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Mar 4 2016

By Any Other Name

by Dea Anne M

I admit that I’m quite a bit late to the game, but I checked out The Cuckoo’s Calling over the weekend and have not cuckoobeen able to put it down. Really. Of course, by now, everyone knows that the novel’s author, Robert Galbraith, is actually J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame and that this book is the first in a series of detective novels featuring the very interesting and mysterious Cormoran Strike and his clever assistant Robin Ellacott. On the surface, these books seem as far away from the world of Harry Potter as it is possible to get, yet one could argue that the prominent plot of each of the Potter books involves the characters in attempting to unravel a mystery. Think about it – who is the Half-Blood Prince? What exactly are the Deathly Hallows? Rowling herself has declared “…that the Harry Potter books are whodunnits in disguise,” and she had often expressed a deep love for the detective genre. I can tell you right now that even though I’m not yet finished with the first book in the series I know that I will be tearing through the second and third (The Silkworm and Career of Evil respectively) and eagerly awaiting the fourth book and all those to follow.

So, one might ask, why a pseudonym, Joanne Rowling (J. K. Rowling itself is a pseudonym – Rowling’s name is Joanne – no middle name)? Apparently, her publisher feared that boys wouldn’t read the Potter books if it was obvious that they were written by a woman. Hard to believe now, I know – but plausible enough. There has been some public speculation that the decision to use the Robert Galbraith pseudonym was similarly publisher driven – and for similar reasoning based of supposed genre-driven reading preferences. However, Rowling herself has said that the Galbraith nom-de-plume reflects a desire to create something that can “stand or fall on its own merits.”

Many authors have used pen names and for many different reasons. Here are a few that you may already know, or that you may want to get re-acquainted with or meet for the first time.

bronteThe famous Bronte sisters – Anne, Charlotte and Emily – originally published their work under the pseudonym Acton, Currer and Ellis (respectively). In 1850, in a preface to the new combined edition of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, Charlotte Bronte, who of course wrote Jane Eyre, revealed that the sisters agreed to more  masculine pen names because they “had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.” If you want to know more about the work, and the daily lives, of these fascinating women, pick up The Bronte Cabinet: three lives in nine objects by Deborah Lutz at DCPL.

Globally beloved, and Nobel Prize winning, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda initially used that name in order to keep his publishing activities a secret from his father who disapproved of literature as a profession. Later, Neruda – whose given name was Ricardo Eliecer Reyes Basoalto – took the pseudonym as his legal name. You’ll find a number of Neruda’s books at DCPL including All the Odes and On the Blue Shore of Silence as well as Neruda: an intimate biography by Volodia Teitelboim.duck

Theo Lesieg, author of popular books for young readers such as I Wish That I Had Duck Feet! and Please Try To Remember the First of Octember! is the nom-de-plume of beloved writer/illustrator Dr. Seuss. Seuss is also a pen name as it is the middle name of Theodor Geisel – the “real” Dr. Seuss. Lesieg, of course, is Geisel spelled backwards. Check out Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel by Judith and Neil Morgan for more about this very interesting man.

Alice Bradley Sheldon will be better known to readers of science fiction as James Tiptree, Jr. Sheldon began publishing her provocative and unusual brand of fiction under the pen name in 1967 and her identity remained a secret until 1977 when enthusiastic fans ferreted out the truth. Why Sheldon used a pen name at all is open to debate as there doesn’t seem to have been any significant pressure on her to do so by family or the publishing world. It appears to have been a deeply personal decision on her part. In any case, Sheldon was a complicated person – as unusual as her fiction itself. Check out my previous post devoted to Sheldon here and if you’re interested in reading her work (which I highly recommend) check out Byte Beautiful: eight science fiction stories and Her Smoke Rose Up Forever – both available from DCPL. You can read more about Sheldon herself  in James Tiptree, Jr.: the double life nomof Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips.

You can read more about pen names in Carmela Ciuraru’s highly entertaining Nom de plume: a (secret) history of psuedonymns. Of course, I wonder how many pseudonyms have been selected because the author thought it sounded cool? Just for fun, here‘s a simple pen name generator. Or invent your own! What name would you publish under? Then again, you might want to keep that information under wraps!

 

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Aug 24 2011

Double lives and new frontiers

by Dea Anne M

August 24th is the birthday of American science fiction author Alice Bradley Sheldon who is better known to the world by her pen name, James Tiptree Jr. Sheldon adopted the pseudonym when she began to publish science fiction around 1967. Her work won quite a bit of acclaim through the years but it wasn’t until 1977  that the public discovered that Tiptree was a woman. Apparently, Tiptree was afraid that her work would suffer negative feedback if her true gender was known and she also seemed to have concerns about exciting the wrong sort of notoriety by being a woman publishing in what had traditionally been a male-dominated genre. In an interview, Tiptree said “I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.” Indeed, Alice Sheldon had been in Air Force photo-intelligence, the CIA, and had received a doctorate in experimental psychology.

Tiptree was a unique stylist who expressed an often dark vision in her fiction. Some of her more famous pieces, such as “The Women That Men Don’t See” and the novella, Houston, Houston Do You Read?,  deal with gender and sexual politics in very interesting and surprising ways. In 1991, science fiction authors Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler established the James Tiptree Jr. Award, an annual prize given to works of science fiction and fantasy that expand or explore our understanding of gender. If you’re in the mood to sample some of these award winners, DCPL has several to choose from. Some of these are:

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (2008), Camouflage by Joe Haldeman (2004), Set This House In Order: a romance of souls by Matt Ruff (2003), Wild Life by Molly Gloss (2000), Black Wine by Candas Jane Dorsey (1997), The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1996), Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand (I highly recommend this one!) and Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Theodore Roszak (both books won in 1995) , Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Arnason (1991), and White Queen by Gwyneth Jones (also 1991).

Would you like to sample Tiptree’s writing for yourself? DCPL has these titles:

Crown of Stars

Byte Beautiful: eight science fiction stories

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever: the great years of James Tiptree Jr.

If you want to learn more about this brilliant and unusual writer and woman, don’t miss James Tiptree Jr.: the double life of Alice B. Sheldon. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly called this book “…a wonder: an even handed, scrupulously documented, objective yet sympathetic portrait of a deliberately elusive personality…”

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