A few days ago a friend informed me that Suzette Haden Elgin had died. This was not unexpected. She was almost 80, and had been in ill health for a while, and suffering with dementia, along with other disabilities.
I never met her, except through her work, but I mourn her passing.
Suzette was a trained linguist, a language maven, and a writer. She is perhaps best known for her books in the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense series. Though not as well-known as Deborah Tannen’s or John Gray’s works, Suzette’s are practical, straightforward, and supremely useful.
She was interested in many aspects of language. She thought and wrote about language and religion, language and politics (especially framing), language and women’s issues, language and perception, language and culture, and more.
For many years she kept up a Live Journal and two newsletters. Under the LJ name Ozarque, she stimulated thought and discussion of her many fields of interest. These were lively, educational, interactive, and fascinating forums in the way that Live Journal blogs are meant to be and seldom are.
She was a writer of science fiction novels, stories, and poetry. I was astounded by her Native Tongue series. (Who besides me could possibly be interested in feminist linguistic science fiction? Many people, it turns out.)
In the Native Tongue series, Suzette described a newly created “women’s language” called Láadan. She and others pursued the idea and constructed a grammar, a dictionary, and lessons available online – way before anyone tried to do the same with Klingon.
She worked on new fiction until the dementia descended. In her LJ, she would sometimes post poems and songs (particularly Christmas carols) and solicit feedback from her audience, sometimes incorporating their suggestions into the piece. The Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Elgin Awards are given in her memory.
She attended science fiction conventions, where she could meet and interact with her readers. One she often attended was WisCon in Madison, WI, the premier feminist science fiction convention, and in 1986 was one of their Guests of Honor.
On a more personal note, she once took the time to give me feedback on a piece I was writing about bullying, also a concern of hers.
She was a kind, humane, quirky, quick-witted, creative, varied, engaged, humorous, brave lady and a brilliant scholar and writer. I will miss her and her work. The world is poorer for her passing, but richer for her legacy.