Donor Spotlight: Susan C. Petrey Fund

by Evan J. Peterson (CW ’15)

We love our donors. That may sound glib, but in 2020, support for the arts and social progress cannot be taken for granted. Clarion West nurtures writers of science fiction (and fantasy, horror, and other speculative genres) — we support the artists who imagine better futures and reimagine the present and past. Our donors make this all possible; consider what Clarion West and other organizations would look like this year without the continued support of donors. Our donors quite literally help create the future.

This fall, we’d like to pay tribute to the Oregon-based Susan C. Petrey Fund, which has honored us for over three decades with their Clarion West scholarship and the more recent fellowship for instructors. Recent Clarion West Petrey scholars include Celeste Rita Baker (CW ’19), Laurie Penny (CW ’15), and JY Neon Yang (CW ’13). Recent Petrey fellows include instructors Anne Leckie (2019), Karen Joy Fowler (2018), and Pat Cadigan (2017).

Our greatest wish is that the scholarship winners enjoy their time at the workshop and use the experience to change their lives in the future.

—Debbie Cross and Paul Wrigley of the Susan C. Petrey Fund

For our fall Donor Spotlight, we interviewed Debbie Cross and Paul Wrigley from the Susan C. Petrey Fund about Susan’s literary legacy and the opportunities they provide in her name:

Evan J. Peterson: You honor Susan C. Petrey’s memory and legacy with your philanthropy. Can you tell us more about what kind of person she was?

Debbie Cross and Paul Wrigley: Susan was a writer, a musician, and a student of Turkish and Russian. She worked as a medical technologist. She participated in Portland fandom and was a member of the Science Fiction Writers of america. Most of all, she was a friend.

Susan C. Petrey
Susan C. Petrey.

Susan, like many of us, was confused about her life. Her diaries and doodling revealed this. However, she lived her life, no matter how confused, with direction and intent. Much of her energy was funneled into the study of languages and history, writing many of her notes and story ideas in Russian and Turkish. She began writing as a means of combating depression, but it became much more. She participated in local writers groups and had been accepted to attend [the] Clarion [Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop], but she was unable to attend for financial reasons. Prior to her sudden death in 1980, she’d had four stories accepted for publication in the Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine. Steve Perry took uncompleted story ideas and rough manuscripts and turned them into three stories also accepted by the magazine.

EJP: Clarion West is the benefactor of your generous scholarship for students as well as your fellowship for instructors. What is your greatest wish for your philanthropy toward our organization and toward the Clarion Workshop in San Diego?

DC & PW: Our greatest wish is that the scholarship winners enjoy their time at the workshop and use the experience to change their lives in the future.

EJP: “Spidersong” is perhaps Petrey’s best-known story, and you’ve also produced a collection of her stories titled Gifts of Blood. Do you have a favorite story of hers or a suggested place to start enjoying her body of work?

DC & PW: although “Spidersong” (available to read via Lightspeed magazine) was the story for which she received a Hugo nomination, we love the universe where most of her stories take place. They tell the story of a race, the Varkela, who live on the Russian steppes. Like vampires, they need blood to live, but they are also healers. The payment they receive for healing is a small amount of human blood.

Cover art for Gifts of Blood. Art by Tim Hildebrandt.

Gifts of Blood was published as a 500-copy limited edition hardcover in 1990, priced at $20, with an introduction by us and essays by Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda N. McIntyre, and Kate Wilhelm; they also signed all copies of the book. We still have copies for sale at the original $20 price, plus $4 for shipping and handling (see the mailing address below to order a copy!). Baen published a paperback in 1992 which lacked the introduction and essays. Used copies may be found online at the usual outlets.

EJP: What else would you like readers to know about Susan, Oregon Science Fiction Conventions Inc., and the Susan C. Petrey Fund?

DC & PW: The fund started accidentally. It started with $100 collected at a Portland Science Fiction Society meeting, to send flowers to Susan’s funeral. It was then discovered that the church did not allow flowers. It was decided that giving the money to Clarion West would be a fitting tribute. additional donations were solicited to make the grant more meaningful. Because of administrative problems, the scholarship was not awarded in 1981, and we continued to raise money for another year. almost 40 years later, we are still raising money. auctions and sales at OryCon and surpluses from Portland-area conventions have been a major source of funds.

This year, with only a virtual OryCon (the annual Portland SFF convention), as this goes to press we’ve just completed an eBay auction concurrent with the convention.

EJP: How are you handling the extremes of 2020? What do you miss most about having an in-person convention?

DC & PW: We only attend one convention a year at present, so the virus has had no effect to date on our convention activity. Otherwise, we stay home and practice social distancing whenever we have to leave. The election is more of a concern to us at the present time.

EJP: Whom else does the Susan C. Petrey Fund support?

DC & PW: The Petrey Fund also awards an annual scholarship to the Clarion Workshop in San Diego.

In the early days of the scholarship (1982), we started with awarding a scholarship to Clarion. In 1985, we awarded a scholarship to Leslie Howle to attend Clarion West and began alternating between Clarion and Clarion West until, in 1992, we started awarding scholarships to both workshops. The first Susan C. Petrey Fellow was Michael Swanwick in 2005.

More information, including a complete list of winners, may be found at http://www.osfci.org/petrey. To support the Susan C. Petrey Fund, scroll through the website for suggestions for donating and online fundraising. Cash donations can be made through PayPal to the email address susanpetrey@comcast.net.

If you have any items to donate for the 2021 auction, or wish to purchase a copy of Gifts of Blood signed by Le Guin, McIntyre, and Wilhelm, please contact us at:

Susan C. Petrey Scholarship Fund
PMB 455
2870 NE Hogan Road, Suite E
Gresham, OR 97030-3175
Phone: 503-667-0807
email: susanpetrey@comcast.net

This article appears in the Fall 2020 edition of The Seventh Week, Clarion West’s semiannual newsletter. You can read the entire newsletter at www.clarionwest.org/seventhweek.

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