Writer’s wit spun a legacy of dark sci-fi
Kit Reed’s six-decade career included a stint with the Times.
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.”
Kit Reed was the only female news reporter during her tenure with the Times.
Kit Reed interviews actor Cary Grant in 1959 during her work with the New Haven Register. It was her last interview there.