The extraordinary James Tiptree, Jr. was born 108 years ago

Born in Chicago, IL on August 24, 1915, Alice B. Sheldon (née Bradley) was the daughter of lawyer and naturalist Herbert Bradley and Mary Hastings Bradley, a popular and prolific writer of fiction and travel books. Young Alice traveled the world with her parents including 1921-22 trip to Africa, which influenced some of her more famous work. A graphic artist and a painter, Sheldon, under the name “Alice Bradley Davey” was an art critic for the Chicago Sun between 1941 and 1942.

Cover by John Picacio

After her first marriage ended, Alice joined the United States Army Air Forces and worked in photo-intelligence group. Near the end of the war, while stationed in Paris, she met her second husband Huntington (Ting) Sheldon, future Director of the Office of Current Intelligence for the CIA. Returning to the States, Alice, as “Alice Bradley,” published her first short story “The Lucky Ones” in The New Yorker (November 16, 1946). In 1952 she joined the CIA, but resigned in 1955 to return to college. Alice Sheldon eventually got a Bachelor of Arts degree at American University (1957–59) and a doctorate at George Washington University in Experimental Psychology in 1967.

Young Alice with the Kikuyu, a tribe from Central Kenya

Alice adopted her “James Tiptree, Jr.” persona to protect her academic reputation. As Tiptree, she garnered immense praise for her numerous tales that often stretched the boundaries of the genre by challenging the perceptions of gender. Her many awards include two Hugo (1974 novella, “The Girl Who Was Plugged In”; 1976 novella, “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”), three Nebula (1973 short story, “Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death”; 1976 novella, “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”; 1977 novelette, “The Screwfly Solution”), and a 1987 World Fantasy for the collection Tales of the Quintana Roo.

Tiptree penned the two novels Up the Walls of the World (1978) and Brightness Falls from the Air (1985). Her numerous stories have been collected in many volumes including Ten Thousand Light-Years from Home (1973), Warm Worlds and Otherwise (1975), Star Songs of an Old Primate (1978), Out Of The Everywhere and Other Extraordinary Visions (1981), Byte Beautiful: Eight Science Fiction Stories (1985), Tales of the Quintana Roo (1986), The Starry Rift (1986), Le livre d’or de la science-fiction: James Tiptree Jr (1986; French), Crown Of Stars (1988), and HER SMOKE ROSE UP FOREVER (1990). Her poetry from the late 1940s and early 1950s were collected in NEAT SHEETS: THE POETRY OF JAMES TIPTREE, JR.

Alice with husband Ting

In 1977, her Tiptree identity was outed, which surprised many in the field. Sheldon continued writing as Tiptree until her tragic death in 1987.

In 1991, Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy established the James Tiptree, Jr. Award (now called Otherwise Award) for works of science fiction or fantasy that expand or explore our understanding of gender.