Joanna Russ has successfully used science fiction to develop feminist alternatives to myths of male heroism and dominance. In both her fiction and her critical writing she defends a strong feminist position. The daughter of two teachers, Evarett I. Russ and Bertha Zinner Russ, Russ was born and grew up in the Bronx district of New York. In 1957 she received her B.A. in English literature from Cornell University and three years later an M.F.A. in playwriting and dramatic literature from the Yale School of Drama. Russ was married from 1963 to 1967, and in 1977, after teaching at various universities throughout the United States, she joined the English department at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Russ’s fiction created a stir in the field of science fiction in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Her angry, confrontational stories triggered intense debates and had significant influence on other writers, as well as introducing feminist issues into mainstream science-fiction writing. Before the publication of her first science-fiction novel, Picnic on Paradise, Russ wrote short fantasy pieces about a female Phoenician assassin struggling in a male-dominated world; in the novel Russ decided to abduct her heroine to the future, where Alyx once again combats machismo while trying to lead to safety a group of tourists stranded on a planet where no advanced technology can be used.
In her 1972 essay “What Can a Heroine Do? Or, Why Women Can’t Write,” written after And Chaos Died (in which a male homosexual protagonist comes to terms with a race of telepaths), Russ defends science fiction as the only genre that allows a woman writer to avoid the antifeminist requirements of so-called mainstream literary female characters, who are passive, submissive, and objectified.
As a writer of science fiction and fantasy, Russ deliberately turns generic conventions on...
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