Congratulations to Lesley Wheeler, the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University. Her recent narrative poem “The Receptionist” has landed on the Tiptree Award Honor List for 2012 for its “splendidly drawn characters and pitch-perfect language.” The list is a feature of the James Tiptree Jr. Literary Award Council, which recognizes “science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender,” as it says on its website.
Lesley composed “The Receptionist” in the verse form terza rima, which she finds has a “propulsive energy” that’s perfect for narrative poetry. She tells the story of a woman named Edna, who, in her job as a receptionist for an academic department at a university, crosses swords with an administrator.
It has won praise from none other than Ursula K. Le Guin, the acclaimed author who knows her way around literary forms that explore the world through science fiction and fantasy. Le Guin calls Lesley’s work “subtle and funny, rashly inventive and perfectly realistic.”
Lesley’s poem appears in her recent book, “The Receptionist and Other Tales.” As we described it last fall upon its publication, it is “a novella written in verse” and “falls into a category of literature known as speculative fiction, an umbrella term for genre fiction encompassing fantasy, science fiction and horror” — right up Tiptree’s alley.
The story behind the Tiptree Award is worth reading; check out its website to learn more about James Tiptree Jr., who seems to be worthy of a narrative poem himself (or herself).