Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

RIP Kate

Kate Wilhelm Has Left Us…

I just want to spend a minute tonight remembering one of my mentors and a fantastic person. (No reason to send me sympathy. Save that for her family at this point. And go buy her books, the greatest way to honor a writer.

I first met Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm at a convention in 1981. And then again in the summer of 1982 at Clarion writers workshop in Michigan. Then later that summer Nina Kiriki Hoffman and I made the sixteen hour round-trip drive from Moscow, Idaho to Eugene, Oregon, to sit in Damon and Kate’s living room every month for a workshop they held there.

We made that drive every month for over a year without missing, including through snowstorms and weather we should never have been driving in. (We couldn’t afford hotel rooms so when the workshop was over around 10 we drove back to Idaho.)

Kris and I saw Damon and Kate regularly after we moved to Eugene in 1987. They were always welcoming and even though both Damon and Kate thought us slightly nuts, they both supported Pulphouse Publishing in spirit and with their writings.

I wouldn’t want to try to count the wonderful hours and hours I spent listening to Kate in her living room. For a young writer like me, I loved her honest approach and ability to see a story like no one I had met before. She taught me most of all that I knew very little about the craft of writing at that point in time and she helped point the way for me to learn.

And as a fan, I loved her writing.

I know there are many who were much closer to Kate than I ever was. I think it has been a good decade since we spoke, actually, but to me, she was always a guiding light in the darkness of confusion that we call fiction writing.

And I will always remember when she said to me (while sitting at Clarion in her and Damon’s apartment), “Just keep doing what you are doing. You are on the right track.”

Those words over the decades just kept me going through some very discouraging times. I have no idea what she saw, but I am glad she saw something.

Thanks, Kate, for helping a young writer like me move forward. And to all that you did in fiction writing and to help other writers like me over the decades. You are remembered and honored.



  • Julie

    I remember you teaching about ‘Wilhelm’s Rule’, Dean. She sounds like a wonderful mentor.

    I hope you and Kris realise that, through your writings and your courses and your encouragement, you are mentors to many more of us than you may know, and I for one am deeply grateful.

    • dwsmith


      Thanks. This is one reason Kris and I do much of what we do. We can’t thank or pay back those who helped us along the way, we can only pay forward. That’s what we are doing.

      My major mentors were Jack Williamson, Algis Budrys, Damon Knight, Kate Wilhelm, and Harlan Ellison. Only Harlan is still alive and he’s not talking to me at the moment for some reason only known to Harlan, which is standard for us over the years. (grin)

  • Harvey

    Seems to me Kate not only taught you how to write, but in large part taught you how to be a mentor. I appreciate her for both those reasons.

  • Kenny

    I too agree with Harvey that she taught you to be a great mentor, and again for that I’m grateful to her and to you (for learning from her!).

    Your comments to me from the first workshop I attended have given me greater confidence in my writing, which along with improved quality of my writing, is of great importance to me.

    And much alike Julie I’m deeply grateful. One day I would love to be able to pay forward everything I’m able to from the wonderful mentors (you and Kris foremost) have done for me.

  • Mickie Dreysen

    Thanks for the story, Dean. I was out of town so I didn’t catch up to the news until I got back yesterday. I wrote more about Kate at my place, but for me she was always a welcome sight in the table of contents of short fiction magazines and anthologies. I knew if I saw her there, I’d have at least one story that would make the issue worth it, and more than worth it.

    It wasn’t ’til I was digging through her bibliography, looking for old friends, that I remembered the title from Kate that astonished me most of all: “The Girl Who Fell Into the Sky”. And it wasn’t until I dug around for it online that I found out Pulphouse had published the story as a standalone. So I get to say thank you for putting my favorite of Kate’s stories to the wider world (I first read it in Asimov’s, but if you happen to have any copies of the pulphouse version floating around…)

    • dwsmith

      Wish I did, Mickie. All of Kate’s books tended to sell very well back in the day. She really was a major influence on so many of us.