It’s one thing to have a relationship with individuals. A friendship. A long-term admiration. A fan’s enthusiastic following.
It’s another to have a relationship with an organization. What does it mean for an organization, an entire body of people, thoughts, and ideals, to miss a single person?
I’m sitting down to write this tribute as one thread of the woven tapestry that is otherwise known as the Clarion West community, a community that has experienced many losses over the last few years, making the passing of science fiction and fantasy writer Greg Bear particularly difficult.
Greg taught for the Clarion West Writers Workshop three times, in 1988, 1993, and 1999. As an instructor, he was considered “funny, smart, and warm” (Monte Cook, CW ‘99). Many people will tell you that Greg was always gracious and supportive; this extended to his Clarion West students, and from all appearances to every writer he met.
Greg wrote science fiction, fantasy, and near-future thrillers. He was brilliant and curious and regularly gave talks with national security and tech companies. He co-founded San Diego Comic-Con, was on the original advisory board for Seattle’s Experience Music Project’s Science Fiction Museum, and was a supporter of comics, games, and other forms of storytelling. I found it particularly notable how willing Greg was to collaborate, try new projects, and encourage others. You can see that in his enthusiasm for writing Halo and how well gamers received his tie-ins.
My own introduction to Greg Bear was as a teenager through his book, Eon. Originally published in 1985, it turned into one of my favorite science fiction novels of all time. Greg’s ability to turn a science fiction trope into a book full of inspiration and hope was exceptional. There were moments in Eon when I just wanted to curl up around a thought and hold onto it like a treasure. I loved it so much that I carried my copy around for years and was excited to pass it on to my son to read in high school. I met Greg in person during my first summer working with Clarion West. Astrid introduced us at one of the Friday parties. Over the last five years, I have been surprised and pleased by the willingness of both to respond to my questions, make recommendations, and generally provide assistance to a newcomer to the community.
For Clarion West, few instructors embody the impact of generations of writers learning, teaching, and supporting each other more than Greg. When we think about generations, we think about the authors who give back by supporting scholarships, volunteering, and mentoring new writers, as well as the students who go on to write successfully and return to teach for the workshop in their own time. Many of Greg’s students have come back to teach the Six-Week Workshop, including Kathleen Ann Goonan (CW ‘88 and taught ‘03), Mary Rosenblum (CW ‘88 and taught ‘08 and ‘12), Sheree Renee Thomas (CW ‘99 and taught in ‘08 and ‘21), and Margo Lanagan (CW ‘99 and taught in ‘11 and ‘13). Others have gone on to teach online classes, like Phoebe Harris (CW ‘88) and give back through time and leadership, like Ian Hagemann (CW ‘93) who has served on the Potlatch Committee and the Carl Brandon Society Board of Directors.
But Greg didn’t just teach for Clarion West. He and his wife Astrid hosted an annual party at their home, meant primarily for the students to relax and unwind. He opened his extensive personal library for visitors and events. He regularly read or interviewed visiting authors for readings. The Bears, together, have donated thousands of dollars to the organization and for student travel scholarships.
Louise Marley writes on her website, “The Clarion West Writers Workshop was pivotal in my development as a writer, and there is a whole host of people here who support and encourage each other — science fiction great Greg Bear, the late Vonda N. McIntyre, the fantasist Robin Hobb, Kay Kenyon, Richard Paul Russo, Brenda Cooper, Cat Rambo . . . too many to list them all.”
Louise describes a supportive and enthusiastic science fiction and fantasy community that has thrived in Seattle. Astrid and Greg had been semi-regulars at Seattle’s informal Vanguard meetings and attended Potlatch and Norwescon, where they supported auctions that both conventions held to benefit Clarion West’s operations and scholarships. I don’t think you can separate the strength of this community from the individuals, like Greg, who have helped shape it. This group has been woven into the generations of Clarion West as an organization so thoroughly; it’s often difficult to keep them separate. Many participants, including Astrid, Karen G. Anderson, Kelley Eskridge, Eileen Gunn, Jane Hawkins, Jerry Kaufman, Kate Schaefer, Amy Thomson, and Edd Vick have served as Clarion West board members. Others in the community have donated, volunteered, and mentored Clarion West students including Octavia Butler, Suzanne Tompkins, Vonda N. McIntyre, Tom Whitmore, John Berry, Nicola Griffith, and so many more.
This interconnectedness is one of the things that makes Greg’s loss particularly hard. Clarion West has been part of this thriving science fiction and fantasy community in Seattle, in part because of Greg Bear and all the others who we have already lost. I will miss my opportunity to sit at his feet and hear him lecture on an obscure science topic. More importantly, we will all miss the stories, support, and mentorship of one of the world’s leading SFF authors.