PERSONAL: Born in Seattle, WA; married (husband a translator); children: two.
ADDRESSES: Home— Amsterdam, Netherlands. E-mail— [email protected]
CAREER: Writer. Seattle Weekly, Seattle, WA, reporter;Village Voice, New York, NY, reporter.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Critics Circle, Salon.com best nonfiction books citation, New York Times notable book, best book of the year citations, Publishers Weekly, Kansas City Star, Seattle Times, Washington Post, and Times Literary Supplement, all 2006, all for James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon.
James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (biography), St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor of articles to periodicals, including News-day, Interview, Ms., Voice Literary Supplement, and Mademoiselle.
SIDELIGHTS: Julie Phillips’s biography James Tip-tree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon recounts the story of one of the great science fiction writers of the twentieth century. The book, according to Matthew Cheney on the Strange Horizons Web site, “is an extraordinarily well-crafted study of an extraordinary life—the life of a woman who traveled to Africa as a child with her high-society parents, worked for the U.S. government during World War II, published a story in the New Yorker, analyzed intelligence for the CIA in its early days, earned a Ph.D. in experimental psychology, and then wrote science fiction stories under the name ‘James Tiptree, Jr.,’ an identity she would keep secret from the world at large for years, even as she gained more and more notice as a significant writer.” “Artist, CIA operative, gender-bending literary seductress with a Hemingwayesque alter-ego,” Elizabeth Hand wrote in a Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction review, “Sheldon insured there’d be no Hollywood ending when, in a suicide pact, she murdered her elderly husband, then shot herself in their suburban home.”
From 1967 to 1977, Alice Bradley Sheldon, writing as Tiptree, produced some of the most innovative speculative fiction in the history of the genre, before her identity was revealed. Nonetheless, her opus helped redefine her chosen genre in the 1970s—and it did so in a way that surprised everyone. “When Tip-tree was unmasked, Sheldon was 61,” Susanna J. Sturgis revealed in the Women’s Review of Books.“Science fiction was widely thought to be a young man’s game, then one of its giants turned out to be a woman who produced her entire oeuvre in her fifties and sixties. And everyone who assumed Tiptree was a man— based not only on the author’s name but on the style and subjects of the stories and what was known of the author’s life—had some rethinking to do about gender.”
Phillips’s biography also reveals that Sheldon herself was deeply conflicted about her own gender and sexual identity. Working from personal letters (Sheldon maintained an extensive correspondence, under her own name as well as under both the Tiptree pseudonym and as Raccoona Sheldon, with other science fiction writers), Phillips reconstructs the ways in which the author dealt with her sexuality and her understanding of the role of women in twentieth-century society. “She was an enthusiastic supporter of second-wave feminism,” explained Laura Miller in a review for Salon. com, “who joined NOW and subscribed to Ms. Magazine from the outset. She started and abandoned several sympathetic treatises on the dilemma of women, especially those women with ‘atypical’ ambitions and desires.” Fellow female science fiction writer Joanna Russ, Miller wrote, “who came out of the closet as a lesbian during her epistolary friendship with Tiptree, received Sheldon’s confession of similar yearnings: ‘I like some men a lot, but from the start, before I knew anything, it was always girls and women who lit me up.’”
Reviewers celebrated Phillips’s accomplishment in documenting and revealing Sheldon’s life. “With painstaking research, frequent quotes from Sheldon’s letters (as Tiptree and not), and respectful but thorough attention to motives and emotions,” declared Russ Allbery on Eyrie.org, “she has recorded the story of a person in all of her flaws, triumphs, and bright-edged tragedy.” “In assembling such a cohesive account of Sheldon’s life,” Dave Itzkoff wrote in the New York Times Book Review, “Phillips has produced a kind of photo-negative of an archetypal Tiptree story: instead of scrupulously withholding details from the reader until the last possible moment, she doles them out generously, without excessive editorializing or undue reverence for her subject. Yet her writing achieves its own kind of narrative tension,” Itzkoff concluded, “a spell that obliges even the readers already clued in to Tiptree’s secret to turn the book’s pages with increasing suspense as they wait for its real-life inhabitants to catch up with them.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES
Booklist, June 1, 2006, Carl Hays, review of James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, p. 29.
Entertainment Weekly, August 18, 2006, Jennifer Reese, “Male Delivery,” p. 142.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2006, review of James Tip-tree, Jr., p. 510.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 3, 2006, Gavin Grant, “Julie Phillips on James Tiptree, Jr.”
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October-November, 2006, Elizabeth Hand, review of James Tiptree, Jr., p. 40.
New York Times Book Review, August 20, 2006, Dave Itzkoff, “Alice’s Alias,” p. 1.
Publishers Weekly, March 20, 2006, review of James Tiptree, Jr., p. 44.
Seattle Times Book Review, August 4, 2006, Nisi Shawl, review of James Tiptree, Jr.
Women’s Review of Books, November-December, 2006, Susanna J. Sturgis, “The Man Who Didn’t Exist,” p. 3.
Bookforum, http://www.bookforum.com/ (March 14, 2007), Carter Scholz, “Invisible Man: A New Biography Explores the Woman Who was James Tiptree, Jr.”
Julie Phillips Home Page, http://www.julie-phillips.com (January 26, 2007), author biography.
Eyrie.org, http://www.eyrie.org/ (January 26, 2007), Russ Allbery, review of James Tiptree, Jr.
Strange Horizons, http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (January 26, 2007), Matthew Cheney, “Interview: Julie Phillips.”