August Author of the Month: Anne McCaffrey

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Anne Inez McCaffrey (1 April 1926 – 21 November 2011) was an American-born Irish writer, best known for the Dragonriders of Pern science fiction series. Early in McCaffrey’s 46-year career as a writer, she became the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction and the first to win a Nebula Award. Her 1978 novel The White Dragon became one of the first science-fiction books to appear on the New York Times Best Seller list.

In 2005 the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named McCaffrey its 22nd Grand Master, an annual award to living writers of fantasy and science fiction. She was inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame on 17 June 2006.

Anne Inez McCaffrey was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the second of three children. Her father had Irish and English ancestry, and her mother was of Irish descent. She attended Stuart Hall (a girls’ boarding school in Staunton, Virginia), and graduated from Montclair High School in New Jersey. In 1947 she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College with a degree in Slavonic Languages and Literature.

In 1950 she married Horace Wright Johnson (died 2009), who shared her interests in music, opera and ballet. They had three children. Except for a short time in Düsseldorf, the family lived for most of a decade in Wilmington, Delaware. They moved to Sea Cliff, Long Island in 1965, and McCaffrey became a full-time writer.

McCaffrey served a term as secretary-treasurer of the Science Fiction Writers of America from 1968 to 1970. In addition to handcrafting the Nebula Award trophies, her responsibilities included production of two monthly newsletters and their distribution by mail to the membership.

McCaffrey emigrated to Ireland with her two younger children in 1970, weeks after filing for divorce. Ireland had recently exempted resident artists from income taxes, an opportunity that fellow science-fiction author Harry Harrison had promptly taken and helped to promote. McCaffrey’s mother soon joined the family in Dublin. The following spring, McCaffrey was guest of honor at her first British science-fiction convention.

McCaffrey made a fast start in Ireland, completing for 1971 publication Dragonquest and two Gothic novels for Dell, The Mark of Merlin and The Ring of Fear. With a contract for The White Dragon (which would complete the “original trilogy” with Ballantine), her writing stalled. During the next few years the family moved several times in the Dublin area and struggled to make ends meet, supported largely by child-care payments and meager royalties.

Some time after their move to Long Island, Todd McCaffrey recalls, his mother asked him what he thought of dragons. She was brainstorming about their “bad press all these years”. The result was a “technologically regressed survival planet” whose people were united against a threat from space (in contrast to an America divided by the Vietnam War). “The dragons became the biologically renewable air force, and their riders ‘the few’ who, like the RAF pilots in World War Two, fought against incredible odds day in, day out—and won.”
The first Pern story, “Weyr Search”, was published in 1967 by John W. Campbell in Analog Science Fiction and Fact. It won the 1968 Hugo Award for best novella, voted by participants in the annual World Science Fiction Convention. The second Pern story, “Dragonrider”, won the 1969 Nebula Award for best novella, voted annually by the Science Fiction Writers of America. Thus she was the first woman to win a Hugo for fiction and the first to win a Nebula.

The White Dragon was released with new editions of the first two Pern books, with cover art illustrated by Michael Whelan. It was the first science-fiction book by a woman on the New York Times bestseller list, and the cover painting is still in print from Whelan. The artists share credit for their career breakthroughs.

McCaffrey died at age 85 on 21 November 2011 at her home in Ireland, following a stroke.

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