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JAMES TIPTREE, JR. by Julie Phillips Kirkus Star

JAMES TIPTREE, JR.

The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon

By Julie Phillips

Pub Date: Aug. 8th, 2006
ISBN: 0-312-20385-3
Publisher: St. Martin's

Finely detailed biography of a woman whose ascension as a cult figure writing as a man was the most visible facet of her fascinating and, in the end, tragic life.

Journalist Phillips’s (Ms., Village Voice, etc.) superb depiction of Alice B. Sheldon (1915–87) as the woman behind the persona of science-fiction writer James Tiptree is an extraordinary achievement. A Chicago debutante who survived a quickie society marriage and divorce, “Alli” Bradley enlisted in the army and became a WWII intelligence officer. After the war, she married fellow veteran Huntingdon Sheldon, and they both joined the fledgling CIA. She also dabbled in graphic art and eventually earned a Ph.D. in experimental psychology. After more than a decade of publishing as “Tiptree,” Sheldon’s secret was revealed. Her life ended in a double suicide with her ailing husband. Apart from the basic facts of her life, Sheldon’s innermost thoughts were revealed to the world through her stories and the voluminous correspondence “he” exchanged with close friends, who, like Tiptree’s readers, had no idea that it was a woman speaking to them. Most, Phillips says, saw him as a manly man’s writer, dealing with issues of sex and death—her writing was sometimes compared to Hemingway’s—but one with an unusual talent for creating sympathetic female characters. Phillips is more than adept at plumbing Sheldon’s writing to expose her anger at the role gender plays in sex, creativity and power.

A compelling portrait of a conflicted feminist.