On Joan Winston

Joanie Winston passed away earlier this week.

It seems strange to me that I’m referring to her as “Joanie,” but that was how she introduced herself to me at Shore Leave a few years ago, and even though she was a decade shy of my grandmother’s age, she’ll always be, in my mind, Joanie.

Joan Winston was one of the early figures in Star Trek fandom, one of the organizers of the very first Star Trek convention. She wrote some books about Star Trek and its fandom — The Making of the Star Trek Conventions and Star Trek Lives! The latter book, in particular, I’ve cherished through the years, for reasons I’ll soon explain.

I first met Joanie at Shore Leave in 2001. She was a guest there, and she had a table at the Meet the Pros party, and I said hello. It hardly qualified as an introduction, and I doubt that, years later, she had any idea that I’d met her, so glancing was this meeting.

A few years later, I’d published some Star Trek short fiction. Shore Leave used to have a tradition — an authors’ brunch on Sunday morning — and this particular year, the brunch was held in the Hunt Valley Marriot’s bar, before the remodel that trashed the place. Thus, 2005.

And this particular year, I sat next to Joanie Winston.

She’d actually arrived late, and I suppose that when one reaches her age, no one requires promptness.

She took a seat next to me — and next to Lawrence Schoen, as I recall — had some coffee. She introduced herself — “Joanie,” as I said above — and we got to talking.

Obviously, since this was the Authors’ Brunch, I had to be an author, and Joanie wanted to know what I was an author of. At the time, I’d published two stories — the New Frontier story “Performance Appraisal” and the Star Trek: S.C.E. novella Ring Around the Sky. (“Make-Believe” existed, at that time, as a one-page pitch, and I had a hardcopy of it with me at Shore Leave, and I showed it to anyone who asked what I was working on.)

She asked me what sort of writers I admired, and I told her that Larry Niven is one of my idols. “Ring Around the Sky was me, trying to write Niven-esque,” I said. (Looking back, it’s early Niven, not later Niven. His style is really stripped down now.)

“Really?” she said, her eyes growing wide. “Well, let me tell you a story about Larry…”

And that broke the ice. Because suddenly, I wasn’t a just a Star Trek fan who’d gotten lucky in some of my breaks, I was a science fiction fan, and a different sort of person entirely.

I’m not much of a convention-goer, and I admitted as much, but Joanie regaled me with stories about conventions hither and thither and yon, and she talked at length about a panel she did at WorldCon one year, where she educated male fans in how to kiss women. “It’s all in how you use the tongue,” she said. “Don’t be overpowering, just be gentle.” I was being educated by an expert.

She talked about “Bill” — William Shatner, that is. It was clear; she adored William Shatner, thought he was a gentleman. She loved him as Denny Crane — “I called him, the very next day after he won his first Emmy. ‘Bill,’ I said, ‘you’re the most amazing I’ve ever seen you.’ I told him that he was playing himself, and he doesn’t see it that way. ‘Joanie,’ he said, ‘they give me these wonderful scripts. How can I play myself, when these scripts are so brilliant?'”

We talked about Star Trek Lives! as well, because I have a strange story about it. I was a high school debate coach about ten years ago, and I had some science fiction fans on the team. We created a Star Trek kritik, that criticized the affirmative using a Star Trek narrative paradigm, and there were a number of books, like The Meaning of Star Trek, that proved to be invaluable resources. Star Trek Lives! was one of them, and I told Joannie about that, too, how the kids ran the kritik twice, and they had fun with it, and there were debaters on the Virginia high school circuit who knew who Joan Winston was.

Authors left, going to panels or whatnot, and Joanie and I sat there, in the bar, chatting amiably until she was done with her meal. She kept apologizing for taking up my time — “You have someplace you have to be,” she said time and again — and maybe I did, but I didn’t care. She had a panel she had to get to herself, only she couldn’t remember where it was or when it was. Fortunately, I had my schedule with me, and I walked her to her panel.

I received an e-mail, earlier in the year, that Joanie had been moved to a nursing home in New York City. Dementia.

She had all the wonderful memories of a lifetime, and dementia was tragically taking them away. “We are the sum of our memories,” a Time Lord once said, and it occurs to me that even if Joanie lost her memories of that breakfast in the Hunt Valley Marriott, along with many other memories of far more import to her, at least I didn’t lose that memory. And that moment in time will live on, which, perhaps, is all that anyone can really ever ask.

Farewell, Joanie. Second star on the right, and straight on ’til morning.

ETA (9-21-08): This morning, the New York Times ran a lengthy obituary for Joannie, which goes into some detail about her connection to Star Trek fandom in its earliest days. That obituary can be found here.

4 thoughts on “On Joan Winston

  1. Allyn, thanks so much for that lovely memory of Joanie. I met her at the first Trek Con at the Hilton, and ended up working for her the next year at the second Con. She also introduced me to two landmarks: the Lunarians and their conventions, and the whiz-bang new technology of VCRs. I visited Joanie in her apartment a few times, and she showed off her 3/4 inch tape deck. Woooo… rocket science to me!

    Joanie was the most alive person I ever met. She was an amazing fount of information, and entertaining as all heck.

    I can’t believe she’s gone on to another world, but I guess that would suit Joanie just fine.

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