Tanith Lee, the prolific author of more than 90 novels and nearly 300 short stories in the science fiction, fantasy, horror, young adult, historical, and mystery genres, died Sunday, reports sci-fi website Tor.com. She was 67.
Although Lee was heterosexual and married to author and artist John Kaiine, much of her fame was attributed to her award-winning fiction featuring gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters. Lee and her husband lived in the southeast of England.
In 2010, Lee channeled Esther Garber, a lesbian, and her fictional brother Judas, a gay man, for a quasi-historical short story, “Disturbed by Her Song.” Garber became a pseudonym for Lee.
Her acclaimed 1980 book, Death’s Master, won her that year's British Fantasy Award; she was the first woman so honored. In addition to her fiction, Lee wrote several poems, four BBC Radio plays, and two episodes of the BBC’s acclaimed sci-fi television series Blake’s 7.
Lee was born in 1947 to two professional dancers and developed a passion for weird fiction, sci-fi, and Shakespeare. She struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia and was unable to read until the age of 8, when her father taught her.
By the age of 21, she published her first vignette, and she took various jobs, including file clerk and assistant librarian to support her work. Her first published novels were children’s fantasies, The Dragon Hoard and Animal Castle, published by Macmillan in 1971 and 1972, respectively.
In 1975, DAW published Lee’s first adult fantasy, The Birthgrave; DAW would go on to publish more than 20 of her other sci-fi/fantasy and horror works in the 1970s and ’80s.
An early series, The Flat Earth, was celebrated for introducing gender-fluid characters. She told Lambda Literary’s Craig Gidney, “The first book and its followers came with their own environment and ethos, and aspect of which happens to include the premise that almost all Flat-Earthians are bisexual, if perhaps with some individual biases in one or more directions.”
In another interview, Lee was asked about her recurring theme of ambiguous sexuality. She told the Innsmouth Free Press blog, “I think ambiguity intrigues me generally. Not just the hard-drawn line between male and female heterosexuality and lesbian/gay desire, which hard line may waver in the most staunch of the 'straight' or the 'homosexual' — but the shadings between wickedness and normality, evil and the divine. The state of human life and the god or demon within. The constant internal war that being alive can conjure.”
Heavy.com noted that legions of her devoted fans tweeted tributes to Lee.
We've just lost someone I greatly admired as a person & writer. Terrible news, such a hard year for these departures. Tanith Lee, RIP.
— Guy Gavriel Kay (@guygavrielkay) May 26, 2015
When I was a baby writer, I imitated Tanith Lee. I so wanted that kind of lavish narrative voice. Obviously I stopped, for she was peerless.
— Ann Aguirre (@MsAnnAguirre) May 26, 2015
Tanith Lee wrote mind-blowing stories about gender, sexuality, eroticism, stuff that was deeply feminist in an accessible way... & beautiful
— Solace Ames (@solacewrites) May 26, 2015