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September 29, 2003

Robert Heinlein’s literary estate comes to UCSC as gift from his late widow

UCSC’s new Heinlein Scholar to write authorized biography of visionary author

By Scott Rappaport

The UC Santa Cruz archive of renowned science fiction writer Robert Heinlein has received a gift of materials and cash from the estate of Heinlein’s late widow, Virginia Heinlein, valued at $300,000.

Robert and Virginia Heinlein on the set of Destination Moon, in 1949, above, and at NASA's Downey, California, facility in the mid-1960s. Photos courtesy of The Robert A. Heinlein Archive, Special Collections, University Library

The donation was accompanied by a grant to establish the position of a Heinlein Scholar at the campus, who will work to organize, document, and promote the scholarly use of the archive, housed in the University Library’s Special Collections since 1968.

Often referred to as one of the grandmasters of science fiction along with such colleagues as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, Heinlein produced more than 50 novels and collections of short stories over his long career.

He became a pop icon in the 1960s with the publication of his book Stranger in a Strange Land, one of the most successful science fiction novels ever published. He also is the author of Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and The Puppet Masters.

The Robert Heinlein Archive at UCSC contains a priceless collection of the author’s original manuscripts, correspondence, and personal effects. The latest acquisition includes all of his honors and tributes including his four Hugo awards, plus artwork and other memorabilia, as well as his extensive working and personal libraries.

William H. Patterson Jr. has been selected by UCSC as the campus Heinlein Scholar for 2003-04. He is founder of the Heinlein Society, a nonprofit educational charity that is dedicated to promoting Heinlein’s social legacy. Patterson is also the editor/publisher of The Heinlein Journal and coauthor of the book, The Martian Named Smith, a critical study of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.

UCSC’s head of Special Collections and Archives, Christine Bunting, noted that Patterson is the perfect man for the job.

“He has made documenting Robert Heinlein his life’s work,” Bunting said. “He was the trusted confidante of Virginia Heinlein and had access to many private documents that only Virginia could provide. And he is well known to Special Collections at UC Santa Cruz, having worked here for the past three years.”

Patterson is also the person designated by Heinlein’s late wife to write the definitive, authorized biography of her husband.

“She called me on New Year’s Day, 2001, and asked me to write his biography,” Patterson recalled. “I’m actually 180,000 words into it. I hope to finish it by spring of next year, and we’ll seek to have it published by a major commercial press.”

Although the public can now visit the Santa Cruz campus to view Heinlein's original manuscripts, Bunting said that plans are being made to establish a Finding Aid describing the entire contents of the archive, that will eventually be accessible through the University of California’s “Online Archive of California” web site.

“One of our goals is to attract scholarly attention to Heinlein,” Bunting explained. “He has a huge popular fan base—there are a large number of web sites and millions of people interested in him. But we think there is another side to him, and we want to provide that.”

"He's been lumped academically with science fiction, in the pop culture studies ghetto, but his social impact has always been much broader than science fiction,” added Patterson, “particularly with regard to the counterculture in the 1960s, libertarianism in the 1970s, and the Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s. You really have to get out of genre studies and into mainstream American literature, going back as far as Upton Sinclair (The Jungle) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom's Cabin) to find anyone who had a comparable degree of social impact. He really belongs in American studies."

A controversial figure throughout his lifetime, Heinlein often said that his dream was to see humanity settling the other planets of this solar system, and ultimately reaching out to the stars. On the day man first walked on the moon in 1969, he was a guest commentator with Arthur C. Clarke on the CBS television network’s live broadcast of the event--hosted by legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite. According to a biographical sketch published by Patterson, Heinlein managed “to reduce Cronkite to a state of spluttering indignation at the suggestion that women should have been included in this mission.”

From 1967 until 1987, a year before his death, Heinlein lived in Bonny Doon, a small town in the coastal mountains 15 miles north of Santa Cruz, where Bunting said he built an architecturally unique and futuristic home based on a circular plan.

"Heinlein was a man of eclectic interests," Bunting explained. "He was very much a person of his age, but ahead of his time. He was as much a scientist as a literary figure, and was tremendously influential. One of his position papers ultimately became the core of the Strategic Defense Initiative."

Patterson noted that a new Heinlein book will be published by Simon & Schuster in November.

“It’s his very first novel from 1938 about a political utopia,” Patterson said. “He put it in his files and later destroyed all the copies, but a friend of his had kept a copy and it was found last year. It’s called For Us, The Living.”

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