Mildred Clingerman (1918–1997)
From The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women
“Women, I think, always tend to be more practical-minded—a bit grimmer in outlook than men.” Mildred Clingerman wrote, explaining why, in her day, more fantasy and science fiction writers (and readers) were men. “Less hopeful, too beset with daily reality—fighting things that are: dirt, budgets, disorder. Planning meals, bringing up children, battling for their rights. . . . The sense of wonder isn’t easy for most of them to maintain.”
Clingerman published only nineteen genre stories during her lifetime—nearly all of them appearing in the influential Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine and most of them depicting ordinary women who experience something extraordinary. Like Zenna Henderson, Kit Reed, Judith Merril, Shirley Jackson, and others, she wrote domestic fiction that doubled as social satire of the Twilight Zone variety. In 1964 James Blish (who would find future fame with Star Trek) infamously berated their works: “I deplore most of the lady authors in science fiction, and the lady men who are imitating them”; he dismissed them as a “gaggle of housewives . . . verging on the feebleminded.” By the late 1960s and 70s most of these “lady authors” had been forgotten.
Yet many of the writers scorned by Blish are getting the last laugh, as their works are being collected, reprinted, anthologized, and—in the wake the success of The Handmaid’s Tale—even adapted for the screen. For our Story of the Week selection, we present Mildred Clingerman’s 1956 classic, “Mr. Sakrison’s Halt,” which was a response to the fight over desegregation and Jim Crow laws and which portrays a more eccentric version of the ordinary woman who populates her tales.