"James Tiptree, Jr." was born Alice Bradley in Chicago in 1915. Her mother was the writer Mary Hastings Bradley; her father, Herbert, was a lawyer and explorer. Throughout her childhood she travelled with her parents, mostly to Africa, but also to India and Southeast Asia. Her early work was as an artist and art critic. During World War II she enlisted in the Army and became the first American female photointelligence officer. In Germany after the war, she met and married her commanding officer, Huntington D. Sheldon. In the early 1950s, both Sheldons joined the then-new CIA; he made it his career, but she resigned in 1955, went back to college, and earned a Ph.D. in experimental psychology.
At about this same time, Alli Sheldon started writing science fiction. She wrote four stories and sent them off to four different science fiction magazines. She did not want to publish under her real name, because of her CIA and academic ties, and she intended to use a new pseudonym for each group of stories until some sold. They started selling immediately, and only the first pseudonym—"Tiptree" from a jar of jelly, "James" because she felt editors would be more receptive to a male writer, and "Jr." for fun—was needed. (A second pseudonym, "Raccoona Sheldon," came along later, so she could have a female persona.)
Tiptree quickly became one of the most-respected writers in the field, winning the Hugo Award for "The Girl Who was Plugged In" and "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?," and the Nebula Award for "Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death
" and "Houston, Houston." Raccoona won the Nebula for "The Screwfly Solution
," and Tiptree won the World Fantasy Award for the collection Tales from the Quintana Roo
The Tiptree fiction reflects Alli Sheldon's interests and concerns throughout her life: the alien among us (a role she portrayed in her childhood travels), the health of the planet, the quality of perception, the role of women, love, death, and humanity's place in a vast, cold universe. An award in Tiptree's name has celebrated science fiction that "expands and explores gender roles" for ten years now.
Alice Sheldon died in 1987 by her own hand. Writing in her first book about the suicide of Hart Crane, she said succinctly: "Poets extrapolate."Julie Phillips
wrote her biography,
James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon
Here is a link to a site which now awards Science Fiction authors and their books under Alice's pen name for literature to represent gender issues within the field of writing. http://www.tiptree.org/