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Editors-at-Large

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  • Bridget McKenna

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  • Geb Brown

Publisher: Bluejack

July, 2008 : Obituary:

Algis Budrys: Teacher

It wouldn't be any kind of exaggeration to say that without Algis Budrys my life would be immeasurably different. It all started, as it did for many wannabe SF writers of my generation and the next, with the Writers of the Future contest. I'd seen ads, knew there was an anthology (yep, just the one in those days), and had more or less decided it was useless. I have to say L. Ron Hubbard's name didn't do a lot to mitigate my snap judgment.

But one day while I was sitting in the audience of a writing panel at a long-ago Norwescon, a pleasant-looking white-haired man stood up nearby during the comments portion of the panel, and said, "I'm Algis Budrys..." Now there was a name that took me all the way back to my childhood, reading my big brother's pulps, "...and I'm associated with the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, and I'd like to invite you all to the party we're having tonight." Hey, it couldn't hurt to go to a party, and they had Algis Budrys!

So I went to the party, which is where I first met Dean Wesley Smith, and Algis talked to an assembled circle of wannabes (Dean had graduated from wannabe, having had a lovely short story published in WOTF Volume One) about some things he felt good stories had in common, and answered any and all questions graciously, and taught us much in the guise of telling us stories, and changed my mind. I went home determined to submit a story a quarter until I either won a prize or they told me to stop.

It's been more than 20 years now, but I recall I did win a prize, and they did publish a story ("The Old Organ Trail," WOTF Volume Two) and even before that happened (and for years afterward) there were convention evenings and afternoons spent talking with Algis about writing and many, many other things. And after the prize and the publication, there was...The Workshop. "We're doing this experimental workshop," Algis told me over the phone one day in April 1986, "and we're going to have Fred Pohl and Jack Williamson and Gene Wolfe and me as instructors ("Couldn't they get any names?" my husband, Douglas Herring, wanted to know). And the instruction's free, but you have to pay to get yourself to Taos, New Mexico, and put yourself up while you're there. Oh, and I have to know before the end of next weekend if you'll be there." "I'll be there," I replied.

And I was. And so was Dean, and so was Kris Rusch, who was Kris Thompson in those days, and Howard V. Hendrix, and Marina Fitch and Mary Turzillo, and Lori Ann White, and Ray Aldridge, and Martha Soukup. The late Jon Gustafson was there, though he never went on to make a career of it, and neither did Jay Sullivan or Kenneth Schulze, though I'm sure it was as memorable a week for them as it was for the future writers and editors and teachers of writing and editing who emerged at the other end of seven days of learning about storytelling from Algis and those other three masters of the craft. I've never recovered from that week, and I could never consciously recall everything those learned and generous gentlemen taught a bunch of wide-eyed newbies about writing. Even now I can close my eyes and be there, absorbing advice and words of wisdom and important distinctions, and learning that plot is not a dirty word. And Algis's voice is as clear in my mind as it was then, and it hurts to think that's the only way I'll hear it from now on.

But teachers and storytellers only die in one very limited sense, and Algis's voice—full of humor and intelligence and Chicago—will go with me and with everyone who ever sat with him in a bar or at a party, or took any of his many workshops, or read one of his stories, or asked him a question and got a no-nonsense answer. And here's a gift I think he'd be thrilled for you to have, a story from long ago with meaning for any age. That's what storytellers and teachers do: help us find meaning and teach us about what's always going to be important. That's what Algis did for me.

More Obituaries and Remembrances


Copyright © 2008, Bridget McKenna. All Rights Reserved.

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Jul 1, 04:22 by IROSF
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