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In Memoriam: Kate Wilhelm, Clarion Co-founder

It is with profound sadness that the Clarion Foundation marks the passing of our founder, anchor and touchstone Kate Wilhelm. Kate's body of work over her 60-year writing career will stand the test of time as having shown the way for generations of science fiction writers. For us, however, Kate will remain in our hearts as co-founder and spearhead of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop and, decades later when the Workshop was at risk of shutting down, founder and president of the Clarion Foundation. Kate, a novice board member herself, shepherded a novice board through the process of negotiating Clarion's move to the University of California, San Diego, where the program thrives to this day.

"Whatever impact you may think Kate Wilhelm had on science fiction, double it," said Karen Joy Fowler, current Board President and a founding member of the Board when it moved to UCSD. "When she called on a few writers to help her save the Clarion workshop, we responded largely out of the personal goodwill and gratitude we felt for her. And we represent legions."

"Of course, Kate's impact extends far beyond the Workshop," Fowler said. "She was a crucial voice during the 1970s when many brilliant women entered the field, and her powerful work continues to inspire."

The Clarion Workshop was co-founded at Clarion University in Pennsylvania by Robin Scott Wilson, Kate, and her husband Damon Knight in 1968, replicating the methodology Kate and Damon had innovated in the Milford Science Fiction Writers' Conference beginning in the mid-1950s. Clarion moved several times over the years, until finding a home at Michigan State University from 1972 through 2006.

The Clarion Workshop has impacted hundreds of writers of science fiction, fantasy, and every form of speculative fiction in the 50 years since its founding. Through many of those years, Kate played an active role, either in co-teaching the Workshop's final two weeks with her husband Damon, or in later years keeping a watchful eye on the program and its students.

"Kate was a crucial figure in my life," said Kim Stanley Robinson, a UCSD alumnus and Clarion graduate and board member. "For several years after we met at Clarion, I drove up to the monthly workshops she and Damon Knight held at their house in Eugene, where they gave me and many others a literary home."

When university funding was pulled from the Workshop, making it untenable at MSU, Kate put out a call to leading Clarion graduates and teachers to form a new foundation that could ensure the Workshop's survival and success for future generations of writers. Kate then led the negotiations with UCSD, with support from a delegation of Clarion Foundation board members who visited the campus. "Kate's firm but gentle insistence, wit, and forthright style won over the administrators at UCSD," said Nancy Etchemendy, 1982 graduate of Clarion and the Foundation's first treasurer. "It reminded me of her teaching style at Clarion the year I attended. Her advice wasn't always easy to follow, but it was always a guide to the best path, and she offered it with warmth and understanding. She was one of those people who truly made the world a better place. All of us will miss her."

Kate will be missed by all of us in the Clarion community, but her legacy will live on not only in her many novels and stories that we will turn to in the coming months, but in the Clarion Workshop's future. We are honored to have the opportunity to build on Kate's legacy. We thank her for her wisdom, counsel, and wise humor.

Clarion is supported in part by
the Arthur C. Clarke Center
for Human Imagination at the
University of California San Diego

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Copyright © 2006-2023 by The Clarion Foundation

Updated March 14, 2018





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