Judith Merril

1923 - 1997

Obituary - John Robert Colombo Remembers - Biography - A Message from the Head of the Merril Collection - A Message from the Chair of Friends of the Merril Collection - Selected Bibliography - Other Information top

Judith Merril: Obituary

Judith Merril, noted science fiction author, anthologist, and international humanist, died of heart failure on Friday, September 12, 1997, at the cardiac unit of Toronto General Hospital. She was 74.

Following a private family service, the family sat Shiva at Judith's downtown Toronto apartment on Sunday and Monday, September 14 and 15. A memorial service for family and friends was held Saturday, September 20, in the Green Room of this same building and included many moving tributes, both spoken and sung. Mementos from Judith's life, such as paintings, awards, favourite foods, and her "Stop the War" banner, were on display and a selection of condolence letters was also read.

A celebration of Judith's life will be held on Saturday, January 24, 1998, in recognition of her 75th birthday. At Judith's own request, everyone is invited to attend. Also, tentative arrangements are being made to bury her ashes under a tree on library property sometime in the spring. More information on both will be made available through The Merril Collection at a later date.

Contributions in Judith's memory can be made to The James Tiptree Memorial Fund, which provides an annual award for feminist writing in science fiction.

Judith is survived in the United States by daughter Merril Allen, grandsons Kevin and Gregg, and their families, and in Canada by daughter Ann Pohl and her family, including grandchildren Emily, Tobias, Julia and Daniel.


John Robert Colombo Remembers Judith Merril

She has disturbed and delighted me since 1950, since my fourteenth year, when I bought and read my first science-fiction anthology, Shot in the Dark, coincidentally the first of the many anthologies that she edited.

It astonished me that she would come to Toronto and live in Rochdale College. Her residency there is perhaps the best thing that can be said about that institution in which the spawn of consumerism and capitalism was encouraged to experience its pervasive dream of self-indulgence.

She established a library that was more than a collection of books and periodicals, a collection that marked a turning point for the countrys imaginative heritage, for its writers of fantastic literature, and for its future prospects.

In one of my books I reproduced a black-and-white snapshot of Judy taken at a science-fiction convention. The caption begins, "This is no bag lady but it is Judith Merril...."

She served as my own personal Distant Early Warning System. I told her, "Your heartland is my hinterland." What I had in mind was futurience, the experience of the future. Her present was my future. What she experienced today is what I was destined to experience tomorrow.

Not too many years ago, when I asked her what was ahead, she replied, with some concern, "My future is on hold."

"Colombo, you are the Real Thing!" she exclaimed...in exasperation, no doubt. Once she mused, "Ray Bradbury...you would like him." When I boasted that I had caught an outright error on the first page of a new novel written by Frederik Pohl, she explained with a hearty laugh, "He'll never admit it. He admits he made one mistake, once. That was on July 16th, 1952."

She wrote a short story about an older sister and a younger brother, marooned on a strange planet, which turns on the resolve of the sister to raise the brother in the midst of a colony of giant, semi-sentient bees. Was she the older sister? Were we the younger brother? Was Canada the colony of semi-sentient bees?

She would never answer those questions, except to remind me that she wrote the story in the United States and not in Canada. "The future should not be for prophecy," she added. "The future should be for people."


Judith Merril: A Brief Biography

Judith Merril, born Josephine Judith Grossman January 21, 1923, in New York, began her political education early -- her parents were both intellectuals, her father, an ardent Zionist. She later joined the Trotskyites while at City College of New York. She met her first husband, Dan Zissman, in the movement; they married in 1940. She first encountered science fiction when reading some of Dan's books while ill. She had her first daughter, Merril, in 1942, whose name became the source of her pseudonym.

After leaving Dan (she divorced him in 1947), she and Virginia Kidd created Parallax, an apartment where the Futurians, a group of SF writers and editors, often gathered. Here, she met Frederik Pohl; they married in 1949 and she had a second daughter, Ann (b. 1950). She and Fred divorced in 1953. She published her first SF story, "That Only a Mother," in 1948, and continued to publish stories and novels up to the early 1960s. She edited numerous SF anthologies beginning in 1950, notably Dell's series of Year's Best SF from 1956-1967, and was the "Books" columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1965-69. She became interested in and a proponent of the "New Wave" in science fiction (a term she did not coin) during her trips to London in the mid-1960s, leading to the anthology England Swings SF (1968). She also married again, to Daniel Sugrue, in 1960.

Her lifelong disgust with American foreign policy climaxed in 1968, with her first-hand experience of the violent suppression of an anti-Vietnam War demonstration at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. She moved to Rochdale College in Toronto and established its library (based largely on her own private collection) in 1969. When Rochdale closed in 1970, she donated the collection to the Toronto Public Library, creating the Spaced Out Library, now The Merril Collection. She wrote programs for the CBC, most notably for "Ideas," and introduced TVOntario's broadcasts of Dr. Who from 1978-81. She continued to be active in a variety of political movements.

In the 1980s she did much to encourage Canadian SF, founding Hydra North in 1984, and in 1985, editing Tesseracts, an anthology of Canadian SF that became the first of a series. She also received two Canadian Science Fiction Lifetime Achievement Awards: for contributions to the field (1983) and for achievements in editing (1986). She continued her political activism for as long as she was able. Heart problems led to a triple bypass operation in 1991. She died September 12, 1997 from complications following an angiogram.


A Message from the Collection Head of The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy

Judith specified having an office in the building where her donation was housed for as long as she lived. We all thought it would be longer.

She remained intensely supportive of the Collection, walking in and telling the staff about new books that she thought the Collection should hold or demanding "something good to read!" We would all flinch when she did that because whatever it was that we recommended, all the staff knew she was going to hate it. She made a point of destroying our peace of mind, correctly feeling that vegetative trance was not a particularly productive frame of mind.

I remember one time when I gave her a new book which had received excellent reviews, she gave it back three days later, telling me that she hitherto had never encountered a writer who actually used the phrase "had I but known!" Bloody woman.

The converse was true, on those occasions when we scored -- she loved Octavia Butler and liked Jo Clayton and Jane Lindskold; the person who recommended them felt that she had shot the moon.

Judith's support wasn't expressed in kind phrases. If you asked for her help, you got it. Sometimes this took the form of questions that cut to the bone, pungently expressed. Bloody woman.

You may measure the impact a person had on your life by the silence when they leave. No more questions, no more laughter, no more advice. And now the silence is huge, echoing, and I am sitting here crying. Bloody woman.

Lorna Toolis

September 22, 1997


A Message from the Chair of the Friends of the Merril Collection

Friday, September 12, marked the passing of an extraordinary woman. Judith Merril touched the lives of many, many people over the years and whether that touch was tender or a swift kick to one's motivational backside, it was always honest and honestly intended to help rather than harm.

Few people have the strength of will to act upon their beliefs, however deeply felt, but Judy did and in spades. She brought intelligence, wit and relentless determination to every cause she espoused, and those causes were numerous and varied. Her own writing reflects her passionate convictions and Judy's stories are filled with images of strong women and of society as it could be and should be.

Judy's contribution to the science fiction community, as well as to the literature itself, is truly remarkable. Without Judy's generous donation of her personal collection to the Toronto Public Library, the "Spaced Out Library" would never have been born, and we would not now have the world class science fiction research collection which bears her name (albeit over her quite strenuous protests).

But more than this, Judy helped shape the overall course of science fiction in a way few other people have or ever could. She encouraged many in their careers, rattled more than a few cages, and challenged all of us to look at ourselves and our world from a myriad of viewpoints. She could shake us out of our complacency with the power of her words and that is a rare and precious gift indeed. This power, coupled with her vibrant spirit, is the heart of Judy's rich legacy to us. May we use it wisely.

Jody Hancock

September 22, 1997


A Selected Bibliography of the Works of Judith Merril

Books written by Judith Merril

Shadow on the Hearth (Doubleday, 1950)
Gunner Cade (Simon & Schuster, 1952) (with Cyril Kornbluth)
Outpost Mars (Abelard, 1952) (with Cyril Kornbluth)
Out of Bounds (Pyramid Books, 1960)
The Tomorrow People (Pyramid, 1960)
Daughters of Earth (Gollancz, 1968)
Survival Ship and Other Stories (Kakabeka, 1973)
The Best of Judith Merril (Warner, 1976)

Books edited by Judith Merril

Shot in the Dark (Bantam, 1950)
Beyond Human Ken (Random House, 1952)
Beyond the Barriers of Space and Time (Random House, 1954)
SF: The Years Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy (Dell, 1956-1967)
England Swings SF: Stories of Speculative Fiction (Doubleday, 1968)
Path Into The Unknown: The Best of Soviet Science Fiction (Delacorte Press, 1968)
Tesseracts (Press PorcÚpic, 1985)


Other Information

Contributions in Judith's memory may be made to The James Tiptree Memorial Fund, which provides an annual award for feminist writing in science fiction, and can be sent c/o The Merril Collection, 239 College Street, Third Floor, Toronto, Ontario M5T 1R5. Please make cheques payable to "SF3/Tiptree."

Condolence cards and letters to the family may also be sent c/o The Merril Collection at the address printed above.

An announcement on the status of Judith's memoirs will be made by the family at the January 24, 1998, celebration of her life. Details on that celebration will be available from The Merril Collection at a later date.

If you wish to contact staff at The Merril Collection, you may do so by phone at 416-393-7748, by FAX at 416-393-7741, or by e-mail using ltoolis@tpl.toronto.on.ca. You may also visit the Collection's Web site at http://www.tpl.toronto.on.ca/merril/home.htm.

The next issue of The Friends of the Merril Collection newsletter SOL Rising, will be dedicated to Judith Merril. Publication is scheduled for early December and solicitation of material will begin after October 6th. For more information, please contact either the Chair, Jody Hancock (phone 416-696-7275 or e-mail hancock@inforamp.net), or the SOL Rising Editor, Theresa Wojtasiewicz (phone 416-253-9392 or e-mail twoj@tvo.org).

This notice was prepared by The Friends of the Merril Collection

Last updated: 19 March 2003 .

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