JUDITH MERRIL Biography - Writers


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Judith Merril                                                                                 
Pseudonym Cyril Judd                                                                         
Born January 21, 1923                                                                         
Boston, Massachusetts                                                                         
Died September 12, 1997 (aged 74)                                                             
Toronto, Canada                                                                               
Occupation Editor, novelist, short story author                                               
Genres Science fiction                                                                       
Judith Josephine Grossman (January 21, 1923 - September 12, 1997), who took the               
pen-name Judith Merril about 1945, was an American and then Canadian science                 
fiction writer, editor and political activist.                                               
Judith Merril's first paid writing was in other genres, but in her first few                 
years of writing published science fiction she wrote her three novels (all but               
the first in collaboration with C.M. Kornbluth) and some stories. Her roughly                 
four decades in that genre also included writing 26 published short stories, and             
editing a similar number of anthologies.                                                     
Merril was born in Boston. After her father's suicide during her grade-school                 
years, her mother found a job at Bronx House and moved them to the borough of                 
the Bronx in New York City. In her mid-teens, she pursued Zionism and Marxism.               
In 1939, she graduated from Morris High School at 16, and rethought her                       
politics under the influence of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. She married Dan Zissman               
the next year, less than four months into a relationship that started through                 
Trotskyist activities. Their daughter Merril Zissman was born in December 1942.               
The couple separated about 1945; in 1946 Frederik Pohl began living with her.                 
After her divorce from Zissman became final, she married Pohl, both during 1948.             
She began writing professionally, especially short stories about sports,                     
starting in 1945, before publishing her first science-fiction story in 1948.                 
Her second child, Ann, was born in 1950; in 1952 she separated from Pohl, and                 
their divorce finalized the next year, in which she also lived with Walter M.                 
Miller, Jr. for six months. Her third marriage came in 1960, devolving into                   
separation, in 1963, but never a final divorce. Ann's daughter (Merril's                     
granddaughter), Emily Pohl-Weary, is an author of young adult fiction and                     
science-fiction stories. (She also co-authored Merril's biography after the                   
latter's death, using access to her drafts, notes and letters.)                               
Merril began editing science fiction short story anthologies in 1950 --                       
especially a popular "Year's Best" story-anthology series of that ran from 1956               
to 1967 -- and published her last in 1985. In her editorial introductions, talks             
and other writings, she actively argued that science fiction should no longer be             
isolated but become part of the literary mainstream. Science fiction scholar Rob             
Latham noted in 2005 that "throughout the 1950s, Merril, along with fellow SF                 
authors James Blish and Damon Knight had taken the lead in promoting higher                   
literary standards and a greater sense of professionalism within the field" (p.203)           
-- especially by establishing an annual series of writers' conferences in                     
Milford, Pennsylvania, where Merril then lived. Manuscripts were workshopped at               
these avid gatherings, thus encouraging more care in the planning of stories,                 
and a sense of solidarity was promoted, eventually leading to the formation of               
the Science Fiction Writers Association" (Latham, 2005, p. 204). However, "disaffected       
authors began griping about a `Milford Mafia' that was endangering SF's unique               
virtues by imposing literary standards essentially alien to the field" (Latham,               
2005, p. 204).                                                                               
In the late 1960s, citing what she called undemocratic suppression of anti-war               
activities by the U.S. government, she moved to Canada.                                       
In 1970 she began an endowment at the Toronto Public Library for the collection               
of all science fiction published in the English language. She donated all of the             
unpublished manuscripts in her possession to the library, which set up the "Spaced           
Out Library" (Merril's term), with Merril in a non-administrative role as                     
curator. The library has had its own physical space from the onset. It was                   
renamed in Merril's last decade as the Merril Collection of Science Fiction,                 
Speculation, and Fantasy. Merril received a small annual stipend as curator, and             
when low on funds, she lived in her office at the library, sleeping on a cot.                 
From 1978 to 1981 she introduced Canadian broadcasts of Doctor Who As the "Undoctor,"         
Merril presented short (3-7 minute) philosophical commentaries on the show's                 
Merril became a Canadian citizen in 1976. She became active in the Writers'                   
Union. When the Union debated at its annual meeting whether people could write               
about other genders and ethnic groups, she exclaimed "Who will speak for the                 
aliens?" which closed the debate.                                                             
From the mid-1970s until her death, Merrill spent much time in the Canadian                   
peace movement, including traveling to Ottawa dressed as a witch in order to                 
symbolically hex Parliament for allowing American cruise missile testing over                 
She also remained active in the SF world as a commentator and mentor. Her                     
lifetime of work was honoured by the International Authors Festival at the                   
Harbourfront Centre, Toronto.                                                                 
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (the renamed SFWA) made                   
Merril its Author Emeritus for 1997.                                                         
In contemplation of her death, she left a sizable sum of money to hold a                     
celebratory/memorial party at Toronto's Bamboo Club. An organized editor to the               
end, she prepared detailed lists of who should call whom when she finally died.