Emshwiller, Carol

views updated


Born 12 April 1921, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Daughter of Charles C. and Agnes Carswell Fries; married Edmund Emshwiller, 1949 (died 1990); children: Eve, Susan, Peter

Carol Emshwiller, an adjunct assistant professor in continuing education at New York University, is the author of three books of short stories and three novels. Her writings borrow elements from science fiction and fantasy to conceive highly original and often outrageous plots. Told from a feminist perspective, Emshwiller's works comment upon the state of women in contemporary society. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction states that "in her hands science fiction conventions become models of our deep estrangement from ourselves (especially women) and from the world."

Raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Emshwiller earned a B.A. in music from the University of Michigan in 1945 and another B.A. in design four years later. She then attended Ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. This was followed by marriage to filmmaker Edmund Emshwiller (who died in 1990), with whom she had three children. Emshwiller has taught workshops at the Clarion Science Fiction Writing Workshop in East Lansing, Michigan, and the Science Fiction Bookstore in New York, and taught at New York University since 1978.

Joy in Our Cause (1974), Emshwiller's first book, is comprised of short stories previously published in literary and science fiction magazines. This was followed by Verging on the Pertinent: Stories (1989) and The Start of the End of It All (1990, revised in 1991), two more collections of short stories. The latter won the World Fantasy Award for the best short story collection of 1991. In "Yukon," a woman abandons her husband and home in order to live with a bear in the forest. In the title story, aliens determined to conquer the Earth form an alliance with divorced women to fight the ruling male establishment. In "Looking Down," a half-bird, half-man is transformed by the power of love. Love, whether or not it triumphs in the end, is a theme throughout this book as Emshwiller's motley collection of bizarre characters defy their mundane existence by embracing the unexpected and extraordinary.

Carmen Dog (1990), Emshwiller's first novel, also incorporates elements of the fantastic. The novel is set in a world in which human women are degenerating into various animals, while animals are developing the characteristics of human women. Although critics panned this as silly, formulaic, and confusing, most praised the humor in Emshwiller's allegorical tale. Her second novel, Ledoyt, was a departure from her usual reliance on plot elements from science fiction and fantasy. Instead, Ledoyt is a realistic novel set in the American West of the early 1900s. In the novel, Oriana Cochran and her hired man, Beal Ledoyt, fall in love and marry despite their radically different backgrounds and personalities. The story focuses on Lotti, Oriana's daughter, who tries to break up her mother's marriage. The first person narrative switches between the main characters and allows the reader an intimate knowledge of each. Leaping Man Hill (1998) is the sequel to Ledoyt.

Venus Rising (1992), a novella about an exiled alien who falls in love with a being with a very different lifestyle, was shortlisted for the 1992 James Tiptree Jr. Award, an award given to science fiction novels and short stories that explore and expand gender. Venus Rising was also published in Flying Cups and Saucers, an anthology of Tiptree award winners and nominees. Among Emshwiller's other awards are a MacDowell Colony fellowship in 1973, a New York State Creative Artist Public Service grant in 1975, a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1980, two New York Council grants, the Pushcart Prize, and the 1999 Gallun award from the ICON Science Fiction Convention.

In addition to her position at NYU, Emshwiller makes frequent appearances at science fiction conventions around the country and offered writing workshops like the one at Clarion West in Seattle during the summer of 1998. Emshwiller is also a contributor of short stories to literary and science fiction magazines, including Omni, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Century, Crank, Epoch, Croton Review, and TriQuarterly. Her stories have also appeared in various anthologies like the seventh annual The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror and the Penguin Book of Erotic Stories by Women. Works in progress include Boots, a novel combining fantasy with horses and the Old West.

Other Works:

Pilobolus and Joan (1974). Family Focus (1977).


Reference works:

CANR (1992). Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993). Oxford Companion to the Women'sWriting in the United States (1995). St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers (1996).

Other references:

PW (26 Jan. 1990, 26 Apr. 1991, 28 Aug. 1995, 15 Apr. 1996).