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1 April 2009

Final Sturgeon Volume Shatters Myths

by Paoli du Flippi

October 2009 will see the publication of Slow Sculpture, the twelfth and final volume in The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, a project ongoing since 1994.  Painstakingly compiled by editor and literary expert Paul Williams, the series has confirmed Sturgeon's status as one of the 20th century's finest writers in any genre.  Additionally, biographical tidbits unearthed by Williams have firmed up the legend of Sturgeon's bohemian free spirit, replete with nudism, bisexuality, proletarian solidarity, poverty and iconoclasm.

But all that myth-making undergoes a shattering upheaval in the newest book, galleys of which have just begun to circulate.

"I discovered a vast hidden trove of Sturgeon's correspondence and diaries," reveals Williams.  "A real bombshell.  They paint a portrait of the man utterly at odds with his legend.  Not since the posthumous news of John Cheever's homosexuality has such a reversal of reputation occurred."

It seems now that nearly everything we know about Sturgeon is wrong.

"The lies go all the way back to his childhood,"  Williams reveals.  "He was born into a loving family of great wealth, not on Staten Island, but on Long Island, in the Hamptons in fact.  The Waldos owned half of the South Shore.  But this privileged life didn't tally with Ted's romantic adolescent dreams for himself as a writer, and so he fabricated an alternate façade.  But that's all it was — a façade.  He simply couldn't get past his prep-school and Ivy League upbringing.

"He wasn't a nudist, but instead maintained an active account at Brooks Brothers.  He left behind closets full of tailored suits when he died.  His supposed serial marriages and extramarital affairs, even his children, were all publicity-agent shams, like some Hollywood gossip-column contrivance.  In reality, he was married for sixty years to one woman, the debutante Bitsy Astor.  Sturgeon never worked at any of his numerous supposed dayjobs.  He learned everything he knew about bulldozers, for instance, from questioning his family's employees.  And that anecdote about how Heinlein lent him some money and told him to pay it forward —   Sturgeon gave Heinlein a loan after the failure of We the Living!  And he even voted a straight Republican ticket all his life!

"It was all a masquerade, intended to promote his stories among gullible readers, and to feed his own daydreams."

Williams refused to speculate on how these revelations would retroactively effect the way we view Sturgeon's legacy.  "In a way, I'm sorry these letters ever came to light.  But I felt honor-bound to disclose them.  After all, Ted always demanded that we 'ask the next question.'  Except of course, he never actually said any such thing."

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