Eating Authors: James Gunn

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James Gunn

Welcome to the World Science Fiction Convention edition of the regular Monday morning feature of this blog, Eating Authors. It’s the WorldCon edition for two reasons. One, today is the last day of Chicon 7, this year’s convention and even though I prepared this post weeks in advance, I know I’m exhausted this morning because I spent last night celebrating with the Hugo winners and commiserating with the crop of Hugo losers. Phew! But, this is also the WorldCon edition today because our guest is none other than the Guest of Honor at next year’s WorldCon, James Gunn!

I’d be hard pressed to imagine a better GoH for a convention, because he’s a triple threat — not only an author, but also a scholar and an educator. Full disclosure: I had the great good fortune to be a student of Jim Gunn’s for two weeks back in the summer of 1998 when I participated in his annual Writers’ Workshop, at the end of which the core idea that eventually turned into the first Buffalo Dog story was born. So, in a very real sense, Jim bears partial responsibility for a large part of my own career as an author. But let’s look at some of his other accomplishments: He’s won national awards for his work as an editor, the Byron Caldwell Smith Award in recognition of literary achievement as well as the Edward Grier Award for excellence in teaching. He’s also the only person to have been both president of the Science Fiction Research Association and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The former presented with their prestigious Pilgrim Award for lifetime achievement backin 1976, and the latter inducted him as a Grand Master in 2007. He’s won the Eaton Award and the Hugo Award, chaired the the Campbell Award jury to select the best SF novel of the year, as well as the Sturgeon Award jury to select the year’s best short SF. James Gunn is the real deal, and he’s still going strong.

In addition to numerous plays, screenplays, radio scripts, articles, verse, and criticism, Jim’s also edited 13 anthologies (including the critically acclaimed Road to Science Fiction series) and published more than 100 short stories and 29 novels, including such classic works as The Listeners, The Joy Makers, and The Immortals.

LMS: Jim, I really appreciate you taking the time to be here and to tell us about some of the meals you’ve enjoyed in your long and remarkable career.

JG: My memory of meals is made from a variety of occasions and a variety of entrees. One memorable meal was held for the President of Costa Rica hosted by Chancellor Franklin Murphy at the University of Kansas. I was in charge of public relations and my wife and I were invited to lunch in the Curry Room (so called becausse of the paintings of John Steuart Curry, including sketches for his Kansas State House murals). The director of the Kansas Union, Frank Burge, cooked a beef loin on an open grill on the patio outside the Curry Room.

A few years later the public relations director at Kansas State hosted a group of us at a downtown Kansas City restaurant named Bretton’s, and the meal was prepared tableside. I particularly remember a Caesar salad, with anchovies mashed in a wooden bowl. Best salad ever.

The Listeners
The Joy Makers
The Immortals

Editorial lunches (and dinners) are special occasions for writers (and editors, too, I suppose). I usually visited New York once a year. On one occasion the restaurant had a huge cooked lobster displayed near the entrance, and diners got to order from it. Usually, though, I ordered poached salmon, with “green sauce.” That was always good. One time I was taken to dinner by New American Library editors, at a fancy French restaurant where the pureed vegetables were displayed artistically on the plate. One memorable meal was distinguished by its company rather than its menu: a group of us were heading for Mama Leone’s after a Nebula meeting and, by chance, came across Fred Pohl, then an editor at Bantam Books, who had an expense account, and we persuaded him to come along and host the occasion. I also remember a fine lunch st the St. Regis hotal with former student John Ordover who was working on Star Trek novels for Pocket Books.

I traveled to a number of foreign countries for the U.S.Information Agency, talking—what else?—about SF, and always sampled the local cuisine. Sometimes, as in Yugoslavia, Romania, Poland, and the USSR, it wasn’t memorable (though a dinner at midnight in a professor’s flat in Bucharest was memorable because U.S. visitors were not supposed to have private contacts and I was sort of smuggled in and out), but I remember the open-faced sandwiches in Denmark and the smoked salmon in Sweden. The sushi in Japan was good; the noodles, not so much. In China, I had Peking Duck in Beijing and Dim Sum in Hangzhou and fried baby octopus in Singapore, but the most memorable meal was in a former U.S. officer’s club in Taipei where my host, the U.S. envoy, asked me how I enjoyed the soup and asked if I knew what was in it. Noodles, I said; jelly fish tentacles, he responded. It was good.

Thank you, Jim. And I’ll always remember the time you hosted me at the KU Faculty Club where I had pheasant-under-glass. Of course, to this day I still tell everyone it was a roasted jayhawk. But then, as you know, I went to K-State.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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