptionist.

Since this year’s auction is transcending the material plane, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re taking this opportunity to play with the auction format in a few ways.

First: the Otherwise Motherboard has decided to use pass-the-hat challenges this year to raise money for the Carl Brandon Society and WisCon’s general fund, instead of raising money for Otherwise. (We’re fortunate enough to be able to keep the award going this year without the auction’s income. And celebration, community, and fun have always been key to the auction, besides the fundraising, and those things are more important than ever this year.)

Second: to reduce the risk and difficulty of mailing things, and receiving mail, most of the auction items are electronic.

And third: for the items below, instead of bidding in money, you’ll try to one-up each other with recommendations, colors, and poems in the Discord chat. Enjoy using the gestures of “bidding” while prefiguring how auctions might work in postscarcity societies!

Cover of China Mountain Zhang
New Tor Essentials edition of China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh, with new introduction by Jo Walton

The auction items will be:

Want to win one of those? Want to see the surprise guest who’ll sing if we reach a donation challenge? Want to support science fiction that explores and expands gender (with the Otherwise Award)? Want to help increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction (with the Carl Brandon Society)? Want to roar with laughter?

There are dozens of possible reasons to visit this year’s auction. Hope to meet you there! Please register by May 20th.

Here’s a trailer!

Akwaeke Emezi wins 2019 Otherwise Award! Honor List Announced

Akwaeke Emezi has won the 2019 Otherwise Award for Freshwater (Grove Press, 2018).

The Otherwise Award (formerly known as the Tiptree Award) celebrates science fiction, fantasy, and other forms of speculative narrative that expand and explore our understanding of gender. The jury that selects the Award’s winner and the Honor List is encouraged to take an expansive view of “science fiction and fantasy” and to seek out works that have a broad, intersectional, trans-inclusive understanding of gender in the context of race, class, nationality, disability, and more.

About the Winner

Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater is beautiful, complicated, magical, challenging, and sometimes vividly cruel,” writes juror Edmond Y. Chang. “Told from multiple, overlapping, and often conflicted perspectives, the novel tells the story of Ada, who is caught between worlds, trying to navigate family, education, migration and immigration, Catholicism and Igbo spirituality, and what it means to be a self, a person. The novel does not shy away from explorations of gender nonconformity (particularly for people of color), sexuality, toxic masculinity, race, mental illness, and trauma. There are no easy paths or answers for Ada (or the reader), and therefore the novel imagines alternative, even radical forms of identity and most importantly survival. I will continue to think about Freshwater for a long, long time, adding it to my constellation of gorgeously intense stories like Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, and Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy.”

On a more personal note, juror Bogi Takács. writes: “Sometimes a work comes that says something you carry in yourself as intimately as flesh and bones, but you’ve never seen reflected in fiction; speculative or otherwise. For me, Freshwater by Igbo and Tamil author Akwaeke Emezi was one of those works, straining against the constraints of Western literary genres and bursting them in a luminous display of strength…. Freshwater gives me hope, room to grow into myself as a reader, and a sense of relation that emerges across continents and traditions; with all our commonalities and differences.”

The winner of the Otherwise Award will receive $1000 in prize money, a specially commissioned piece of original artwork, and (as always) chocolate.

Akwaeke Emezi, winner of the 2019 Otherwise Award, photographed by Texas Isaiah


About the Honor List

In addition to selecting the winners, each year’s jury chooses an Otherwise Award Honor List. The Honor List is a strong part of the award’s identity and is used by many readers as a recommended reading list. This year’s Honor List includes nine works, listed here in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. Notes on each work are excerpted from comments by members of this year’s jury.


Kylie Ariel Bemis, “Dreamborn” (in Maiden, Mother, Crone, edited by Gwen Benaway, Bedside Press 2019)

“Speculative fiction often tackles the topic of different sentient species meeting, but it usually takes colonialism – and specifically settler colonialism – for granted, and writes from the colonizer’s point of view. The short story “Dreamborn” by Zuni two-spirit writer Kylie Ariel Bemis offers the exact opposite, from an Indigenous viewpoint, and also incorporating culturally specific gender. After a breach in the worlds, the Nahaka people appear in a giant spaceship to occupy the lands of the Seven Nations and oppress the people….Children are forced away from their culture, including the possibility to choose their own gender, and the tradition of the dreamborn, those who transition to a different gender. Ume, an elderly woman, is one of the dreamborn; and she is determined to rescue the children, one of them dreamborn like herself….[T]his story spoke to me and gave me hope like very few others did this year.” – Bogi Takács.


Meg Elison, The Book of Flora (47North 2019, book 3 in The Road to Nowhere trilogy)

“In The Book of Flora, Meg Elison manages to create a broader spectrum of genders than I have ever encountered in fiction (except, possibly, in Raphael Carter’s “Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation”). The idea that people are either male or female, while held by many of the characters, is completely erased by the complexity of the individuals involved. The idea that people (or even most people) can be labeled as male, female, trans, or genderfluid proves to be equally dispensable, as Elison distinguishes between many kinds of women, many kinds of men, and at least one main character who falls into neither camp and has their own unique biology. By the end of the book, even the most basic assumptions about gender in this post-apocalyptic world are shattered in unexpected ways. Elison is a master of storytelling; books about worlds this bleak often require the reader to take breaks, but this one was difficult to put down.” – Debbie Notkin


Akwaeke Emezi, Pet (Make Me a World 2019)

Pet is tender, a deftly woven spell that asks us what it means to be safe; what it means to be saved; what it means to identify a monster, and what it takes to rid ourselves of all monsters. The slim novel is a testament to the often under recognized complexity of Young Adult fiction. In the imaginary [city of] Lucille, all monsters have seemingly been eradicated, and yet Pet, the titular “monster,” has arrived ready to assist Jam in a hunt for one. The experience of reading Jam, a Black transgender teen girl, is gentle and a breath of fresh air. She’s shy, selectively mute, and supported on all fronts by her community, family, and even by Pet. Her gentle negotiations with Pet asking them to be patient and trust her are a joy to experience. …This is a story that treats its most vulnerable with care, and in doing so, releases them from the expectation of vulnerability and transforms them into the basis for a powerful new mythos. – Mariana Calderon


Kameron Hurley, Meet Me in the Future (Tachyon Publications 2019)

“A gorgeous and grotesque collection of short stories, a carnival of imagined futures that are, in Hurley’s words, “really different” from the world we know….With a background as a historian, and insight borne of struggles with long term disability, Hurley writes futures in which the what and how of having a body, and of being a person, might be radically reworked in myriad ways that are messy, meaty, mutating, cyborged, gendered and not so, mortal and not so. From body jumping mercenaries inhabiting the corpses of their enemies to a paraplegic fighting her way across an icy landscape to bring medicine to a plague stricken settlement, from many gendered mages to a probability engine built from a wall of the dead, the characters and worlds of Meet Me in the Future are extraordinarily richly imagined, compellingly rendered and increasingly surprising, strange and moving as one works one’s way through the collection.” – Trish Salah


Innocent Chizaram Ilo, “Of Warps and Wefts” (Strange Horizons, March 2018; reprinted in Transcendent 4: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fictionedited by Bogi Tackás., Lethe Press 2019))

“Innocent Chizaram Ilo’s story “Of Warps and Wefts” brings the reader into direct contact with the ways in which the roles we find ourselves in form who we are. Suppose you were a wife to one man in one life one day and a husband to another woman in a completely different life the next day – and you retained continuous memories of both lives. How would you be the same in both relationships? How would you be different? What would it mean to your children to have interchangeable parents, and would you be the same kind of parent in both lives? The same kind of lover? And what might happen if the lives coalesced? Ilo’s strikingly original short story , which has additional surreal elements along with the role switches, explores these themes deftly and deeply.” – Debbie Notkin


Mary Robinette Kowal, The Calculating Stars (Tor Books 2018)

The Calculating Stars is as thoughtful as it is charming, funny, and full of hope. I have been a proud badge-holding member of the Lady Astronaut Club since the book’s initial release ….I still want to run out into the street yelling “spaaaaaace!” as I did upon my first read, but now I also do so whilst considering the intersectionalities of gender, whiteness, mental illness, and what it means to be an ally in industries dominated by cis white men. …The multiple faux pas of Elma as she attempts to help BIPOC friends (they didn’t ask for her help), and confronts internalized racism had me cringing, but these moments, along with her growth and acknowledgement of her mistakes, are important both to the book and to the genre as a whole….Elma York’s identity as a woman with severe anxiety in an era where mental illness meant “hysteria” and hysteria meant unfit for science (or life in general) adds an additional facet to the book that I greatly appreciate….Mary Robinette Kowal’s depictions of mental illness combined with sexism feel heavy, authentic, and not always hopeful. They feel real, and yet Elma continues to power through, to literally reach for the stars. For that, The Calculating Stars deserves all the accolades.” – Mariana Calderon


Laurie J. Marks, The Elemental Logic series (Fire Logic, Earth Logic, Water Logic, and Air Logic, Small Beer 2019)

“Laurie J. Marks’ Fire Logic was published 18 years ago, followed by Earth Logic in 2004, Water Logic in 2007, and Air Logic in 2019. The four Elemental Logic books reflect the author’s growth in skill and breadth over the nearly two decades, along with an extraordinary consistency in characterization and vision. The gender aspects of the story arc largely concentrate in the depth and detail of complex same-sex relationships, though Air Logic also ventures into the realm of treating autism-spectrum mindsets as a gender of their own. More subtly, while Marks does include heterosexual relationships in her story, she never centers the dynamics of those relationships, concentrating all of her relationship writing on same-sex couples. One crucial thing these books offer the contemporary reader is a vision of undermining and destabilizing polarized societies, focused on the long hard work of bringing factions that hate each other back into tenuous but respectful relationship – and perhaps that too is a form of exploring and expanding gender.” – Debbie Notkin


Yukiko Motoya, The Lonesome Bodybuilder (Soft Skull Press 2018)

“As a writer and editor of various trans projects, I sometimes feel that there is very little left to say about traditional binary gender roles from a perspective that is not explicitly transgender or intersex. The Lonesome Bodybuilder is a short story collection by Japanese author Yukiko Motoya, translated to English by Asa Yoneda, and it made me examine this preconception. This collection of present-day surreal pieces looks at binary gender roles, traditional male-female romantic relationships, and marriage in a way that still felt novel and biting to me, including shape-shifting gender changes (like husbands turning into their wives and vice versa), a dismantling of gendered tropes, and more….” – Bogi Takács.


Rivers Solomon, The Deep (Gallery / Saga Press, 2019)

The Deep is deep, full of murky and unsettling characters, land- and waterscapes, and most importantly, ideas. Right from the start, the reader is disoriented, drowning, but slowly the story takes shape, like the sinuous body of the Yetu, a merperson descended from African slave women, to explore race, gender, sexuality, family, community, history, and the environment. The Deep is a thoughtful, creative, and unflinching reimagining and retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” settler colonialism, and the Middle Passage. It is a novella deeply about embodied memory, pain, and violence and resonates with and calls back to Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Morrison’s notion of rememory. The Deep, like Beloved, is profoundly about storytelling, who gets to tell their story, who survives to tell their story, and the perils and catastrophes of silence, disavowal, and forgetting.” – Edmond Y. Chang


Recommendations and more

The Otherwise Award invites everyone to recommend works for the Award. Please submit recommendations via the recommendation page of Otherwise Award website. On the website, you can also donate to help fund the award and read more about past winners and works the Award has honored.

In addition to presenting the Otherwise Award annually, the Award Council presents two annual $500 fellowships to provide support and recognition for the new voices who are making visible the forces that are changing our view of gender today.

The Otherwise Award began in 1991 as The James Tiptree Jr. Award, named after Alice Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. By her choice of a masculine pen name, Sheldon helped break down the imaginary barrier between “women’s writing” and “men’s writing.” In 2019, the Award’s governing body, the Motherboard, decided, in response to community concerns, to rename the Award. The Tiptree Award became the Otherwise Award. (For more on the reasons behind the change, visit the history section of the Award’s website.)

The Otherwise Award, under any name, is an award with an attitude. As a political statement, as a means of involving people at the grassroots level, as an excuse to eat cookies, and as an attempt to strike the proper ironic note, the award has been financed through bake sales held at science fiction conventions across the United States, as well as in Britain and Australia. Fundraising efforts have included auctions conducted by Ellen Klages and Sumana Harihareswara, the sale of t-shirts and aprons created by collage artist and silk screener Freddie Baer and others, and the publication of four anthologies of award winners and honor-listed stories. These anthologies, along with other publications, can be purchased through otherwiseaward.org/store.

Jeanne Gomoll Retires from Motherboard

Jeanne Gomoll, whose art, design, and organizing energy has propelled and sustained the Award for the last 25 years, is retiring from the Otherwise Motherboard at the end of 2019. The remaining members of the Motherboard are incredibly grateful for Jeanne’s tireless, brilliant work and look forward to celebrating her contributions at WisCon in 2020.

Jeanne writes:

Up until 1991 it felt to me as though the efforts of the Madison SF Group, Janus and Aurora fanzines, and WisCon, to encourage and celebrate feminist science fiction were largely restricted to a single place and to those who came to this place and attended WisCon. Indeed, by the late 1980s, it felt to me as if our efforts to foster feminist SF were increasingly being met with opposition and might possibly have been in danger of flickering out, as the backlash to feminism in general and feminist SF in specific gained strength. Pat Murphy’s 1991 announcement of the Tiptree Award thrilled me and gave me renewed strength. It was as if a small group of us, following a narrow, twisty path had merged with a much wider, well-traveled path. After the Tiptree Award began handing out annual awards and raising funds, and had sparked a massive juggernaut of community activism, I stopped worrying about the viability of the movement.

I will be forever grateful to the Tiptree Award and proud of my work on it. I chaired two Tiptree juries—one in 1993, which chose Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite as the winner; and the other in 2016, which presented the award to When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore. I served on the Motherboard for 25 years, 1994-2019, and worked behind-the-scenes on most of the auctions during those years, and as an artist creating logos, publications, and Tiptree merchandise. I will be forever grateful to the Motherboard for the work we did together and the friendships we created along the way. I am awed by and very proud of the community of writers and readers who supported and were nurtured by the award, even as they guided the award further along the path toward greater diversity and scope.

The Tiptree Award, and now the Otherwise Award will always have my heartfelt support. But it is time for me to step back and make space for a new generation of activists. I want to thank my fellow motherboard founding mothers and members, past and present—Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Jeff Smith, Alexis Lothian, Sumana Harihareswara, Gretchen Treu, Debbie Notkin, Ellen Klages, Delia Sherman—for all they have done and for their friendship, which I will value forever.

From Tiptree to Otherwise

We’ve spent the last month deep in discussion about the name of this award. We’ve listened to your feedback, reflected on our own assumptions and commitments, and we have decided that it’s time for the name to change.

The Tiptree Award is becoming the Otherwise Award.

The rest of this long post describes our process in detail, shares some of the words from our community that helped us come to our decision, and explains why we’ve chosen Otherwise as our new name.

Use the navigation links below if you’d like to skip to a particular section.

The name of the Award: if you want to know why it’s changing

What we heard from you: if you want to understand how we came to this decision

What we’ve come to realize: if you want a short, snappy summary

What we feel: if you’d like to contemplate love, care, and tradition with us

So… the name? If you want to know how and why we chose Otherwise

What is not changing, and what happens next: if you’re curious about plans and timelines

A little help from our friends: if you want to support us through this transition


The name of the Award

When this award was founded back in 1991, its goal was to make the world listen to voices that had been ignored. Pat Murphy, cofounder of the Award and member of the Tiptree Motherboard, remembers, “We wanted to create an award that pointed out the absurdity of those who kept saying ‘but women can’t write science fiction.’ Naming the Award after James Tiptree, Jr. allowed us to celebrate Tiptree’s powerful writing and influence on the field — and at the same time, the name let us laugh at those who had dismissed women’s writing and yet had happily embraced Tiptree’s work as unquestionably masculine.”

In the beginning, the Award’s focus was on gender alone. Over the years, that focus expanded, but the Award’s goal is still to make the world listen to voices that they would rather ignore.

In mid-August 2019, in the wake of the Astounding Award’s decision to drop John W. Campbell’s name, the Tiptree Motherboard began to hear from some newly raised voices among our supporters. They were suggesting that the James Tiptree Jr Literary Award ought also to change its name. Since then, the seven of us on the Motherboard have been engaged in a deep, emotional, and intense process of discussion, introspection, and consultation.

On September 2, we published “Alice Sheldon and the name of the Tiptree Award.” That post summarizes the story of Alice and Huntington Sheldon’s deaths, and gives a full account of the events that led many to call for a name change. That story is deeply painful for many, we have realized, and we will not repeat it here. In our post, we explained why the Award’s founders named it after James Tiptree, Jr., and why, at that time, we were tentatively choosing to retain the name. In that post, we asked for you to email us with your suggestions. Many did. Thank you so much.

We received many emails and social media messages that urged us to keep the name. But we were, in the end, convinced by the many and heartfelt messages that asked us to change. We entered into this discussion as a conversation about how to interpret what happened at the end of Alice and Huntington Sheldon’s lives (a topic on which Sheldon’s biographer, Julie Phillips, has recently reflected further). But the responses to our post made us realize that this was in fact a conversation about whose lives and voices we value. And that’s a matter about which there should be no ambiguity.

We value the disabled writers and readers and artists and fans who support this award. Many of them – many of you – have told us that the Award’s current name holds negative, painful, exclusionary associations. So we’re changing it.

We know this has been a painful conversation for many. We are sorry we didn’t realize the depth of harm this would bring up.

Our decision to change the Award’s name has also caused pain. Many, even some who support the name change, feel that this change erases the work of an important woman author and the story of a complicatedly gendered life.

That’s a pain that we on the Motherboard share. The influence of Tiptree – the work published under the persona, Alice Sheldon’s life, and the history of this award – is important to the history of gender and feminism, as Julie Phillips’ 2006 biography and Rox Samer’s in-progress documentary film, Tip/Alli, document. Those of us who knew Tiptree as a man (either through letters or stories) remember the seismic shift we experienced when the identity of the person behind the persona was revealed. We will continue to honor that influence and to celebrate the feminist roots of our project. The Award’s name is not the only way to remember our important predecessors.

We do not see this new stage the Award is entering now as an erasure of its past, but as a recognition of what is needed to take us into the future. Pat Murphy and Karen Fowler came up with the idea for the Award, but they are the first to admit that they didn’t build the Award. A community built the Award and at the same time the Award built a community. Being part of that community has been serious work while being enormous fun.

We want the Award to keep encouraging writers, artists, and other creative people to invent the future that we want to live in. For that to happen, we need readers, supporters, and creators to gather together in support of the Award’s winners and of the process of choosing them. And for that to be possible, we need all the voices to be heard.


What we heard from you:

Some of the feedback we received suggested that the arguments for changing the name were coming from science fiction fandom’s right-wing trolls, keen to take down a social-justice-focused award as payback for the loss of the award honoring their icon John W. Campbell. We want to be very clear that this was not the source of the criticisms we received. The people who asked us to consider changing the name were people we know and trust: members of our community of supporters, with whom we have participated in feminist science fiction fandom for many years.

In this section of the post, we share some of the words from winners of the Tiptree Award and leaders within our community that helped us arrive at our decision. We encourage you to read them so that you can understand what has led us to believe that the name must change. We encourage everyone to read M.L. Clark’s beautiful essay “Letting Go of Our “Heroes”: Ongoing Humanist Training and the (Ex-)James Tiptree, Jr. Award.” Clark writes about their own process of thinking and feeling through the implications of the name change in a way that mirrors the experience of several members of the Motherboard during the last few weeks.

We appreciate how thoughtful people have been in their emails. In various ways, many have said: “The decision to change the Award name makes me very sad, but I understand why you have made this decision and I appreciate your willingness to share your process.”

It might have been possible to acknowledge the pain caused by the name and still continue to use it. Hirotaka Tobi, 2006 winner of the Japanese Sense of Gender Award – founded by the Japanese Association for Gender Fantasy and Science Fiction (G-Ken) and inspired by the Tiptree Award – urged us to do so in a letter generously translated by 2017 juror and G-Ken member Kazue Harada.

The name Tiptree has become a symbol of progress and inspiration in the literary field of science fiction.

I understand that you care about those who are hurt by the name of Tiptree, as your compassion and concerns have certainly been ‘cultivated’ by Tiptree’s works. Even though her end of life action has hurt many people’s feelings, even though there may be clues in her works that she was capable of the actions on her final day, I feel that her name cannot be dismissed. I strongly believe that the meaning of literature is to understand complex paradoxical meanings: on one hand, her works lean toward emphasizing the inevitability of death; on the other hand, these works give power to say ‘NO’ to death (suicide and murder) for readers. Our creative expression is developed and enriched through living with the pain of this paradox. I believe that you as a writer and as a scholar understand this paradox very well.

I would like to express my opinion that we should keep the name of the “Tiptree” Award, as we accept both her honor and disgrace demonstrated by her good deeds and horrible actions. In order to continue its name, I will suggest expanding the award to include nominated works recognizing new ideas of gender and sexual difference as well as authors broadcasting views of voices of those who have been suppressed because of illness and disability. I suggest grappling with not only the issues that James Tiptree Jr. was able to achieve but also the issues that she was “unable” to achieve. I propose that the award can develop into something for “those who have been killed by Tiptree.”

This award should bear the name of Tiptree in order to confirm this determination and to express its purpose. Every person is imperfect, but we seek to contemplate on our actions, hope to grow from the reflections, and live for atonement. As part of this process, the individual takes responsibility under one’s own name.

As we know, Tiptree is no longer with us. She is unable to pay for her own crime. However, we can discuss both her good and evil actions and can continue reconstructing the idea of the writer and award. We can continue developing the space for expressions of science fiction.

– Hirotaka Tobi, translated by Kazue Harada

Though this is not the path we have chosen, we include this excerpt to show our appreciation and respect for those who have thought through this issue deeply and reached different conclusions than ours.

The controversy over the name led Nisi Shawl, winner of the 2009 Award, to think deeply about her feelings about James Tiptree, Jr, and Alice Sheldon. She wrote this message for us to share:

I’ve been thinking about the controversy surrounding the James Tiptree, Jr. Award’s name ever since I first heard about said controversy, because I’m a disabled person who received the Tiptree in 2009. Also, I’ve served as a Tiptree Award juror twice, and served once as a juror for the related and similarly-named James Tiptree, Jr. Fellowship.

Looking back at my letter to Tiptree, written for the anthology of that title in 2015, I notice a couple of things. First, the conflation of those two figures, Tiptree and Sheldon. I addressed the letter to “Tip,” but I spoke of incidents in Sheldon’s life. I’m not alone in this conflation, though as the Tiptree Award Motherboard note in their carefully considered response to the controversy, the award is named not for the human being but for the trick she played on her audience.

The second thing I noticed is my wording toward the end of my letter describing the couple’s death. I’m not going to repeat it here, because taken out of context, what I wrote could cause you reading this post real pain. If you want to know the content of the two relevant sentences in my letter, contact me directly. What I’ll point out here is that my language in the letter was deliberately harsh. I wanted to scold Alice Sheldon, or “Tip,” as I addressed her, for her attitude and actions. I was assuming Ting’s acquiescence to his death, but mourning it, and decrying the emotional distance I believed it required from his killer. I referenced the dominant paradigm’s mistreatment of disabled people, but I was far from wanting to perpetuate its attitude. Yet that intention is not an antidote for the harm my words potentially could cause.

The issue of harm reduction in the naming of the award is the kind of multifaceted problem the award was founded to address–though the axis of difference on which it focused was originally gender rather than ability. And what I’ve been hearing and saying about how we respond to this problem? That is the kind of multiplex analysis the Tiptree Award’s founders were encouraging by naming it not after an historical figure but a mythic one, a mythic figure arising out of one writer’s response to powerful social pressures.

There’s still plenty to mull over here. And I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with having received the Tiptree. With having received an award named with that name.

But I don’t see how that makes it okay for me to say other potential recipients should think and feel the same way about the matter.

– Nisi Shawl

Nisi’s message offered some suggestions of ways that we might be able to continue using the name. But the responses we share below, among many others, convinced us that the change is necessary.

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, editor and writer, wrote to ask us to change the Award’s name. The themes of her response, which connects the deeply personal to the collective and political, were shared by many of disabled creators and fans who wrote to us. We share this excerpt from her email with permission:

I am a deafblind Hugo award winning editor, and speculative fiction writer. My work focuses on the intersection of disability and media, as well as the intersection of disability and gender. I was the guest co-editor in chief of Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, and I am writing to you today as a member of the science fiction and fantasy writing community, as a disabled activist, and as a writer.

First, I do believe that it is vital to change the name of the Tiptree Award. The intersection of disability and gender is an important subject, which I hope more authors will interact with. I myself write on that subject, and if I were lucky enough to be selected for the honor of the Tiptree (or its relevant lists), I could not in good faith accept it at this time. I believe many of my disabled peers could not either. The name of the award would feel antithetical to the work given the circumstances surrounding Sheldon’s murder of Huntington and her subsequent suicide. I don’t know what happened between Ting and Alice. I don’t know what their relationship was like – and based on what I’ve seen, I’m not sure anyone else does. That uncertainty means I could not fathom accepting an award named for an author who murdered someone like me. Perhaps an able bodied person could, but to me and my disabled existence it just isn’t possible.

Second, I hope that in consideration of a name change, the direction will go towards not naming it after a person. The world changes too much for legacies to remain, but ideals and constructs that do not represent persons are much more shelf stable. And we should interrogate legacies, we should try to be better.

Thirdly, I believe that the name change is important because ableism is a systemic disease. We can’t always see it, but it can be felt. It is felt deeply within our genre, and the conversation around the name of the Tiptree has only made it more clear to me: my professional field is rife with ableism, and we must seek to change that. Allowing the name to remain, with disabled people emphasizing their discomfort, implicitly allows ableism to take root. It allows us to say that disabled voices do not matter.

– Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

Among those who participated in the public conversation, two additional Award winners spoke up. Hiromi Goto, 2001 Award winner, 2001, posted this statement on Twitter:

I’m a recipient of the Tiptree award. … It behooves us to listen to & respect the experiences, concerns & corrections of the people who have systematically been & continue to be oppressed & marginalized.

My understanding is that some folks think that there was a suicide pact, others that there’s a grey area, others that it was murder-suicide. In this situation I would compare to the wording of how judges are selected for a competition. There’s that line of whether or not you have a bias or _a perceived bias_… And if so you should eliminate yourself from this jury. I think that there’s enough grey area to Sheldon’s history to outweigh the balance re: bias / perceived bias. Tiptree’s stories will always remain. They are powerful.

But with the passage of time and expansions in standpoint and we hear from voices who have never been centred we need the capacity, ability and love to be able to change. If the Tiptree Award is to honour fiction that expands or explores our ideas about gender then it would be a crying shame that the prize been perceived as one fixed in an ableist mentality.

I think it is time to #ChangeTheName I’m speaking with love and pride. I am proud to be a Tiptree Award winner. And I want to continue to be proud.

– Hiromi Goto

And Catherynne M. Valente, 2007 Award winner, posted this statement on Twitter:

If it matters, I won the Tiptree in 2007. I owe a great deal to this award. I’m trying hard to put my feelings about her work aside, as I ask others to do with regards to their heroes. She is gone & cannot be hurt, but those still here can. The name should be changed.

– Catherynne M. Valente

We saw our own decision process reflected in some emails, where people shared their own feelings about a name change. Debbie Notkin, the first chair of the Motherboard and the chair of the first Tiptree jury, wrote of the process she went through:

I cherish the Tiptree Award, and consider it one of the best endeavors I’ve ever been involved with…. In a vacuum, I would certainly argue for not changing the name of the award. All of our heroes have flaws—in fact, one of the worst aspects of having heroes is the desire that they be perfect. If we give into that, we can either have heroes or tell the truth, but not both. Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree, Jr. will always be a hero of mine.

But we are not in a vacuum. We’re in a community. And we’re in a historical moment when groups that have been horribly marginalized and abused are – often for the first time – finding that they can acknowledge their pain, make demands, make their voices heard, make change. And find allies….

I am trying to remember that it’s not only possible but common to be on many sides of a controversy at the same time. For me, the side that intensely wants to cling to the award’s name wants that because of all the history, all the sweat and tears, all the time and energy I and so many others poured into the Tiptree Award, not into some award that would someday change its name. That side also passionately cares about vindicating Pat and Karen for their courageous choices and all the world-changing that has gone on not just in Tiptree’s name, but in the name of the founding mothers.

The side of me that leans towards changing the name is about putting all my historical feelings onto a scale and weighing them against what the name is starting to mean to people who responded with their pain, and the knowledge that many more people aren’t responding because of their pain.

Debbie Notkin


What we’ve come to realize

The Tiptree Award was named as a joyful joke, 28 years ago.

James Tiptree, Jr/Alice Sheldon is a complicated figure who has grown more so as participants in the sff world have gained more diverse perspectives and more acute critical analyses. In 2019, the Tiptree name no longer captures what potential audiences, nominees, fans, need from an award (and, more recently, from a fellowship program) for the expansion and exploration of gender.

Some of the conversations surrounding this change, especially on social media, make it seem like a simple situation – a situation where you can say: “I am right and you are wrong. I will tell you the reasons you shouldn’t feel as you do, and you’ll stop feeling that way.”

But this is not a simple situation. It is, like life, difficult and messy and sometimes fraught with pain. But it is also, like life, brilliant and wonderful and filled with the possibility of joy.

Joy, absurdity, and irreverence have long been in the DNA of the Tiptree Award. What other award crowns the winner with a tiara, raises money with bake sales, and serenades the winner? Now, our community has spoken and said: there is too much discomfort over this history for many of us to feel joyous about this name.

Keeping the joy is more important than keeping the name.

We need a different name.


What we feel

In The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin writes: “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.”

This is love that we’re working with here. We love our award and the community that has grown from it.

And we love our supporters, and you love the Award too. And we want to reciprocate the hospitality you have shown us. Which involves not just logistical work, (figuratively) unlocking doors and setting up chairs and getting out food everyone can eat, but also the work of gesture, to emotionally convey “you are welcome here.”

We have a tradition we are stewarding. A tradition is a mystical thing, a reverberating ritual carrying meaning that grows through repetition. We respect that a ritual – especially one whose meaning is partly a delicate multilayered joke – loses some power when changed, like a transferred plant cutting. It takes years to grow roots again.

We have a history that is important — it serves as the foundation on which we build. We are aware that the work of writers who are not part of the dominant culture is all too often erased and suppressed. Through the Award, we support the past works that serve as our foundation — and the new voices that point the way to the future.

We care so much about the continued presence of an award celebrating genre work that expands and explores gender. And we care about that award valuing – in its name, in its processes, in what work it celebrates – playfulness, flexibility, adaptability, the brashness of anyone who creates art and the humility of anyone open to reading challenging art, and affection. We can retain the spirit of the Award, preserve its playful incisiveness, through a name change.

We are optimistic about new jokes. And we are optimistic about bridging the traditions we’re keeping (tiara, auction, jury, Honor List, free and open nominations, WisCon, a speech and a choral filk, bakesale, original art, Fellowships to encourage and recognize emerging creators) with broader hospitality and welcome – salt and new bread – for a constituency we cherish.


So… the name?

In deciding on a new name for the former Tiptree Award, there were a few things we tried to bear in mind:

  • We were in agreement with the prevailing opinion that awards should not be named after people, no matter how wonderful those people might be.
  • We thought it wise to avoid overt textual references as well, for similar reasons.
  • We wanted to capture what excites us about the works and writers that the Tiptree Award has honored – which is never the same from year to year and jury to jury.
  • We wanted to love the new name, and we want you to love it too.

We think we’ve found a name that meets all these criteria. We hope you will agree. And we’d like to introduce you to:

The Otherwise Award

Isn’t the possibility of imagining, thinking, dreaming, living otherwise what draws us to the genre we love – whether we call it science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, magical realism, or something else?

At the heart of the creative work this award has honored for the last 28 years is the act of imagining gender otherwise. We have honored those who expand or explore gender by imagining the world otherwise. Over the next 28 years and more, we expect people’s lived experiences of gender to shift, change, and multiply in ways we can’t possibly imagine. But whatever happens, writers and artists will make sense of it, and push at the limits, by imagining otherwise.

Otherwise means finding different directions to move in—toward newly possible places, by means of emergent and multiple pathways and methods. It is a moving target, since to imagine otherwise is to divert from the ways of a norm that is itself always changing.

With the addition of a space, the name also means “other, wise”: that is, wise to the experience of being the other. Such wisdom might come from direct experience or from careful, collaborative consultation.

The Black queer studies scholar and creative writer Ashon Crawley has a beautiful essay “Otherwise, Ferguson” that speaks to the possibility of otherwise politics:

To begin with the otherwise as word, as concept, is to presume that whatever we have is not all that is possible. Otherwise. It is a concept of internal difference, internal multiplicity. The otherwise is the disbelief in what is current and a movement towards, and an affirmation of, imagining other modes of social organization, other ways for us to be with each other. Otherwise as plentitude. Otherwise is the enunciation and concept of irreducible possibility, irreducible capacity, to create change, to be something else, to explore, to imagine, to live fully, freely, vibrantly. Otherwise Ferguson. Otherwise Gaza. Otherwise Detroit. Otherwise Worlds. Otherwise expresses an unrest and discontent, a seeking to conceive dreams that allow us to wake laughing, tears of joy in our eyes, dreams that have us saying, I hope this comes true.

We’ve always sought and found the works that bring all this to mind and heart. We’re excited to name the Award with a word that encapsulates what we feel it stands for.


What is not changing

Beyond the name, the traditions that have grown up around this award are very important to us. These include:

  • Open nominations, where anyone can nominate any work (including their own) at any time of the year and at no cost
  • Celebrating MANY works, not just one or two per year, and trying to avoid the heartache of competition among them
  • Supporting emerging creators with our Fellowship program, where each year’s Fellows help to choose those who will be honored in the following year
  • Funding our program activities primarily through communal efforts, like the bakesale and auction, that transparently reflect your support
  • Our WisCon rituals of song, tiara, art, and chocolate
  • Space Babe

All of these will continue, and we hope that the Otherwise name will inspire new traditions.


What about all the Tiptree winners?

We will consider everyone who has won a Tiptree Award, been named on the Honor or Long List, or awarded a Tiptree Fellowship, to be retroactive Otherwise honorees. Whether you describe your achievement with the Tiptree or Otherwise name – or with both – is up to you.


What happens now?

For the next two weeks, we’re going to hold off on making any permanent changes while we listen to responses from you – just in case there are any compelling reasons not to use Otherwise that we have missed. You can reach us at feedback@otherwiseaward.org if you would like to share your thoughts.

Then, we will start the process of changing our website, our publications, and all the rest. The actual name change will take a while — and we’ll need help from the community to accomplish it. The administrative aspects of the name change involve a lot of practical details, from getting the new domain names and revising the web site to dealing with the IRS, the State of California, and various vendors. But we are committed to making this change, as quickly as we can manage.

The next round of fellowships (2019) will carry the new name. And at WisCon 44 in May 2020, we will present our 29th award: the first Otherwise Award.


A little help from our friends

Here’s another tradition that will continue: this is an award that exists because of the community that supports it. We can’t do this without you.

Are you excited to join us in imagining Otherwise? Do you have a little time and energy to spare? The Award has always been run by volunteers, and this is a moment where we could really use some help.

We’re taking this opportunity to revisit the way we have administered the Award in the past, to see how we might be able to do things better. We’ll be looking for folks to help us with special projects related to art and design; web and social media; organizational support for the auction at WisCon; and service on the juries that choose the Award and Fellowship winners.

One of the first efforts after the announcement of the Tiptree Award at WisCon was the creation of a cookbook: The Bakery Men Don’t See. Who knows what projects will arise from the Otherwise Award?

If you’d like to help, please email us at info@otherwiseaward.org. (Yes, we’ll be working on changing the addresses.)

There’s a lot to do. Come and help us change the world some more.

Alice Sheldon and the name of the Tiptree Award

Further update: Wednesday September 11, 2019.

We said we would be listening and we have. We’ve read your thoughtful and pain-filled emails, tweets, and Facebook posts. We are sorry for the harm that’s been done, especially to some of the most marginalized members of our community.

We recognize that the award is necessary to the community, but can’t go on under its existing name. Now we need to figure out what to do next and how to do it. We’re working on it. And we’ll say more within a month.

Update: Wednesday September 4, 2019.

We’ve seen some people discussing this statement and saying we’re refusing to rename the award. Of course it’s easy to read what we’ve written in that way; our apologies. While this post focuses on the reasons why we have not immediately undertaken to rename the award, our thinking is ongoing and tentative, and we are listening carefully to the feedback we are receiving. We are open to possibilities and suggestions from members of our community as we discuss how best to move forward. You can contact us at feedback@otherwiseaward.org.

Content notes for discussion of suicide, mental illness, caregiver murder

In recent days, we’ve seen questions raised on social media about whether the name of the Tiptree Award should be reconsidered. The Award was named after James Tiptree, Jr., the persona under which Alice Sheldon published. The questions relate to Alice Sheldon’s actions at the end of her life. On May 19, 1987, she shot first her husband, Huntington Sheldon, and then herself.

The Tiptree Motherboard, the seven volunteers who administer the award, has been deep in intense reflection and conversation. While we are far from finished with our discussions, we wish to share some important information and some of our thoughts.

For reasons we share in this post, the Motherboard does not believe that a change to the name of the Tiptree Award is warranted now. But we believe that this is a very important discussion, and we do not think it is over. The community that has grown up around this award since its founding in 1991 deserves to have its voice heard in any conversation as significant as renaming.

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.

In her 2006 biography of Tiptree, Julie Phillips quoted some sources who suggested that Ting may not have been ready to die. Since the conversation about the Sheldons’ deaths has become public, however, Phillips has shared further details from her research, reporting that Ting’s friends and family understood his death and Alice’s as the fulfilment of an agreement between the two of them. On Twitter, Phillips writes:

The question has come up whether Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr) and her husband Ting died by suicide or murder-suicide. I regret not saying clearly in the bio that those closest to the Sheldons all told me that they had a pact and that Ting’s health was failing.

Ting’s son Peter Sheldon also said there was a pact, and that Ting was declining. Alli probably wanted to die more than Ting did. But the pact didn’t have to do with his blindness or disability. He was going, and they chose to go out together.

In an email to the Tiptree Motherboard, quoted with permission, Phillips writes:

Ting didn’t leave a statement, but all Ting’s friends that I talked to plus his son Peter were unanimous that it was a pact, and that Ting’s health was failing when it happened. The only one who cast doubt on that was the lawyer who talked to her on the last night, James Boylan. He didn’t know either Ting or Alli very well, and I have doubts about how well he understood what was happening. I’m planning to write up what I know, because I left too much room for doubt when I wrote the book.

Putting Alice Sheldon’s death in the context of her life, Jeff Smith, Alice’s friend and literary executor and a longtime Tiptree Motherboard member, shares his recollection of it this way:

I knew Tiptree through correspondence, and Alli through phone calls and visits. She was very open about the suicidal tendencies that had plagued her throughout her life. She also told me that neither she nor her husband, Ting, wanted to outlive the other. (Whenever I talked to Ting, the subject never came up.) There were times when Alli said she had her gun out (including at least once when I was talking to her on the phone), but that “Ting isn’t ready yet.”

Ting’s health began to steadily decline. I hadn’t spoken to Alli in the weeks leading up to that final night, so I don’t know exactly what she was going through at that time. I know she wrote notes that she left around the house, with instructions and information that the responders and her lawyers might need. She took the unfinished manuscript of her last novella (a love story) out of her office and placed it in the living room. She called her lawyer and told him what she intended to do. He called the police, who got to the house while she was still making preparations. She convinced them the lawyer had misunderstood her. They checked in on Ting, and then they went away. Alli completed her task.

We her friends knew it was coming, but that knowledge didn’t make it less distressing. Could anyone have stopped it? Probably not: This was 1987, and the actual suicide note left out with all the new instructions was dated 1979.

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.

The “Tiptree” Award

Perhaps competing narratives about what happened in an unknowable, devastating moment more than 30 years ago are beside the point. We are in the midst of a movement away from naming awards after people, of putting intense weight on influential historical figures who inevitably disappoint when held up to scrutiny, especially at historical distance. If we want our award to continue into the future, we must be willing to re-examine the individuals, stories, and assumptions that have shaped it so far.

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. Jeanette Ng’s speech reminded us that science fiction has long since eclipsed the bounds by which Campbell, whose racist and fascist sympathies are a matter of public record, hoped to define it. In renaming the Astounding Award, Dell Publishing moved the focus from creator to creation, honoring the publication (Astounding Science Fiction magazine) that he edited and whose reach and influence far exceeded his grasp. The Tiptree Award is already named after Alice Sheldon’s creation.

In the years since 1991, “Tiptree” has come to hold significant meaning in the SFF world, its reach perhaps even exceeding Sheldon’s own. “Tiptree” gets used as an adjective for stories that do something particularly interesting with gender; we often meet people who know of the Award through its winners and have not heard of Sheldon’s work or life. We are very wary of losing that history and recognition, which has opened significant doors for our honorees, and has helped us to sustain and expand the award over the last 27 years.

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.

We have been, before this current conversation, asking ourselves some questions. What would an Award look like, Tiptree or otherwise, that honored what we want to honor now, the complex and overlapping intersections through which gender is lived? That’s a question we can’t answer in one single burst of sustained self-reflection. We believe it is far more important to make the right decisions than to make decisions quickly.

And so: we do not think that an immediate renaming is called for at this moment. But we do not know what the future might hold, and we recognize that this Award belongs to the community that has supported and sustained it, at least as much as it does to us. Going forward, we will be reaching out to members of the Tiptree community to seek out their thoughts. Your voices are a necessary part of our reflections.

We will begin writing individually to members of our Tiptree community this week, as quickly as our schedules allow (which is rarely as quickly as we would like). If you would like to reach us in the meantime, please email feedback@otherwiseaward.org.

2019 Otherwise Fellowship Applications Due October 31

For the fifth year, the Tiptree Award is welcoming applications for Tiptree Fellowships: $500 grants for emerging creators who are changing the way we think about gender through speculative narrative.

If you think that description could apply to you — even if you are not working in a format most people would recognize as part of the science fiction or fantasy genre — you are eligible to apply for a Fellowship. Tiptree Fellows can be writers, artists, scholars, media makers, remix artists, performers, musicians, or something else entirely. So far our Fellows have been creators of visual art, poetry, fiction, and games.

The Tiptree Fellowship is designed to provide support and recognition for the new voices who are making visible the forces that are changing our view of gender today. The Fellowship Committee particularly encourages applications from members of communities that have been historically underrepresented in the science fiction and fantasy genre and from creators who are creating speculative narratives in media other than traditional fiction. In keeping with the focus of the Tiptree Award, the selection committee is seeking projects that explore and expand understandings of gender, particularly in relationship to race, nationality, class, disability, sexuality, age, and other factors that set individuals or groups apart as “other.” Fellowship applicants do not need a professional or institutional affiliation, as the intention of the Fellowship program is to support emerging creators who lack institutional support for their work.

Applications are due on October 31, 2019. To apply, you will need to write short responses to two questions and to share a sample of your work – you can learn more about the application process at this link.

To read about the work of our previous Fellows, click on their names below:

The 2019 Fellows will be chosen by Rox Samer (committee chair), Gabriela Damián Miravete, Ana Hurtado, and Vida Cruz.