Exploring the intersection between atomic war, the space race, and the domestic sphere.
January 21, 1923 – September 12, 1997
Judith Merril began her career in the 1940s, writing Western and sports stories for the pulps under a variety of exotic pen names.
Her first science fiction story, “That Only a Mother” (1948), condenses the horrors of nuclear war down to one family’s struggle with genetic mutation. It immediately established Merril as an important voice in the field. Her World War III novel Shadow on the Hearth (1950) explores similar themes and was adapted for television as Atomic Attack. Her story “Dead Center” (1954) also centers on domestic life, this time against the backdrop of the emerging space race. The story was anthologized in The Best American Short Stories: 1955.
Despite these and other successes, Merril stopped writing fiction in the early 1960s and turned her full attention to editing and criticism. She helmed a number of science fiction anthologies. Especially notable was her annual The Year’s Best S-F series from 1956 to 1968. She recognized the importance of science fiction’s New Wave early on, and later would edit the first Tesseracts, an anthology of Canadian science fiction. She helped found the Milford Conference writers’ workshop, which led to the creation of the Science Fiction Writers Association.
Merril’s personal book collection, which she donated to the Toronto Public Libraries, formed the seed of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, an important archive of speculative works. In 1997 the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America named her an author emeritus.