Judith Merrill was born in 1923 in Manhattan. Some authorities say she was born Juliet (which in Latin means "Youthful"), others say Josephine (Hebrew: "She shall increase"), but she preferred name Judith (Hebrew: "Admired"). Her father Samuel Grossman was the son of a famous Philadelphia rabbi; her mother Ethel Hurwitch immigrated from Russia at age 5, and was raised in Boston. Samuel had been a writer and critic; Ethel was an early suffragette, and a founding member of Hadassah.
When Judith was 13, her mother, by now a widow, moved back to New York, where Judith discovered the Trotstkyist group the Young People's Socialist League, or YPSL, pronounced ypsl. "I was born a Zionist," she said later, "in those golden days of socialist Zionism, and until I was in my early teens at least, knew that my future was in a kibbutz: I was preparing for it, and studied Hebrew until I was about fifteen, by which time I had progressed from social Zionism to socialism to the YPSLs, and no longer knew that my future was in a kibbutz.
"When I was about fifteen, it dawned on me that my mother meant for me to be a writer, and I stopped writing completely, and I didn't start again until after I had a baby and I was in San Francisco and my mother was in New York."
In 1940 she married a YPSL friend named Zissman and moved to Philly. One winter she got a toothache and the grippe at the same time. Too ill to go to a dentist, she fell back on reading to ease the pain. In desperation she opened one of her husband's sf magazines, and in it was an installment of Robert Heinlein's METHUSELAH'S CHILDREN and another of L. Sprague de Camp's THE STOLEN DORMOUSE. "I don't remember what else, but that was enough. As soon as I was well, ignoring the dentist, I went down to the magazine store and got some more."
In 1941 they moved to New York, where their daughter Merril was born the following year. Judy took her daughter's name as a pseudonym, and later adopted it legally. When her husband entered the Navy for the war, Judith moved to New York and took an apartment in the Village, and became involved through John Michel with the Futurian Society, the legendary protocommune of writers, editors and wannabes which ultimately included Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Cyril Kornbluth, Fred Pohl, Virginia Kidd, Larry Shaw, Donald Wollheim, and Damon Knight. "The Futurians were a very motley crew," she said in 1976, "Callow, or extremely unattractive, or both. I felt I belonged very much in such a group, and I think this was characteristic of everyone there, that each of us regarded ourselves as grotesque, and felt comfortable in a gathering of grotesques."
At the 1947 Worldcon in Philadelphia (Philcon 47), the 5th Worldcon, and the second since the war, Judith and Fred Pohl connected. "I had met her briefly a year of two earlier." Fred wrote in his autobiography, the way the future was. "We had both been married at the time; now neither of us were. Judy had just published 'That Only A Mother,' a brilliant dismaying story about a woman who gives birth to a radiation-damaged child, the sort of story that gets right in among the glands and squeezes pretty basic parts of the psyche, so she was a writer to be respected. She was also a person to be known better, in her mid-twenties, with a small, incredibly beauitful blonde daughter. My friend Jacques LeCroix, arguably the best portrait photographer in Paris at the time, described her as having 'the capacity for great beauty.'"
Judith's recollection of their first meeting is clear: writer-editor Doc Lowndes brought Fred over to her apartment, and she found him "strange, interesting-not at that point attractive, but interesting, and I wanted the conversation to go on." Unfortunately, Bob Lowndes and Fred got into a vodka-drinking contest-which she claims Fred lost.
She remembers their Philcon 47 meeting as well: "I had meant to go just for the day, but it looked like a pretty good party, and I wanted to stay overnight...and then Fred wandered by, and although I barely knew him...he looked like somebody who had some money, so I tapped him and said, 'Have you got five dollars you can lend me for a hotel room?' And he said 'Sure I do,' and gave it to me, and I got my room. And then that evening was when I got uproariously, joyously, gloriously drunk...the next time I met Fred, at the first meeting of the Hydra Club, I gave him back the five dollars, and then a few days after that he called up and asked me to go out with him. During that evening he said he was fascinated, because when he gave me the five dollars he had expected to sleep with me, and I had gotten so rotten drunk nobody could think about it, but the last thing he had expected was that I would give him back the five dollars."
Fred & Lester del Rey formed the Hydra Club (since it began with nine members) in New York. Judith was one of the founding members of the group, which over time included Fletcher Pratt, Willy Ley, L. Jerome Stanton of Astounding, William Tenn, George O. Smith, Dave Kyle, Harry Harrison, Arthur Clarke, and just about every science fiction writer in the general area of New York.
"A sociology student named Jean Haynes came into the Hydra Club around that time," Fred writes, "and decided to do her master's thesis on kinship ties in our social microcosm. She spent three months trying to sort out who was married to whom and which had been married to what, not to mention less formal alliances, and gave up in despair. The game was Musical Beds. At its peak it was hard to get a quorum of the Hydra Club to transact business, since so many of its officers were divorcing and remarrying so many others. At the time of the New York convention, however, Judy and I were pretty solidly married. We had even decided to risk parenthood, and two or three months later, on the 25th of Sept 1950, our daughter Ann was born. (Ann, by the way, made Judith a grandmother in 1973.)"
In Spring 1951, Fred & Judith moved (from Judith's basement apartment in the East Village) into a big old house just across the river from Red Bank, New Jersey, a permanent home base, and within three months had decided to get a divorce.
In 1956, Judith and Damon Knight, with help from Jim Blish, organized the first Milford Science Fiction Writers Conference in Milford PA-which attracted some forty people, including Ted Sturgeon, Tony Boucher, Phil Klass, Bob Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Sprague de Camp, and Forrest J. Ackerman. The Milford Conference became an annual event, prestigious and influential and creatively fruitful.
In the late fifties Judith was married again, to a merchant mariner and union organizer, Daniel Sugrue; the last time I asked, they were still married, though they have been separated for decades.
Excerpted from: Judith Merril, Planetary Treasure a speech delivered at Harbourfront, Toronto Ontario, October 1992--by Spider Robinson
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A longtime resident of Seattle, Gunn currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her partner John D. Berry , where she is Managing Editor of GORP, the web's major resource for outdoor recreation and adventure travel. Her personal web site,
Imaginary Friends, features interviews and fiction, and the hypertext version of The Difference Dictionary, a concordance to William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's novel The Difference Engine. She is currently working on a novel and on a biography
of the pre-eminent fantasist Avram Davidson.
Eileen Gunn's stories and articles have appeared in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Science Fiction Eye, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Paradoxa, U&lc, and other magazines and anthologies. Her work has been nominated twice
for the Hugo Award, included in the Norton Book of Science Fiction and other anthologies, and translated into French, Italian, German, Japanese, and other languages. Since 1988, she has served on the Board of Directors of the Clarion West Writers
Her personal web site, Imaginary Friends, was chosen a Project Cool Site of the Day in 1997. It features snippets of fiction, interviews on the future of computer interface design (done originally for Omni Online) and the hypertext version of
The Difference Dictionary, a concordance to William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's novel The Difference Engine. She contributes a column on web issues, Web Radar, for the on-line edition of the design magazine U&lc.
Bruce Sterling calls his friend Eileen Gunn a "bio-punk," referring to her off-beat treatments of other Science Fiction notaries. Aficionados await her all-too-infrequent - but always celebrated - appearances in such venues as Asimov's
SF Magazine. Her current project is a CD ROM biography of the late Avram Davidson, the brilliantly eccentric fantasy writer. Gunn has written several short stories, including "Stable Strategies for Middle Management," "Fellow Americans,"
and "Lichen and Rock."