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Women’s History Wednesday: Pseudonymous Psisters March 30, 2011

Posted by thesporkgirl in Women Who Rock, Women's History Wednesday.

For this week’s Women’s History Wednesday, I am highlighting two lady writers from the 20s through the 40s who published under male pseudonyms.

To work in science fiction, fantasy and pulp, it was considered wise to use a male or androgynous name due to the target audience being pubescent males. In short the theory was (and somewhat remains) that boys won’t buy girl-books, but girls will buy boy-books, so it was more economically sound to put out male authors. Plus more boys buy books, so let’s go after that audience. Little mind that maybe more girls would have bought sci-fi / fantasy / pulp books had their been anything geared towards them.

Gertrude Barrows Bennett was the influential and well-regarded author of speculative and science fiction under the name “Francis Stevens.” She either invented, or popularized, depending on who you ask, the sub-genre of “dark fantasy.”

Her novels and stories swirled with macabre supernatural elements. H.P. Lovecraft cites her as a defining influence. Her work is now somewhat recognized, but mostly in a scholarly, not popular way, even though Lovecraft described her novel Claimed as “One of the strangest and most compelling science fantasy novels you will ever read.” Her topics include dystopian futures, lost cities, and supernatural possessions. If those kinds of stories tend to appeal to you, I urge you to check her out, maybe in a collection of short stories, to see if it’s your bag.

P.S. People basically assumed Francis Stevens must have been the pen name of a male author, A. Merritt, until biographical info was added to a reprint of her work.

Following in the footsteps of “Francis Stevens” was the prolific and well-regarded “Andre Norton,” nee’ Alice Mary Norton, who wrote for over 150 novels, plus short stories, over 70 years. Yeah you read that right. She chose her own pen name (Francis Stevens was applied by a publisher) in a savvy move to increase her own market value, and later legally changed her name to Andre Alice Norton.

Her influence is basically incalculable. She invented the now-trope of the story of a journey for a quest in a post-apocalyptic world towards a rumored city free of radiation (in Star Man’s Son) and that of flitting between alternate universes and time periods in the series Crosstime. She invented BeastMaster. Yeah, that one. Her most famous series would probably be the Witch World series. She was a kick-ass lady, publishing books right up until her death in 2005. The world lost a great voice that day.

See also: Female authors who wrote under male or gender-neutral pseudonyms.

Here is a quick list of the top-of-head variety, of lady writers who have taken up the mantle crafted in part by Gertrude Barrows Bennett and Andre Alice Norton:

Diana Wynne Jones (of Howl’s Moving Castle)

Tanith Lee

Marion Zimmer Bradley

Ursula K. LeGuin

Anne Rice (Please Anne, go back to the vampires, we just want to bleed again!)

Gail Simone

Susanna Clarke



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