History of Storyville' by Jeff VanderMeer
as there are so many new voices on Storyville, I thought I
would pass on the history of Storyville for those individuals
who were not here at its creation. Please see below. This
will be old hat for some of you, so forgive me.
began not as a collection of cyberspace messages through onelist
but in the basement of an obscure writer in the early 1970s.
Harold Winegardner, a fan of fantastical literature, a tyro
writer, and a resident of Chicago, Illinois, produced the
first Storyville "message" when he wrote to his friend Nancy
Smythe, editor of the fanzine "GvAoLyAaXgYe"
(which, incidentally, used as its premise that it was edited
from within a black hole that had jumbled its title) and proposed
a kind of chain letter unique at that time. Specifically,
Winegardner proposed that Smythe send a letter, setting out
her views on fantastical literature, to a writer on her mailing
list. That writer was to add his or her own comments to the
letter and then send it on to a third writer--and so on, with
instructions included that the 15th writer should return the
annotated and "addendumed" letter to GvAoLyAaXgYe, whereupon
Smythe would print the results.
some complications and false starts--the letter was lost in
the mail twice, meaning Smythe had to resend the original
and begin the process anew--the experiment worked and the
resulting "dialogue" published in GvAoLyAaXgYe. Smythe's fanzine
had a circulation of only 200, but the letters became so popular
that even after GvAoLyAaXgYe folded, Smythe and Winegardner
continued the tradition. Discussions ranged from the ridiculous
(cultural fashion statements in Dr. Who) to the sublimely
ridiculous (detailed "soil analyses" from the planet Arrakis,
or Dune) to the supremely sublime (discussion of the subjectivity
displayed in Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus). Although
most of the individuals who participated were relative unknowns
or obscure writers, some participants came from the very first
rank. When Smythe dared to send a series of such correspondences
to Ray Bradbury, Bradbury provided thoughtful commentary on
the, as he called it, "magic realism nature of space travel
when considered as a poetic metaphor". Frederick Pohl produced
a more pithy response when he scrawled simply "Very interesting!
With your permission I will incorporate the psychological
concept set out in your letter into I Am The Event Horizon
(working title of my next book). Thankfully, F.P." Others,
such as Pohl Anderson and Piers Anthony never responded, while,
typically, Harlan Ellison called Smythe up to complain about
the intrusion on his privacy. (Smythe actually had Winegardner
take a photograph of her on the telephone with Ellison, although
the photo has been lost to us, buried as it was with Smythe
upon her death.)
time Smythe died in 1983, she and Winegardner had accumulated
over 500 correspondences encompassing responses from over
900 writers on three continents. Winegardner's personal journals
from the period indicate that, over the years, he and Smythe
had become intimate, and that with her death he did not have
the heart to continue what had become such a joint and personal
project. In fact, Winegardner died soon after and the experiment
might well have died with him.
years the bundled letters representing the most passionate
and dispassionate literary thoughts of so many writers lay
unread in the attic of Winegardner's house. However, in 1990
Paul Winegardner, Harold Winegardner's son (a computer and
typewriter salesman) decided to sell the Winegardner house
rather than continue to rent it to the many college students
who often ruined the wallpaper, toilets, and electrical fixtures.
In the process of cataloguing the last series of damages to
the house, he came across a huge box labeled simply (and rather
plaintively) "Storyville". Intrigued, he opened the box and
began to read from the hundreds of typewritten, handwritten
(in red, green, blue, and black ink), annotated letters, the
envelopes from which, often with colorful stamps from Brazil,
Ecuador, Czechoslovakia, Kenya, and elsewhere, were still
attached by careful staples placed by his father's own hand.
knew his father had been active in SF fandom (even attending
the 1979 World Science Fiction Convention--an honor about
which he waxed eloquent in The Fan Man's Journal, vol. 3,
issue 4, out of Albuquerque, New Mexico) and had grown up
surrounded by fantastical fiction and nonfiction. As an adult,
he had never really returned to the genre, but the foundation
had already been built for what was to become an amazing resurgence--both
of his interest in the literature and in his father's long-dormant
project. To his surprise, the letters not only served as a
valuable historical record of the literary pulse of fantastical
literature of 1970s and early 1980s, but it also presaged
such movements as cyberpunk and the genetic engineering of
the 1990s. For example, the Argentinian SF writer Francisco
Albertino wrote in one correspondence dated March 18, 1974,
"We must begin to think of technology in a new light--in a
way which breaks with the past, which begins to take into
account the fact that our children have adapted to it as if
they are themselves mutations. It is a cyber future, and it
demands a cyber literature wedded to noir of the past and
the spontaneousness of youth."
gave some paltry examination to the idea of publishing the
letters in book form, but copies of his correspondence from
the period reveal he only sent a rather poorly worded letter
to the textbook division of McGraw-Hill, apparently because
a cousin of his worked there, and, rebuffed, never tried again.
was more interested in bringing the project back to life.
He perceived a slightly different approach to the project.
As a computer salesman, he traveled all across the country
for conventions and to make individuals sales to corporations.
He began, in his travels, to take portions of the original
letters in which questions had been raised but not answered,
and would post them on the bulletin boards of local writers'
groups with his home address listed--or he would seek out
local writers and ask them to contribute in some way. Once,
in a fit of ambition, he even slid a letter under the gate
to Harlan Ellison's house in Sherman Oaks, but did not receive
a reply. (He also found that many of his computer customers
were writers or read SF and these contacts too found themselves
made into part of Storyville.)
Paul found himself at the hub of a series of "wheels" of correspondence
that he added to the original Storyville correspondence. Over
the years, he accumulated another 900 letters, on all sorts
of topics related to fantastical literature--often, he spurred
correspondents on by promising them he would publish the results
in the Winegardner Journal--a journal that did not exist.
In fact, all indications are that Paul simply wanted to read
the letters himself--that he simply received great pleasure,
in what was often a solitary occupation, from receiving the
thoughts of all and sundry on subjects that had been dear
to his father's heart. (Details of Paul's various travels
and operations are sketchy as he did not keep a personal journal.)
lay dormant in Paul's house--and might have passed out of
history altogether upon his death from colon cancer in 1996,
if not for the intrepid decisions made by his distant cousin,
Malinda Korej, a registered nurse to whom he left his earthly
belongings (all closer relations having passed on). Korej,
in 1997, unearthed the now gargantuan Storyville "community"
and rather than attempt to publish it saw in the Internet
a chance to both provide the world with the prior correspondence
and start an entirely new dialogue using new technology.
Korej started Storyville and began the task of imaging the
over 1,400 letters onto the internet.
many scholars of fantastical fiction have scoffed at the idea
that these documents, most from obscure or unpublished writers,
hold any value to us today, the very existence of the vital
Storyville listserv, and the fact that the imaged documents
have been cited in no fewer than 75 published essays on fantastical
and SF literature (see, for example, John Clute's Encyclopedia
of SF, page 235) leads the ordinary reader to a different
importantly, the Internet, in a sense already envisioned by
Harold Winegardner in the very foundation of his original
idea, has brought to full fruition the vision of Harold Winegardner,
Nancy Smythe, and GvAoLyAaXgYe.
Storyville Photo Gallery
Storyvillian Images (with an alien baby!)