Categotry Archives: Writers/Editors


Octavia E. Butler

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Categories: Education, Writers/Editors

obutler.jpgOctavia Estelle Butler, a science fiction writer who won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, died on Feb. 24 after falling and hitting her head on the cobbled walkway outside her Lake Forest Park, Wash., home. She was 58.
Born and raised in Pasadena, Calif., Butler was the only child of a shoeshine man and a cleaning woman. A painfully shy girl who was always tall for her age, she threw herself into books despite suffering from dyslexia, and began writing her own stories at the age of 10.
Butler studied at Pasadena City College, California State University, Los Angeles and UCLA. In her early 20s, she took a screenwriting course with renowned science fiction writer Harlan Ellison. He became Butler’s friend and mentor, and encouraged her to write a novel and attend the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop in Michigan. She did so in 1970, and published her first story, “Crossover,” in Clarion’s annual anthology.
Over the next three decades, Butler became one of the most prominent female African-American science fiction writers of our time. She published 12 novels and two collections of short fiction and nonfiction, but was best known for the Patternist series, which told the story of a society ruled by telepaths, and the Xenogenesis trilogy, which featured characters that were not identified by gender.
Butler ended seven years of a medically and emotionally induced writer’s block with the publication of the the vampire novel, “Fledgling,” in 2005. She gave back to the writing community by teaching five Clarion West Writers Workshops and serving on the advisory board of the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame.
“One of the things that made Octavia special was how deeply she cared. She wanted to make the world a better place and make humanity survivable. Her work looked unflinchingly at poverty, race, gender, religion, the environment, politics, and what it means to be human,” Leslie Howle, executive director of Clarion West, said.
In 1984, Butler won the Hugo, the Science Fiction Achievement Award named in honor of Hugo Gernsback, for her short story “Speech Sounds.” She received another Hugo in 1985 in the best novelette category, for “Bloodchild.” The story won a Nebula Award, science fiction’s highest prize, that same year. Butler snagged a second Nebula in 1999, this time in the best novel category, for “Parable of the Talents.” A recipient of the PEN Center West Lifetime Achievement Award and the Langston Hughes Award from the City College of New York, Butler was also the first science fiction writer to receive a “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
A memorial scholarship fund has been created in Butler’s honor. The inaugural scholarship, to be awarded in 2007, will enable a writer of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops.
Listen to Tributes From NPR
Listen to a Tribute From Dragon Page


Alan Shalleck


Categories: Hollywood, Writers/Editors

Alan J. Shalleck, a writer and director who helped bring Curious George to television, was murdered on Feb. 7 during a home invasion robbery. He was 76.

Hans A. Rey and his wife, Margret, created Curious George, the inquisitive hero of a series of beloved children’s books. The couple fled Europe during World War II, immigrated to the United States and began publishing the series in 1941.

The stories of George and his friend, the Man with the Yellow Hat, were an instant hit. In the 65 years since Curious George’s first appearance in print, his adventures have been published 27 million times, and in more than 14 languages.

A native of Westchester, N.Y., Alan Shalleck studied drama at Syracuse University and broke into show business as a mailroom clerk for CBS. He climbed up the network ladder to become associate producer for the children’s TV show, “Winky Dink and You,” then formed his own production company.

Hans died in 1977. That same year, Shalleck approached Margret about bringing Curious George into the television medium. She agreed and together they penned nearly 30 books and more than 100 scripts featuring the mischievous monkey. The five-minute “Curious George” cartoons aired on the Disney Channel.

Curious George debuted on the big screen last month in a full-length, animated movie featuring the voices of Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore and Dick Van Dyke.

In 1988, Shalleck produced “Pepito’s Dream,” a children’s film based on John and Margaret Travers-Moore’s popular trilogy about a little boy who wants to plead for world peace at the United Nations. After moving to Florida in the early 1990s, he worked in the children’s department of a Borders bookstore. There Shalleck created Gramps, a persona he used when reading aloud to children. He also conducted workshops on how to improve reading skills through the Delray Beach Kids & Cops Reading program.

Shalleck’s bloodied body was found in the driveway of his South Florida mobile home. It had lain there for a least a day, covered in garbage bags, before a maintenance man discovered it. On Feb. 8, Rex Spears Ditto, 29, and Vincent J. Puglisi, 54, surrendered to police and confessed to killing Shalleck. They’ve been charged with first-degree murder, armed home invasion, aggravated battery and dealing in stolen property.

[Update – Dec. 8, 2006: While Rex Ditto and Vincent Puglisi admit to killing Alan Shalleck, each suspect blames the other for the crime. An autopsy found that Shalleck had 83 blunt force injuries and 37 stab wounds to his abdomen, back, neck, groin and tongue.]

[Update – Dec. 14, 2006: A psychiatrist has concluded that Rex Ditto is competent to stand trail. According to Dr. Jonathan Rapp, who testified at a court hearing on Wednesday, Ditto is exaggerating his symptoms. Attorneys in the case are awaiting results from two other doctors.]

[Update – March 20, 2007: Rex Ditto sent the judge on his case a letter, confessing to his involvement in the murder of Alan Shalleck and implicating his lover Vincent Puglisi. The judge did not read the letter, but his judicial assistant did. The document is currently under seal. Both defendants are charged with first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon. The prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.]

[Update – Oct. 18, 2007: Rex Ditto pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and robbery with a weapon for the slaying of Alan Shalleck. He was sentenced to life in prison and will not be eligible for parole. Ditto also agreed to testify, if asked, against his co-defendant and former lover, Vincent Puglisi who is scheduled for trial early next year. Puglisi was also offered life in prison if he pleaded guilty but he turned the deal down.]


Peter Benchley

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Categories: Writers/Editors

pbenchley.jpgPeter Bradford Benchley, a bestselling author who terrified millions of swimmers with his novel, “Jaws,” died on Feb. 11 of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive and a fatal scarring of the lungs. He was 65.
Benchley was born and raised in New York City. The grandson of humorist Robert Benchley and son of author Nathaniel Benchley, Peter was destined to lead a life dominated by the written word. After graduating from Harvard University and serving with the Marine Corps in a six-month reserve program, he became a writer. Benchley worked for The Washington Post and Newsweek and wrote speeches for President Lyndon B. Johnson before delving into the hand-to-mouth existence of a freelancer.
Benchley’s other passion was sharks. His childhood visits to Nantucket Island in Mass., combined with a story he read in the mid-1960s about a fisherman who caught a 4,550-pound great white shark off Long Island, helped inspire his 1974 novel, “Jaws.” The book spent 40-plus weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and sold more than 20 million copies.
A year later, Steven Spielberg directed “Jaws,” a blockbuster movie that was adapted from a script Benchley co-wrote with Carl Gottlieb. (Benchley made a cameo appearance as a reporter in the film). “Jaws” terrorized nearly everyone who saw it and spawned two sequels. It was the first movie to reach the coveted $100 million mark at the box office, and won three Academy Awards (Best Film Editing, Best Original Music and Best Sound). In 2004, Empire magazine named “Jaws” the 10th best film of all time.
Unlike the people who read and/or watched “Jaws,” Benchley wasn’t afraid of sharks. An avid environmentalist and scuba diver, he had a deep respect for the predators, and spent much of his life doing conservation work. Benchley served on the national council of Environmental Defense, and received the David B. Stone Award for distinguished service to the environment and the community. He also broadcast the syndicated radio program “The Ocean Report” to 200 stations, appeared on nearly 40 TV shows about wildlife, wrote several more books and worked on short films that show in aquariums around the world and teach youngsters about the importance of conservation.
Listen to Benchley Read From His Book, “Shark Trouble”
Listen to an Interview With NPR


Betty Friedan


Categories: Writers/Editors

bfriedan.jpgBetty Naomi Goldstein Friedan commended women who chose to become wives and mothers, but she also believed that domesticity shouldn’t be the only path available to the female sex. After marrying and having children of her own, Friedan published her thoughts on the subject, and the result was a feminist manifesto that inspired generations of women to seek separate identities and equal rights in society.

Born and raised in Peoria, Ill., Friedan learned her place in the world at an early age. Her mother, Miriam, was an impeccable housewife, but also a woman deeply dissatisfied with her lot in life. She lived in a time when married women simply did not work, and was forced to give up her career as a women’s page editor at a local newspaper after she wed. Friedan’s father, Harry Goldstein, also promoted the belief that “a woman’s place was in the home.” He once caught a young Betty walking with an armload of books she’d checked out from the library, and told her it was unladylike for a girl to read so much. When Betty was naughty, he’d ground her from her books for an entire day.

Although Friedan became her high school’s valedictorian and graduated from Smith College summa cum laude, she also placed her own desires second to those of her male counterparts and children. Friedan did her graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, but turned down a prestigious fellowship in psychology so as not to outshine her boyfriend’s achievements. She wed her husband, Carl Friedan, five years later, and spent the majority of their 22-year marriage at home raising their three children. The couple divorced in 1969.

The world in which Friedan lived was also decidedly sexist. She lost one job to a returning World War II veteran in 1947. While she was given a maternity leave to have her first child in 1949, Friedan was fired and replaced by a man when she asked for another leave to have her second child in 1954. Friedan then stayed home and raised her family in a big Victorian house in Grandview-on-the-Hudson, N.Y. She wrote freelance articles for women’s magazines in her spare time, one of which focused on her 15-year college reunion.

To research the piece, Friedan conducted an in-depth survey of alumni and learned that the majority of her well-educated classmates had become suburban housewives. Many were frustrated by years spent child-rearing and doing chores, drugged themselves with tranquilizers or were simply ignored by society. For five years, Friedan examined her research, then used the data to write and publish the book, “The Feminine Mystique,” in 1963.

The book challenged the belief that women were supposed to derive fulfillment through the achievements of their husbands and children, and laid the groundwork for the modern feminist movement. It sold more than 600,000 hardcover copies and 2 million in paperback, and was ranked No. 37 on a 1999 New York University survey of 100 examples of the best journalism of the twentieth century. Some women viewed the book as a call to arms. Others were outraged at Friedan’s commentary, and responded by kicking her out of the school car pool and making fun of her looks.

Friedan took her own words to heart and returned to the workplace. She believed the women’s movement needed to come into the forefront of American consciousness while still remaining in the mainstream of thought. She eschewed women who burned their bras, hated men and rejected family life outright. Instead, Friedan called on society to grant women a position of equality — in health care, pay scales, promotion opportunities and political clout.

In 1964, Friedan moved her family to New York City and began lobbying the federal government to enforce the Civil Rights Act as it applied to sex and not just race, religion and national origin. Two years later, she co-founded the National Organization for Women and served as its first president. Friedan became an outspoken advocate for legal and safe abortion, and demanded maternity leave without workplace recriminations. She led the 500,000-person Women’s Strike for Equality in New York City in 1970, on the 50th anniversary of women winning the right to vote. She also helped force the airlines to change their policies that permitted only female flight attendants and required them to resign once they married or turned 32.

In later years, Friedan became a popular speaker and a visiting professor at New York University, Cornell University and the University of Southern California. She continued writing as well, publishing four more books and a memoir. Her 1993 text, “The Fountain of Age,” focused on how society mistreats the elderly.

Friedan died on Feb. 4, her birthday, of congestive heart failure. She was 85.

Listen to a Tribute From NPR


Ray Broekel


Categories: Education, Writers/Editors

Rainer “Ray” Lothar Broekel, a science teacher and author who was renowned for his sweet tooth, died on Jan. 26 of heart failure. He was 83.

Born in Dresden, Germany, Broekel was only four years old when his family immigrated to America. He served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, then received a bachelor’s degree from Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill.

In the 1950s, Broekel taught junior high school science and founded the Junior Science Museum, which was located in his classroom and housed live animals and plants native to Illinois. In the 1960s and 1970s, he worked as the editor-in-chief of the juvenile division at Addison-Wesley Publications.

Broekel also read voraciously and penned educational texts for children. A prolific author, he wrote and/or edited more than 200 books about a variety of topics — from snakes and trains to baseball and magic — and published nearly 2,000 newspaper and magazine articles.

Broekel’s passion for sweets, however, made him famous. To research ”The Great American Candy Bar Book” (1982), he tasted hundreds of candy bars — and gained 10 pounds in the process. Broekel followed it up with ”The Chocolate Chronicles” (1985), and published “The Candy Bar Gazebo” (“The confectionery goodies journal”) from 1984 to 1995.

Known as “The Candy Man,” Broekel appeared on more than 100 TV and radio programs, and once rode in a parade inside a car decorated to look like a chocolate bar. Candy lovers from all over the globe sent him unique candy wrappers and merchandise, items that Broekel added to his 40,000-piece collection of candy memorabilia. On average, he sampled between 300 and 500 candy bars a year.

Broekel served as historian for the National Confectioner’s Association and the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association, and in 1990 he was inducted into the Chocolate Hall of Fame. When the American Museum of Candy History opens later this year, it will feature a special selection of items from his personal collection.

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