Writer’s wit spun a legacy of dark sci-fi

Kit Reed’s six-decade ca­reer in­cluded a stint with the Times.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY COLETTE BANCROFT Times Book Ed­i­tor

Kit Reed wrote her first novel when she was around 5 years old, dic­tat­ing a tale about a rab­bit to her mother and mak­ing cor­rec­tions when her mom read it back to her.

It was the be­gin­ning of a writ­ing ca­reer that would span more than six decades and pro­duce more than two dozen nov­els and even more short sto­ries, most of them spec­u­la­tive fic­tion and all filled with her darkly satir­i­cal wit. Her ca­reer in­cluded a stint in the 1950s as the only fe­male news re­porter at the then-St. Pe­ters­burg Times.

Ms. Reed’s most re­cent novel, a su­per­nat­u­ral South­ern gothic tale set in Jack­sonville ti­tled Mor­mama, was pub­lished in May, at the same time that she was di­ag­nosed with glioblas­toma, an ag­gres­sive form of brain can­cer. Her last short story, Dis­tur­bance in the Pro­duce Aisle, ap­peared in

Asi­mov’s Science Fic­tion mag­a­zine this month.

Ms. Reed died on Sept. 24 in Los An­ge­les. She was 85. The daugh­ter of a Navy sub­ma­rine of­fi­cer, Ms. Reed grew up all over the map, but she spent part of her child­hood in St. Pe­ters­burg and lived here in early adult­hood af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Notre Dame of Mary­land, work­ing as a re­porter at the then-St. Pe­ters­burg Times in the early 1950s. She met her hus­band, film pro­fes­sor and artist Joseph Reed, on a blind date in St. Pe­ters­burg.

She later worked as re­porter at the New Haven Reg­is­ter in Con­necti­cut. In the news­room, she wore an im­pro­vised bridal veil as male col­leagues con­grat­u­lated her and ex­pressed sur­prise, ac­cord­ing to her daugh­ter, Kate Maruyama, that she planned to re­turn to work af­ter the wed­ding rather than take care of her hus­band. Ms. Reed said she was do­ing just that by putting him through grad­u­ate school.

In 1958, Ms. Reed pub­lished her first short story, The Wait, about a teenage girl caught up in a bizarre rit­ual, in the Mag­a­zine of Fan­tasy and Science Fic­tion. In 1959, she con­ducted her last in­ter­view for the Reg­is­ter, with Cary Grant. Two days later she gave birth to a son and was sum­mar­ily fired, Maruyama said.

Ms. Reed be­came well known and in­flu­en­tial in the world of spec­u­la­tive and science fic­tion for such nov­els as Thin­ner Than Thou ,seti­na­fu­ture where body per­fec­tion is the only re­li­gion; The Night Chil­dren, in which run­away kids live in a shop­ping mall; and The Baby Mer­chant , about a preg­nant woman flee­ing a sin­is­ter sales­man in a world with plung­ing fer­til­ity rates. Most of her fic­tion was set not in outer space or the far fu­ture but in worlds very like the present — and all the more dis­turb­ing for that fa­mil­iar­ity.

Her sto­ries and books won or were nom­i­nated for al­most ev­ery award for science fic­tion. She was also a Guggen­heim fel­low. One of her best-known sto­ries, The At­tack of the Gi­ant Baby (1976), is about a tod­dler who swal­lows a cul­ture in his fa­ther’s lab and be­comes a gi­ant who ter­ror­izes New York. Its plot’s sim­i­lar­ity to that of the 1992 film Honey, I Blew Up the Kid led Ms. Reed to sue the Walt Dis­ney Co. In the set­tle­ment, she re­ceived a “spe­cial recog­ni­tion” credit.

Ms. Reed, who de­scribed her work as “trans-genred,” wrote thrillers and other books as well and was a pro­lific book re­viewer for many pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the Times.

She was a much revered teacher, serv­ing as an in­struc­tor and later as writer in res­i­dence at Wes­leyan Univer­sity in Mid­dle­town, Conn., for 40 years and of­ten host­ing stu­dents

at the ram­bling, com­fort­able home she shared with her fam­ily and a dy­nasty of beloved Scot­tish ter­ri­ers. Her stu­dents and pro­teges in­cluded Daniel Han­dler (A Series of Un­for­tu­nate Events), who named a char­ac­ter Kit Snicket in her honor; Alexan­der Chee (The Queen of the Night); and Cory Doc­torow (Lit­tle Brother) who wrote in a blog post af­ter her death that Ms. Reed was “one of the writ­ers I ad­mired most in the world.”

Ms. Reed was a fea­tured au­thor at the Tampa Bay Times Fes­ti­val of Read­ing many times over the years. It was at the fes­ti­val that Rick Wil­ber of St. Pe­ters­burg first met her. Wil­ber, a pro­lific science fic­tion au­thor (Alien Morn­ing) and ed­i­tor and a cre­ative writ­ing teacher at Florida Gulf Coast Univer­sity, re­calls of­ten get­ting to­gether with Ms. Reed and her hus­band at writ­ers con­fer­ences.

In 2011, dur­ing the World Fan­tasy Con­ven­tion in San Diego, he drove the Reeds and a cou­ple of other au­thors to Mount Palo­mar. “It started out as a half-day jaunt to see one of the world’s most fa­mous tele­scopes,” Wil­ber wrote in an email, “and then it turned into a mini-writ­ers con­fer­ence.” Some­one pro­posed a writ­ing com­pe­ti­tion: Who­ever first pub­lished a story set on Mount Palo­mar would be treated to din­ner by the oth­ers.

“We drove by a weath­er­beaten sign for a Girl Scout camp,” Wil­ber wrote, “and Kit was off and run­ning with a story idea that had us laugh­ing right from the start. Be­fore long that story, The Leg­end of Troop 13, was writ­ten, sub­mit­ted and then pub­lished in Asi­mov’s Science Fic­tion mag­a­zine. Kit called it her feral Girl Scouts story, and it’s ter­rific; charm­ing and funny and darkly dis­turb­ing all at once . . . . There she was in 2011 still the speed­i­est (and the best!) of us all.”

Maruyama, her daugh­ter, who also be­came a nov­el­ist, said in an email, “Mom gen­er­ated a ki­netic en­ergy around writ­ers and writ­ing that cre­ated com­mu­nity, and has def­i­nitely spawned sto­ries and col­lec­tions. I learned as much from her lit­er­ary cit­i­zen­ship as I did from her as­tute notes and con­stant en­cour­age­ment.

“A lot of folks in the lit world don’t get that and are out to pro­mote them­selves. If you’re quiet, work hard and are good to peo­ple, re­ally awe­some things hap­pen for you.”

Times files

Kit Reed was the only fe­male news re­porter dur­ing her ten­ure with the Times.

Cour­tesy of the Reed fam­ily

Kit Reed in­ter­views ac­tor Cary Grant in 1959 dur­ing her work with the New Haven Reg­is­ter. It was her last in­ter­view there.

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