A gift valued at more than $600,000 of author Theodore Sturgeon’s books, papers, manuscripts and correspondence has established the definitive collection of his work at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas. Sturgeon was one of the most influential writers of the "Golden Age" of science fiction, a contemporary and peer of Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein.
During his career, Sturgeon (1918-1985) won virtually every major award in his field, including the Hugo, the Nebula, the World Fantasy Achievement Award, the Gaylactica/Spectrum Award for his ground-breaking story about homosexuality, “The World Well Lost” and induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Gene Roddenberry credited him with inventing (with Leonard Nimoy) the famous Vulcan phrase, “Live long and prosper,” for the original Star Trek television show.
Sturgeon’s letters, manuscripts, papers, books, magazines and other items had been privately held in two parts: the Woodstock collection, from Marion Sturgeon, his widow; and the Sturgeon Literary Trust collection, managed by Trustee Noël Sturgeon, his daughter. The gift was made possible with additional support from KU’s Center for the Study of Science Fiction (CSSF), the English department and Spencer Research Library.
The gift includes the original manuscript of “More Than Human,” Sturgeon’s best-known novel and winner of the International Fantasy Award, and manuscripts of his short stories and screenplays, including Sturgeon’s outline for “Amok Time,” the episode of Star Trek for which he won the Outstanding Achievement Award from the International Society of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy.
Correspondence includes letters from Sturgeon to his mother (a writer and feminist peace activist) describing his early career and the milieu of early science fiction in New York in the John Campbell era, and letters to and from Sturgeon to science fiction editors and authors, including John W. Campbell, Robert Mills, Groff Conklin, Judy Lynn del Rey, Poul Anderson, Robert Heinlein, Edgar Pangborn, Harlan Ellison, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Damon Knight, Clifford Simak, Olaf Stapledon, James Tiptree, Jr. and others, such as Gene Roddenberry and T. H. White.
Vonnegut, who named his iconic pulp fiction writer, Kilgore Trout, in Sturgeon’s honor, called him “one of the best writers in America.” Sturgeon was best known as the Golden Age author who transformed the pulp-magazine short story into an art form.
Sturgeon’s writing was a strong influence on the sixties counterculture, including The Grateful Dead and Crosby, Stills and Nash. His lyrical and varied style represented a turn from the “hard” science fiction of the forties to the socially conscious topics more common in contemporary science fiction, including sexuality, gender, pacifism and the individual cost of social conventions. His short stories ranged from science fiction and fantasy to comedy and horror.
“We are thrilled and honored to be entrusted with this outstanding collection,” said Beth Whittaker, head of Spencer Research Library. “This extraordinary gift ensures that Sturgeon’s profound literary and cultural legacy will be available to new generations of scholars, writers and readers. These materials, in the context of our existing collections, build an increasingly rich resource of primary materials in the field. I am especially pleased with the partnership among the Libraries, the English department, and the Center for the Study of Science Fiction that made this possible.”
In making the donation, Noël Sturgeon credits the work of James Gunn, professor emeritus of English at KU and a noted science fiction author who created KU’s Intensive English Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction in 1975 and the CSSF in 1982, and was named a Damon Knight Grand Master in 2007 by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. “Jim’s long dedication to the teaching and scholarship of science fiction, and his particular interest in and support of my father’s work, was the main impetus behind our choice of the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas as the home for Sturgeon’s collection of papers,” Noël Sturgeon said.
“What was crucially important to us is that the Center for Science Fiction has the firm support of the English Department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, meaning that there will be an on-going vibrant community of scholars and students who will benefit from the Sturgeon collection,” Noël Sturgeon said. “I hope that other science fiction and fantasy authors will be inspired by our donations to also contribute their papers, making the Center for the Study of Science Fiction and Spencer Library the premier institutions for the study of science fiction in the United States.”
Gunn said of Sturgeon, “When I started the Institute, I invited Ted to be one of three visiting writers, and from 1975 until his death in 1985, he was a regular and cherished visitor to the university during the summer. He often expressed his hope that his papers would become part of our Special Collections, and he would be pleased that his heirs have made that possible.”
Gunn praised Sturgeon’s skill in writing about human emotions. “What made Ted such a great writer was his concern for people—or rather one person at a time,” Gunn said. “He wrote about the people, often the rejects and outcasts of society, who had no one else to depict their lives and their pain. He had the ability to listen to a person with all his attention, and so they told him their stories.”
Sturgeon was also known for coining “Sturgeon’s Law,” which posits that “ninety percent of everything is crap,” and the credo “Ask the next question.”
In 1985, to honor Sturgeon’s lifetime achievements and contributions, Gunn, the Sturgeon Trust, and the CSSF created the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the best short science fiction of the year, announced at the CSSF’s annual Campbell Conference. The 2011 conference (July 7-10) will feature a Libraries-sponsored event recognizing the Sturgeon gift.
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