Sheri’s True Biography

Sheri2When I was  four, I was told by my grandmother, who was my main caregiver(?)  that I had a baby brother.  I said, innocently, “I’ll still be your grandbaby, won’t I Nana?”  To which she replied,  with great satisfaction, “I have a grandson now, I don’t need you girls anymore.”  The girls referred to were my cousins and I.  I have never forgotten it.  This is my earliest memory.  It was also my introduction to the worth of females in my world.  In the family of grandparents, parents, uncles, a great aunt, later events only made it more clear.

On the farm where we lived there were no other children anywhere near.  When I went to school at six, I was the only girl there who did not know how to play jump-rope, hop-scotch, or jacks.  (I was also the only girl able to identify ten kinds of snakes which gave me a little street cred with a couple of  boys who had not yet decided to hate girls.)  I asked the girls where they learned.  “the girls on the block.”  It was obvious they weren’t going to interrupt their game to teach me.  I asked Mother if she could do those things, and she said, ‘of course.’  She didn’t offer to teach me, either.   Mother belonged to two bridge clubs, (one for couples, one for women only) one sorority, and two other women’s clubs.  She was very busy.  I spent most of my time alone writing very bad poetry.  It rhymed and scanned well.  It was still very bad, though I didn’t know it at the time.

On graduating high school, I wanted to go to a university that was known to have  a good creative writing course.  My parents told me it was  too far away ”for a girl.”  They had already picked where I was to go.  I therefore did the equivalent of repeating a couple of years of high school in a local two year college for girls:  a kind of holding-tank for girls between high school and marriage.  It had no creative writing course or anything else helpful.  My brother, four years later, asked to go to the university I had chosen (only because I had chosen it) and was sent there without  question.

Therefore, I can honestly attribute any success I may have had in writing to  four years of high school English with a remarkable English Teacher named Dorothea Benkleman.  Dorothea was older, gray haired, rotund, had a raspy voice, and was the butt of many jokes behind her back, mostly by boys who saw no sense in Chaucer or Shakespeare, punctuation or spelling, except that they had to get a passing grade in order to be on the football and basketball teams.   Nonetheless, she was a  fine teacher who loved what she taught, and any skill I may have was learned at her instigation and through her encouragement.   That is the sum and total of my writing education:  I usually don’t read critics.  Too many of them say I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m sure they’re perfectly right.   Mostly I don’t.  Or if I do it right, I don’t know the right literary name for what I did.

It was in the two year holding tank, however, that I was introduced to the ideas of Malthus, and for the first time considered what overpopulation was doing to our planet—perhaps re-discovered, for much of the wild area around the farm where I had grown up was by that time already covered in houses, and the wildlife there had been displaced or killed—probably including all ten varieties of snake.  The farm had been my home, my friend, my family.  I grieved over it more than I grieved at the death of any member of my family because I was closer to it than I was to any of them—or they to me.

I married.   I can admit now, over sixty some odd years later,  that I did it simply to get away from a home that had never been at all nourishing or kind, though it  was not abusive by the standard of that time.  Hitting children wasn’t called abusive unless you did it with a knife or heavy stick.  I was, however, the only one hit.  I never saw anyone hit my brother.   Maybe it wasn’t nice for grown up women to hit little boys.  I worked throughout my marriage in between having the  requisite girl child and boy child.   Except for peeing standing up, the boy-child never got to do anything the girl-child didn’t.   To my astonishment, after five or six years of marriage, my then husband, purely in order to avoid the brief service in the military to which his college education through the navy V12 program had obligated him,  suddenly chose a new career which would have required my lifetime, full time assistance in a field in which I could make no genuine or willing contribution.    We divorced and I subsequently supported the children through a varied job career, with no time left over for writing.

When the position of director of the local Planned Parenthood became vacant, I applied, took the job,  and worked as the director for some twenty years.  I believed in that job and did it out of conviction.    When my children went off to college, I started writing  once more, dibs and dabs., then settled into a year long dedication to work on The Revenantsall   my off-work time., helped by a friend who really listened and offered sensible help!  When I had finished the book, I sent it to a publisher.  They kept it forever.  I phoned to ask that it be returned—700 pages, typewritten, not on computer, and I didn’t have a copy!   They said they rather liked it, but it was too long to publish by a beginning writer, would I give the publisher something more “accessible.”  I put a junior high kid in the front of my mind as the probable reader and  King’s Blood Four was written by the end of the month.   So?  It was a short book.  “Give us another one like that, we’ll publish the first one.” I gave them a dozen all told,  nine in the True Game series and three in the Mariannes.    They did publish the Revenants.

So—It is from my tap-root that I come by both feminism and concern for ­ecology (also racial prejudice, which is another true story about a lonely little girl who was not allowed to play with the children of the Syrian farmer who rented our land because he was ‘a darky.’)  All those talking animals and ETs in my books are just different races.  I am eighty-three years old, and I remember the whys.

Sheri S. Tepper

(The image is of Sheri and husband Gene having a cup of coffee on the patio)

12 thoughts on “Sheri’s True Biography

  • Frances

    You are my favourite writer. I return to re-read constantly even though I know everything so well. The only ones that don’t (or haven’t yet) quite worked for me are The Revenants and The Waters Rising and the Horlack one. I love the mysteries too, and ardently hope they will show up as e-books one day because my copies are disintegrating.

    Thank you very much for being!

  • Eileen Hutson

    Your novels are breathtaking in their nuance and complexity and yet you can convey a scene or setting perfectly in as few as five words. I refer to you and your work frequently in writing groups because you are one of the most superb storytellers and wordsmiths writing today. Your books have given me so much, especially Grass, which came to me at a critical time and which I’ve read several times since.
    Now. Back to searching for a couple of your novels for my daughter who loves your work every bit as much as I!

  • Avis

    Ms. Tepper,

    To read your biography today, after having read and re-read many of your works – A Gate to Women’s Country; Grass; Raising the Stones and Beauty are my favourites – is to revel in the essence of a wonderful personality. That you had been denied such fundamental guidance and to have been subjected to such abject rejection is frightening not only because it happened to you, but also because the 21 century, this is still happening.

    Like you, my mother (who never attended high school because of a stepfather who preferred that she ‘help work the fields’), raised me and my brother and older sisters like you did yours – we all learned to do what was needed….no changes, no partiality, no jealousy tolerated. My brother can cook as well as I, can and often cleans house from top to bottom with no qualms or grumblings. He does though, comment on how not only he was our mother’s best looking son (he’s the only one), but that he cleans the best. I find similarities in both of you.

    Your works have been an inspiration, an absolute pleasure, books in which I could literally lose myself, in a different space where the story showed like a play in which I could sometimes only observe, sometimes interact with the players…Today I came looking for more books to read and now I know that I have many, many hours of stories and images to behold..

    Thank you very much, and a much belated happy birthday to you.

  • valerie

    Dear Ms. Tepper,

    Your works have inspired me for years. Many appreciations for your insightful, skilled writing and your commitment to and fire for justice. On the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, I salute your ongoing desire for social change and your delightful, substantial and universal stories. I have reread all your fantasy and sf books many times and am especially touched by Six Moon Dance, After Long Silence and Gate to Women’s Country. Thank you for your body of work that feeds so many of us.

    Happy 83rd birthday!!!!!

    In gratitude,

  • Nanci Smith

    Could you get your A J Orde and B J OLIphant books put into nook books. I am downsizing and want to get all of my favorite books on my nook.
    Thank you.

    • Tesha Post author

      I understand that Sheri has people working on making this happen, tho there are many obstacles. When they let us know, we’ll pass on the info.

      (Because many of us agree with you)

  • Madelyn

    Your books are the *only* books that I buy as soon as they are listed on Amazon. Sometimes they don’t even have a final title, a cover, or a description at the point where I say “Sign me up to get this book as soon as it is published!”

  • John T Paterson

    I have been reading Sci-fi and fantasy for over fifty years and am ashamed to say that I often avoided femail authors in spite of the fact that I became hooked on Ann McCaffrey’s ‘Dragon of Pern’ novels. What a mistake to make! I discovered Sherri’s novels around 30 years ago and have loved them, frequently searching for new ones. I think I have read most of those published in the UK. I was unaware of Sherri’s background and her feminism until stumbling on this website in my search for a list of her titles to pass on to a friend’s 13 year old daughter, an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy. I had been talking to her recently when I discovered her love of this type of story and promised to get her some titles, mentioning, among others, Sherri’s name. Somehow, reading this page, I feel that this was very appropriate for a young girl with big ambitions and the drive and intelligence to acheive her goals.
    Thanks for years of pleasurable and thoughtful reading.

  • Tina

    Dear Sheri, Thank you so much for all your wonderful books. They take pride of place in a long row on my bookshelves, many read to falling apart. If asked who my favorite author is, I always says Sheri S Tepper, because you are, no doubt about it, my fave author of all time. xxx

  • Nique Swifte

    Dear Sheri
    I’ve just stumbled across this website. What a miracle! I live in Australia and have also been reading and re-reading your wonderful stories for the last 25 odd years and now I have the chance to say a huge THANK YOU for sharing your wonderful literary gifts. My greatest pleasure in life is reading your books and from reading previous comments on this website I realise I’m not the only one behaving this way!! I had a similar upbringing to yours and your stories have always resonated. I have read The Waters Rising and am looking forward to your next published works.

    After reading the third book in the Marjorie Westriding stories (i.e. Grass, Raising the Stones and Sideshow), I’ve always wondered what Fringe Owldark got up to after all that!!! Ah, but you lead my mind and imagination to wonderful places to dwell. I’ve read all your stories so many times I can visit there in my head, but even so, the shear pleasure of reading it in book form I will always cherish.

    THANK YOU AGAIN AND AGAIN Ms Tepper. You are a legend!!

    With love and appreciation from Nique Swifte in Australia!

  • Kim Knapp

    Hello, Ms. Tepper,

    I am so honored and happy to have read everything I can find that you have written. Hardbacks for the shelf, paperbacks for regular re-reads. Your books have challenged me, frightened me, thrilled me, astonished me, made me gasp in awe when I considered a new idea… and dropped many fitting pieces into the jigsaw of my questions, philosophies, and explorations. So many things your books communicate resonate with me, like a harmony in the back of my mind. When I am reading your work, time disappears, and I am *there*… whether Hobbs Land, Moss, or Earth of the future or past. It is always a shock to come back to reality, to realize that the wonders you create are not my reality. In some ways I am relieved; your realities can be terrifying, but they also clearly show how we could end up there by simply not changing our attitudes.

    I just wanted to share that you have given me and so many others uncounted hours of what they used to call “a sense of wonder,” as well as the pleasure of fine prose, well-crafted stories, and characters that I want to know. That matters… After so many years of reading your work, I have a difficult time finding other writers whose work can come close to satisfying me as yours does.

    With great respect and affection for your continued well-being.


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