The literary world is short three powerful women’s voices after Ruth Stone, Sybil Downing, and Anne McCaffrey all passed away within five days of one another. Through their writing and their lives, these women exemplified strength, in some cases overcoming what could have been devastating obstacles in order to not only survive, but thrive.
Ruth Stone passed away November 19th at the age of 96. She divorced her first husband, with whom she had a daughter, when she fell in love with fellow poet Walter Stone. She considered Walter the one true love of her life, and was crushed when he committed suicide at age 42. Stone’s first book of poetry was nearing publication at the time of her husband’s death in 1959, and she would not publish another until 1971. Her husband’s suicide profoundly impacted both her life and her work; Walter was often the subject of her poetry. She wrote of finding his body in her poem “Turn Your Eyes Away”: “on the door of a rented room/like an overcoat, like a bathrobe/hung from a hook” (NPR). She struggled to raise three daughters on her own, often moving around the country for various teaching jobs, and it wasn’t until her later years that her true talent was recognized. She won the National Book Award at age 87 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize at age 93.
Sybil Downing was a local writer who was born in Denver and died at age 81 on November 20th. Downing primarily wrote historical novels, many of which focused on strong women, including her young adult novel co-authored with Jane Barker, Crown of Life: The Story of Mary Roberts Rinehart, a fictionalized account of the life of one of the first female war correspondents. Downing’s other works also examined the lives of women, including Ladies of the Goldfield Stock Exchange, a novel that detailed the adventures of women who opened a Nevada stock exchange, and The Vote, a book about women’s suffrage. Downing also co-authored numerous children’s books, and was a regular book reviewer for The Denver Post.
Writer Anne McCaffrey, an American writer who lived in Ireland, died on November 23rd at age 85. McCaffrey was one of the first women to delve into the male dominated field of fantasy fiction in the late 1960s, and her writing career became her main focus after she moved to Dublin following her divorce in 1970. Over the course of her career, she produced two dozen Dragonriders of Pern novels. She was the first woman to win both the Hugo and the Nebula, two top prizes for science fiction writing. She also sparked a passion for fantasy writing in her son, Todd, who will continue the series with Skydragons, to be published in 2012.
If you have not had the pleasure of reading the works of these talented women, I cannot think of a better way to pay tribute to them than to read and share their inspiring work. Their voices will certainly be missed.