ELLISON, JAY, HARLAN (May 27, 1934 - June 27, 2018) was an American writer who pioneered the speculative fiction genre and made waves with his outspoken personality and biting commentaries. In his 84 years, Ellison wrote over 100 books, 400 short stories, dozens of screenplays, and more than 1,000 essays and columns, all while making a name for himself as an explosive and larger-than-life voice in the industry.
Ellison was born in Cleveland, Ohio to Louis and Serita. His father was a former singer who later worked as a jeweler. Serita Ellison worked in a thrift store. Ellison was deeply influenced from an early age by comic books and pulp magazines which he found in the children’s column of the CLEVELAND NEWS. Ellison was bullied in school for his Jewish heritage, exacerbating feelings of anger and alienation. The family briefly moved to Painsville, Ohio, roughly 30 miles northeast of Cleveland, but returned to the city in 1949 after the death of Ellison’s father.
Settling down in a residential hotel in Cleveland, a teenage Ellison found a sense of purpose and belonging as the editor and principal writer for the Bulletin of the Cleveland Science Fiction Society. Ellison left his Cleveland home several times to travel the country, dabbling in several jobs from a truck driver to a short order cook.
Ellison enrolled in The Ohio State University in 1953, but his time in college was short lived. After two years, Ellison was expelled after verbally abusing a professor of creative writing. Left to his own devices, Ellison moved into a Brooklyn apartment with fellow writer Robert Silverberg, and began to vigorously pursue a full time writing career. Ellison initially made a living selling pornographic books in Times Square, publishing his first short story Glowworm in the American science fiction magazine Infinity in 1956. He soon found an opportunity to gain exciting field experience to fuel his first novel by joining a Brooklyn gang. Ellison’s first full novel, Rumble, was published in 1958, and used his real memories running errands for the street gang.
Ellison married Charlotte Stein in 1956, and was drafted into the army only a year later. Posted at the Public Information Office in Fort Knox, Kentucky, Ellison spent his time contributing prolifically to the weekly newspaper with articles and reviews. After returning from the army, Ellison began the highest yielding and most tumultuous part of his career. Ellison divorced Stein in 1960 and married Billie Sanders the same year, moving to Los Angeles with her before separating in 1962. Ellison’s most well known and unique works “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” and “A Boy and His Dog” were published in 1965 and 1969 respectively. Writing about post apocalyptic landscapes, telepathic dogs, and the imminent dangers of technology, Ellison loathed being categorized under science fiction. He instead often sang the praises of speculative fiction, which he stated was “without boundaries” and had “horizons that never seem to get any closer” in an introduction to his anthology Dangerous Visions.
Los Angeles brought Ellison a myriad of opportunities writing for television, where his work was featured in series like Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and Babylon 5. Ellison butted heads with industry leaders in Los Angeles, manifesting in a long running legal feud with Gene Roddenberry over a Star Trek episode and legal accusations of plagiarism against the makers of The Terminator movie. In a 1979 interview with The Comics Journal, Ellison presented himself as an artist with “no allegiance to publishers or producers or networks…. I owe allegiance only to the work.” Ellison also physically attacked an ABC executive, and allegedly mailed a dead gopher to a publisher who had violated a contract.
Ellison went through a divorce with Lory Patrick in 1966 and Lori Horwitz in 1976, and never had any children. He married Susan Troth in 1986. Ellison was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2011, and passed away in 2018. Ellison received more than 40 awards, including lifetime achievement prizes by World Fantasy awards and the Horror Writers Association. He also garnered multiple Hugo and Nebula awards for his short fiction. Harlan Ellison is buried in Los Angeles, California.