Kushner, Ellen (Ruth) 1955-

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KUSHNER, Ellen (Ruth) 1955-


Born October 6, 1955, in Washington, DC; daughter of Irving (a medical doctor) and Enid (a social worker; maiden name, Lupeson) Kushner. Education: Attended Bryn Mawr College, 1973-75; graduated from Barnard College; Columbia University, A.B., 1977. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: World travel, eating at various restaurants, singing, socializing.


Office—c/o Sound & Spirit, WGBH, 125 Western Ave., Boston, MA 02134. Agent—Christopher Shelling, Ralph M. Vicinanza Ltd., 303 W. 18th St., New York, NY 10011. E-mail[email protected].


Ace Books, New York, NY, editorial assistant, 1977-79; Pocket Books, New York, NY, associate fantasy editor, 1979-80; freelance copywriter, reviewer, literary scout, and artist's representative, 1980-87; WGBH Radio, Boston, MA, producer and announcer (hosted NightAir; American Public Radio's Nakamichi International Music Series, 1989-91; and Caravan), 1987-96, Sound and Spirit public radio show, host and producer, 1996—. Has taught writing at the Clarion Writers' Workshop in Michigan and the Odyssey Workshop in New Hampshire.


Endicott Studio of the Mythic Arts, Interstitial Arts Foundation (founding member).


World Fantasy Award, Mythopoeic Award, and Book for the Teen Age citation, New York Public Library, all 1991, all for Thomas the Rhymer; NFCB Silver Reel Award, 1997, for Sound and Spirit radio show; Gaylactic Network Spectrum Award, 2000, for Swordspoint; Best Children's Music Album nomination, Indie Awards, Association for Independent Music, 2000, for Welcoming Children into the World.


(Editor) Basilisk (anthology), illustrated by T. Windling, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1980.

Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1987, Bantam (New York, NY), 2003.

Thomas the Rhymer, Morrow (New York, NY), 1990.

St. Nicholas and the Valley Beyond: A Christmas Legend, created and painted by Richard W. Burhans, Viking Studio (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor, with Delia Sherman and Donald G. Keller, and contributor) The Horns of Elfland (anthology), New American Library (New York, NY), 1997.

(With Delia Sherman) The Fall of the Kings, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2002.


Outlaws of Sherwood Forest (series number 47), Bantam (New York, NY), 1985.

The Enchanted Kingdom (series number 56), Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.

Statue of Liberty Adventure (series number 58), illustrated by Ted Enik, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.

The Mystery of the Secret Room (series number 63), Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.

Knights of the Round Table (series number 86), Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.


Also author of radio specials, including (coauthor) Which Way's Witch: A June Foray Halloween Spell, 1991; (also producer, director, and narrator) Festival of Liberation: The Passover Story in World Music, 1992; (also producer, director, and narrator) The Door Is Opened: A Jewish High Holiday Meditation, 1992; (also producer, director, and narrator) Beyond 1492: Five-Hundred Years of Jewish Song and Legend, 1992; and Esther: The Feast of Masks. Also wrote for and compiled the music recordings Welcoming Children into the World, WGBH, 1996, and The Golden Dreydl: A Klezmer Nutcracker for Chanukah.

Contributor of poetry to anthologies, including Elsewhere, Volume 2, Ace Books, 1982; After Midnight, Tor Books, 1986; and Readercon 1990 Anthology, St. Martin's Press, 1991.

Contributor of short fiction to anthologies, including Elsewhere, Ace, 1981; Heroic Visions II, Ace Books, 1986; Borderland, Signet Books, 1986; Bordertown, Signet Books, 1986; After Midnight, Tor, 1986; Life on the Border, Tor Books, 1991; The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Fifth Annual Collection, St. Martin's Press, 1992; The Women's Press Book of New Myth and Magic, Women's Press, 1993; The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Seventh Annual Collection, St. Martin's Press, 1994; The Armless Maiden and Other Tales for Childhood's Survivors, Tor Books, 1995; Immortal Unicorns, HarperCollins, 1995; A Century of Fantasy: 1980-1989, the Greatest Stories of the Decade, MJF, 1996; The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Ninth Annual Collection, St. Martin's Press, 1996; Bending the Landscape, White Wolf, 1997; The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Eleventh Annual Collection, St. Martin's Press, 1998; The Essential Bordertown, Tor Books, 1998; Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers, HarperPrism, 1998; Starlight 2, Tor Books, 1998; and The World's Best Fantasy and Horror, Twelfth Annual Collection, St. Martin's Press, 1999. Also contributed short fiction to Whispers magazine, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Paradoxa—Studies in World Literary Genres.

Writings have been translated into Catalan, French, German, Japanese, Latvian, Russian, and Spanish.


Ellen Kushner's novels have caused the literary world to question the constrictive nature of its classifications. While at first glance her books appear to be fantasy novels, upon closer inspection they reveal themselves to be something more, novels of a new genre. Though Kushner has written books for children and young adults, the need for a new genre is most apparent in her two impressively popular books for adults: Swordspoint: A Melodrama of Manners and The Fall of the Kings.

In Swordspoint, Kushner introduces readers to the anonymous and shabby district of Riverside, once ruled by powerful and corrupt kings, now overseen by swordsmen, who work under a ruling council of lords. These swordsmen are offered for hire to settle disputes by challenging one's enemy to a fight that he cannot win. The greatest of all swordsmen is Richard St. Vier, whose services are pursued by two different influential figures. Lord Ferris wants St. Vier to kill Lord Halliday, who is running for reelection as Crescent Chancellor, while Lord Horn wants St. Vier to kill Michael Godwin, a young aristocrat and budding swordsman who has spurned the lord's romantic advances. When St. Vier shows resistance to his wishes, Lord Horn kidnaps St. Vier's lover, Alec, a student who may in some way have descended from royalty. St. Vier ends up taking two lives and stands on trial for his actions. "It took a long time to sell because it was so nontraditional," Kushner admitted of Swordspoint in an SFSite interview with David Mathew. "We couldn't sell it as a fantasy novel because it was too literary, and all the literary people said it was too fantasy."

"It's a melancholy trend, although perhaps inevitable, that something that should be as fresh and inventive as fantasy literature so easily becomes formulaic, to the degree that there are subcategories with many examples, all easily identifiable," wrote Robert M. Tilendis in Rambles. "Parked happily outside the throng is Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint.… This is a novel that promises intrigue and delivers in full measure." Finding the characters well developed, Tilendis claimed, "Kushner writes like a dream. Not much more can be said because any attempt to describe her style falls short." In a review of Swordspoint for Green Man Review, Rebecca Swain also commented on Kushner's "clear, individual writing style," stating that "amusing and moving as parts of this story are, and despite its subtitle of melodrama, this is not a fluffy romance novel. It is deeply disturbing, raising questions about the nature of reality and the morality of violence, and portraying people who are so desperate they will take any risk." Swain ultimately felt that " Swordspoint is an unforgettable book.… It is merciless, disturbing, and an absolute joy to read."

"Fantasy is now a genre, most of which I find boring and irritating," Kushner told Mathew. "I hate saying 'I write fantasy' because people immediately think I write a cross between Star Wars and Elf-o-Rama-Imitation-Tolkien-Number-47. I hate saying this because it sounds so snotty, but sometimes I say I write Literary Fantasy." Because she found traditional literary genres and their definitions too restrictive, Kushner pursued a new literary movement, one which would provide a category for her work and that of many others: interstitial fiction. "Interstitial fiction's time has come," Kushner told Steve Berman in an interview for Strange Horizons. "I was one of the people instrumental in coining the word. We needed a term to best describe what we do: writing and song and art between the recognized categories. Nowadays there is a real demand for such fiction."

Fifteen years after the publication of Swordspoint, Kushner and novelist partner Delia Sherman penned a companion to the novel. The Fall of the Kings takes place sixty years after the original novel and focuses on new characters, with a few cameo appearances by the old ones. Of The Fall of the Kings ' two main characters, one is Theron Campion, Alec's son, a young nobleman who seeks an education to bring his mind up to the standards dictated by his noble blood. Upon attending Riverside's university, he meets the other main character, Basil St. Cloud, a professor of ancient history who is obsessed with the ruling kingdom of the past—a dangerous obsession because to even speak of the kings, their wizards, or the concept of magic is considered treasonous by law. Campion and St. Cloud engage in a love affair that ends up uncovering dark secrets of the infamous kings and the magic of their wizards. When Lord Arlen, the Serpent Chancellor, gets wind of Campion and St. Cloud's meddling in the past, he sends spies to the university to uncover the nature of their research and ensure that magic and monarchy remain elements of the past.

Critical response to The Fall of the Kings was tremendously positive. "This is a high-fantasy novel of rare quality, in which the richly detailed world… leaps out and seizes the reader," wrote Roland Green in Booklist. According to School Library Journal reviewer Jody Sharp, The Fall of the Kings "is high fantasy at its best—literate, passionate, and compelling," while Books 'n' Bytes contributor Harriet Klausner remarked, "Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman combine their talents to create a work that is sublimely rich in characterizations.… The Fall of Kings is an experience not to be missed." The creation of The Fall of Kings was collaboration in the true sense of the word. Though the plot was based on Kushner's previous creation, she and Sherman took a fresh angle for the book's sequel, together brainstorming the new characters and plot ideas. The authors were equally involved in the actual writing and editing of the book as well. "It's like giving each other presents," Kushner told Mathew. "When you write alone, you can only do it for yourself, but because there are two of us, if I come home from work and she hands me two pages, it's a wonderful gift." Sherman agreed: "When I run out of steam all I do now is stop and give it to Ellen."

Many reviewers offered warm words for The Fall of the Kings. "Elegantly written, rich with conversations, peopled with confused, misled, and sincere protagonists, this novel provides a rare experience of a richly conceived and incessantly surprising world," Laurie J. Marks reported in SFRevu. "Every detail… seems exactly true and completely believable. No small book could contain such rich complexity. This book is big enough to live in, and its readers will be glad to take it as their residence," Marks concluded. Lambda Book Report 's Rob Gates felt that "the book's biggest strength is in the complex understanding that Kushner and Sherman show for human relations on both a small and large scale." Gates also expressed some trouble in classifying the "mature, adventurous, witty, and deep" book. " The Fall of Kings is far too layered and complex to be pigeonholed as one thing or another.… Though published and marketed as a fantasy novel, it transcends stereotypical boundaries of the genre," Gates wrote. "It's clear from the tale of wonder, pain, and hope between the covers that magic is alive in our world too."



St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Booklist, November 15, 2002, Roland Green, review of The Fall of the Kings, p. 584.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of The Fall of the Kings, p. 1271.

Kliatt, September, 1997, review of The Horns of Elfland, p. 20.

Lambda Book Report, November-December, 2002, Rob Gates, review of The Fall of the Kings, p. 17.

Library Journal, November 15, 2002, Jackie Cassada, review of The Fall of the Kings, p. 105.

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July, 1997, review of The Horns of Elfland, p. 21.

School Library Journal, May, 2003, Jody Sharp, review of The Fall of the Kings, p. 180.

Science Fiction Chronicle, October, 1997, review of The Horns of Elfland, p. 50.


Books 'n' Bytes Web site,http://www.booksnbytes.com/ (January 15, 2003), Harriet Klausner, review of The Fall of the Kings.

Ellen Kushner Web site,http://www.ellenkushner.com/ (April 14, 2004).

Endicott Studio Web site,http://www.endicott-studio.com/ (February, 2003), "Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman: Brief Biographies."

Green Man Review,http://www.greenmanreview.com/ (April 10, 2004), Rebecca Swain, review of Swordspoint, and Rachel Manija Brown, review of The Fall of the Kings.

Rambles Web site,http://www.rambles.net/ (April 14, 2004), Robert M. Tilendis, review of Swordspoint.

SFRevu Web site,http://www.sfrevu.com/ (November, 2002), Laurie J. Marks, review of The Fall of the Kings.

SFSite Web site,http://www.sfsite.com/ (April 14, 2004), David Mathew, "Dividing the Rewards: An Interview with Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman."

Sound and Spirit Web site,http://www.wgbh.org/wgbh/pages/pri/spirit/ (April 14, 2004), "Sound and Spirit Host: Ellen Kushner."

Strange Horizons Web site,http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (November 11, 2002), Steve Berman, "Interview: Ellen Kushner."*