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09 June 2008 @ 08:56 pm
Algis Budrys 1931-2008  
Algis Budrys, or Ajay as he was known to his friends, passed away earlier today. His father was the head of the Lithuanian government in exile, so when Ajay came with him to the U.S. in 1936 at the age of five, he received an early education in seeing the world with outsider eyes. That sense of the alien helped him well in his future writing career. Ajay went on to write many classic novels, notably Who?, Rogue Moon, and Michaelmas.

But he was also a teacher, and that was his role when I first met him in the flesh, as opposed to on the page. It was 1979, and I was a student attending the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing Workshop. (My other teachers were Robin Scott Wilson, Carol Emshwiller, Thomas Disch, Damon Knight, and Kate Wilhelm.) Before Ajay decided that Writers of the Future was the preferred path, he had been a strong proponent of the Clarion workshopping method, and he was a wonderful teacher.

But aside from having an excellent understanding of how to build a story, he also helped provide one of the more memorable incidents of my six weeks in East Lansing. Ajay's week was early on in the term, and so he surprised us by returning for the final week of Clarion, at which time Damon and Kate were the scheduled teachers. During workshopping one morning, after all of the students had taken their turns commenting on the story at hand, when it was Ajay's turn to critique the manuscript, he spent what seemed like half an hour (though I know it could never have been that long) explaining in great detail why the story under discussion could never be sold in its current state, why it wasn't working, and how it could be turned inside out and fixed.

He then handed the story on to the next critiquer, who happened to be Damon Knight. Damon looked at Ajay, looked at the manuscript, grinned with great amusement (any of you who ever had the good fortune to meet Damon know exactly the look I mean), and then told us that he completely disagreed with Ajay. He was buying the story for the final volume of his Orbit anthology.

I was flabbergasted at the time. We all were. How could this be? Whom were we to believe? Was Ajay right, in which case Damon had bought a story that was not up to snuff and could have been made better? Or was Damon right, which meant that Ajay was off-base about both the story's quality and its chances in the marketplace? We students were baffled, and talked about this for the rest of the day, and late into the night.

It wasn't until years later that I realized it was a set-up. Had to have been. I'm convinced of that now. Damon and Ajay didn't want us making them into gods. They wanted us to learn to think for ourselves, to make our own choices instead of blindly following them, and so decided to play with our heads a bit and create a contradictory bit of theater, orchestrating the order of their critiques for maximum effect.

I wish Ajay could be with us to play with our heads still. And though he can no longer do so in the flesh, he will forever be able to do so on the page. So please pick up one of his classic works over the next few days and help him live forever. I know that I'll be doing so.
Looking for a good wordfixnwrtr on June 10th, 2008 02:02 am (UTC)
When I started writing again I submitted a story to Algis. Two weeks later I received a three-page typed single-spaced letter that detailed what I did right and wrong and why he wasn't buying the story. He did the same thing for every story I sent until I quit working on fiction and focused on nonfiction, with which I had a lot better luck. I still have those letters and I treasure them. I liked the letters so much that after the first rejection I bought a copy of Who and fell in love. I still have the book and it's my favorite of Algis's work.
sclerotic_rings on June 10th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
I just read that news a few minutes ago myself. I really didn't know him all that well myself save through Tomorrow SF (and even then, I think I irritated him to no end when I tried to point out that there was no way in hell that he'd be able to get fans to pay the normal subscription price for the online magazine). I'm going to need some time for this to sink in.

By the way, on the subject of creepy parallels between your life and mine, I'll bet you didn't know that your dorms at Clarion were probably almost literally spitting distance from where I was born. I wasn't in Lansing when you were there (I was a preternaturally pale 12-year-old in Chicago at the time), and sadly haven't been back that way since my folks moved to Saratoga Springs in 1976. I'm trying to rectify that next year, though: if finances allow, I'm taking the Czarina up to Michigan so she can see all of my old haunts and I can see exactly how much more of my past I should let go.
scottedelman: Pandascottedelman on June 10th, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes, Riddell in East Lansing ...

They spoke of you there in hushed tones, fearful lest the mere mention of your name conjure you back to wreak more havoc ...

Now that Clarion has moved on from the MSU campus for points west, it is unlikely that I will ever return there, as I did in 1999 and 2003, when I attended Clarion as a teacher. So I've now let go of the place, even if you've yet to do so.
sclerotic_rings on June 10th, 2008 05:19 pm (UTC)
Go ahead and laugh, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone was still telling stories of me out there. I went to elementary school in Mason, just south of Lansing, and until I started kindergarten, the town was only noteworthy for the Dart styrofoam container plant on the edge of town in which my best friend's mother worked. The next January, though, I became well known, as I was determined to excavate the dinosaur bones that I knew were in the snowdrift out behind the kindergarten classroom and my teacher was just as determined to bring me back in. She tried to take my digging stick, I came after her like a Kurosawa samurai with it, and it took her and five first graders to get that stick away from me.

Seriously, I'm curious as to which of my old classmates are still in the area, and what's happened to the place since I left. My nephew just graduated from high school last Sunday, and one of his friends went to high school at my old alma mater: apparently, 24 years later, they're still talking about the nutjob who was eligible to go through the whole graduation ceremony but refused to attend.
(Anonymous) on June 10th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
It's been years since I've seen him, but AJ and his intensity is still vivid in my mind. I am so sorry that he is no longer on this Earth.

Diane Silver, the one-time Ghost of Clarion Past who has yet to create an LJ account

scottedelman: Tokyoscottedelman on June 11th, 2008 12:30 am (UTC)
who has yet to create an LJ account

Well, create one, then! I, for one, would certainly drop by and read.

Glad to hear from you. I checked out your site, and don't see a blog. Do you maintain one somewhere else?
(Anonymous) on June 12th, 2008 01:40 pm (UTC)
Hi, Scott. Thanks for posting that tribute. AJ was my first teacher at 1982 Clarion, too, and became a very good friend later. He used to come to Moscow, Idaho, every year for MosCon while I was living there -- he drove his white car, Fang, with the Unifont license plate, all over the place. Sometimes in the evening he would sing Lithuanian lullabies on the balcony. He had a lovely voice.

Miss him.

Marymaryturzillo on June 12th, 2008 05:40 pm (UTC)
Re: AJ
I've been so depressed over this. He was too damn young to die! He did so much for so many. He was The Emperor. He was Darth Algis. He was Yoda. (Though some said Damon was Yoda.) He was such a character. Remember "Clarion, my Wayward Son," the theme song of Clarion (or was that just 1985)?

He came to my house once on one of his sweeps of the country in service of Writers of the Future. What he did for us selfish little ungrateful baby writers! He stopped at my house, which was way out of his way, and had a quiche I had prepared. I burned it and it was awful, but he ate it without complaint.

He is a spiritual, creative father to so many of us.
Marymaryturzillo on June 12th, 2008 05:41 pm (UTC)
I should mention he was a genius of plot and style, too, and he should have lived to write so many more books. Oh damn it all!
scottedelmanscottedelman on June 12th, 2008 05:53 pm (UTC)
Re: AJ
I think Damon was Yoda. Which means Ajay would have been Buddha.
(Anonymous) on June 19th, 2008 06:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you
When we assembled at my Mom's house the night before the wake we had four laptops heating up the dining room table. We were all amused, amazed, and comforted by posts like yours.

Thank you and all those who wrote about my Father, even Tom Disch.

Jeff Budrys

scottedelmanscottedelman on June 22nd, 2008 07:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you
even Tom Disch

I'm glad that you were able to take it that way.
(Anonymous) on July 18th, 2008 12:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you
Reading this, I tracked down the horrible little piece by Disch that you're referring to. Disch was a monster (I'm a Clarion grad also, and made his acquaintance there) -- I'm sorry to say that I find myself disturbingly pleased that he took his own life a couple of weeks after his attempt to soil the memory of AJ.
scottedelmanscottedelman on July 18th, 2008 12:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you
To which I can only say, well, we are all monsters, each in his or her own way. I am, and so are you.

But however much of a monster you may think Disch, you should at least give him credit for not being an anonymous one.
(Anonymous) on December 12th, 2008 07:42 am (UTC)
OMG, I just stumbled on news of Aj's passing. Stunned doesn't begin to cover my reaction. He promised me he'd continue well into his 90s, and I was somehow comforted knowing my allotted time on the planet would expire well before his. There are many things I'll remember that will make me smile; one will be my realization that Michaelmas was just a pitch for a sappy two-hour made for TV romance movie, and another how he elevated the lowly footnote to a masterful art form. May he rest in peace and know he made a difference to oh so many of us.

And no, Scott, I don't think it was a put up at all. I think it was spontaneous and just their way of poking at one another while at the same time telling us to believe in ourselves and the stories we wanted to tell. Well, that and a reminder that finding the right editor would put us a far piece ahead of the game if it was indeed a game we chose to pursue. And wouldn't that have been just like both of them and the spirit of Clarion as we knew it?

Nikki Ballard
Clarion '79 / '82
scottedelman: Clarionscottedelman on December 12th, 2008 03:09 pm (UTC)
Hi, Nikki! Yes, it's been a rough year for our teachers. Both Ajay and Tom gone. As I shared when I wrote about Tom later, I knew each of them for the same amount of time, since I met them weeks apart, and they strangely died about the same number of weeks apart. I miss them both, each in different ways.

I hope that all is well with you.
(Anonymous) on December 13th, 2008 04:43 am (UTC)

Well enough, thanks, and with you and the great Irene as well. New boyfriend, seriously delusional boss, a state budget situation that threatens to put an end to us all. The more things change ...

Has anyone reported the passing of Barbara Rausch, also of our Clarion '79? Happened a few years back, cancer of some variety. Heard from one of my students, ironically. We live in such a small world.
scottedelman: Clarionscottedelman on December 13th, 2008 05:02 am (UTC)
Actually, I mentioned her here, a month after my posting about Ajay, when I unveiled a portrait she did of me.