Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Life Uncelebrated, a Death Unannounced: Mary Kornbluth, 1920-2007

Martha entered the study last night to relay news she knew I had yet to hear.

I had been working on revisions since early that morning on an essay for Cascadia Subduction Zone, since editor L. Timmel Duchamp had granted me a day's extension beyond my Sunday deadline. My essay offered reasons to think Cyril Kornbluth possessed a gender-egalitarian attitude; and it suggested why feminists have tended to see him as the last writer to turn to in seeking signs of this attitude.

At about 9:30 p.m., in an extremely weary state of mind, I was about to go on-line. I was sending in an essay that included observations about Cyril's wife Mary, and about a living writer who clearly had helped shape prevailing opinions about Cyril.

Martha walked into my study to tell me that this writer no longer ranked among the living.

Today I reopened a manila file folder and looked at these words:

"Can you keep this secret? Don't tell anybody. She died on June 1, not this year. She died at the age of 86, June 1 in 2007, and she did not want Fred to know about it. She did not want him to know. Then he would come out with these condescending remarks. Quite frankly, the way the country is going I don't think most people are fit to comment on the weather."

The speaker, in January 2009, was John Kornbluth. Son of Cyril Kornbluth.

Son, too, of Mary Kornbluth, about whom he was speaking.

Son, in other words, of C.M. Kornbluth.

John had proved quite difficult for me to track down, in 2009——as he wanted it to be. He and David regarded themselves as in hiding. Even though he was quite willing to speak to me, and to tell me what he knew, he wanted me not to let anyone know that I had contact with him.

I was not to quote him. I was not to cite him. I was not to let the world know whether or not Mary was alive.

Today I checked via the usual on-line means, and discovered that Mary's death date has quietly appeared here and there——no doubt thanks to genealogists and their indefatigable search engines. The information itself had to be out there, after all. It just took diligent research and an automatic fact-webbing spider or two.

I suspect, however, that Mary's death has never received formal announcement.

Consider this formal. The information reached me from the lips of the older of the two sons.

At one point I noted to John that my book would cause the question to be raised about whether Mary still lived or not——in which case it might be better to preemptively announce her death, and have some control over the situation. He grudgingly gave me permission to do so.

In my silence after book publication——which I may write more about——I ended up remaining silent about Mary, too, however.

This morning, after last night's news, I realized John would no longer feel even faintly grudging about the matter.

So I say this: Mary died six years ago, deeply mourned. "I would rather have gone myself than her dying," John said.

She died nearly unknown, although she had helped shape——literally had helped shape——stories that take a central place in that highly artistic, highly specialized, and highly accomplished field that was magazine science fiction in the 1950s.

How strange ... that I should have been spending the entire day writing and rewriting words about Mary Kornbluth——and about Frederik Pohl——on the very day the latter died.

Although I have lost contact with John——I hope because of his continuing sense of being in hiding, and not because of anything that has happened to him or to his brother David——I feel he would approve these words. He wanted his mother to be known. Not dragged through the mud, but known.

I will have a few more things to write about Mary. She deserves more remembrance than she has received. My book started the process. The essay for CSZ continues it.

Now that I feel free to attribute my source——who is her son——I will feel free to release a few, small, rather beautiful butterflies of knowledge into the world.

Mary, though gone, will live a bit more ... and perhaps even gain a level of appreciation that was never hers, during her life.

Cheers ...

1 comment:

  1. I should have included a few facts, such as these: born September 23, 1920, in Clark City, Ohio; maiden name Mary G. Byers; died in Babson Park, Florida.