Merril, Judith (1923–1997)

views updated

Merril, Judith (1923–1997)

American science-fiction writer and lauded anthologist. Name variations: Josephine Juliet Grossman; (pseudonyms) Ernest Hamilton, Cyril Judd, Rose Sharon, Eric Thorstein. Born Josephine Juliet Grossman on January 21, 1923, in New York City; died of heart failure on September 12, 1997, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Schlomo Grossman and Ethel (Hurwitch) Grossman; attended City College (now City College of New York), 1939–40; Rochdale College, B.A., 1970; married three times, once to Frederick Pohl (a science-fiction writer) from 1949 to 1953; children: Merril Zissman McDonald; Ann Pohl.

Hired at Bantam Books (1947); first short story published (1948); first science-fiction novel published (1950); edited first "Year's Best" anthology (1956); moved to Canada (1968); donated literary resources to Toronto Public Library (1970); received Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award (1983).

Selected writings:

Shadow on the Hearth (1950); The Petrified Planet (1953); The Tomorrow People (1960); Out of Bounds (1960); Daughters of the Earth and Other Stories (1968); Survival Ship and Other Stories (1973); The Best of Judith Merril (1976).

One of the premier writers of science fiction in America during the genre's flourishing years after World War II, Judith Merril was also, along with C.L. Moore and Leigh Brackett , one of the few women in that male-dominated field. Her stories and novels were notable for their realistic characterizations of women—characterizations that were, like herself, a relative rarity in the genre at the time. Merril later became known as a leading anthologist of science fiction, and the literary collection she donated to the Toronto Public Library now bears her name.

Merril was born Josephine Juliet Grossman in New York City in 1923. She attended City College for a time, but by 1943 was working as a research assistant and ghostwriter. Hired as an editor at Bantam Books in 1947, Merril also became involved with a group of young science-fiction devotees in the New York City area. She was a founding member of the Hydra Club, and was the only female member of the Futurians, which counted Isaac Asimov, C.M. Kornbluth, and Frederick Pohl among its roster of fledgling sci-fi writers. Merril was married to Pohl from 1949 to 1953, but had already taken a pen name borrowed in part from her daughter by a previous marriage, Merril. Her first short story, "That Only a Mother," about a woman's devotion to her baby who was born horribly mutilated by radiation, was published in 1948. She was soon a regular contributor of stories to Startling Stories and Astounding Science Fiction, and these, along with her novellas and novels, won praise for her unique point of view, though she never achieved the commercial success of her male colleagues. Her first novel, Shadow on the Hearth, appeared in 1950. A timely tale of nuclear holocaust, it was soon made into a teleplay, "Atomic Attack," for Motorola Playhouse. She also wrote The Petrified Planet (1953), The Tomorrow People (1960), Out of Bounds (1960), and numerous short stories collected in several volumes. Her work was published under divers pseudonyms, almost all of them male.

Merril served as book editor and reviewer for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for a decade beginning in 1959. She also became known as a leading anthologist of science-fiction stories, radio plays, and television scripts, and for this work she gained especial renown. A founding member of the Science Fiction Research Association, she served as the editor of several volumes of The Year's Best Science Fiction between 1956 and 1968, just before she moved to Canada. She taught writing in Toronto at several institutions, and edited numerous other anthologies, including SF: The Best of the Best (1967), England Swings SF: Stories of Speculative Fiction (1968), and Tesseracts (1985). Merril also translated science-fiction stories from Japanese. The extensive collection she donated to the Toronto Public Library in 1970 became the basis for the Merril Collection. Merril divided her time between Toronto and Jamaica in her later years, and died of heart failure in September 1997.


Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

The Day [New London, CT]. September 18, 1997.

Time. September 29, 1997, p. 23.

Carol Brennan , Grosse Pointe, Michigan

More From