James E. Gunn Bio
(1923 - 2020)
by Chris McKitterick

James Gunn in 2010.

My mentor, James Edwin Gunn, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1923. He received his B.S. degree in journalism in 1947 after three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and his M.A. in English in 1951, both from the University of Kansas. He also did graduate work in theater at KU and Northwestern. In 1969 at the University of Kansas, he taught one of the first university courses in science fiction.

Jim died on the morning of December 23, 2020, of congestive heart failure. Brief illustrated memorial here.

In 2015, Gunn was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, joining the elite company of Theodore Sturgeon, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and other SF greats.

In 2007, he was named "Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master." Read the story - and see lots of photos - here.

He was Guest of Honor at the 2013 WorldCon in San Antonio, Texas; Special Guest at the same year's Eaton/SFRA Conference in Riverside, California; and of course permanent Special Guest at his SF center's Conference in Lawrence, Kansas. He also made occasional appearances, especially in the Lawrence area.

Gunn worked as an editor of paperback reprints, as managing editor of KU alumni publications, as director of KU public relations, as a professor of English, and was professor emeritus of English and founder of the original J Wayne and Elsie M Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction until his death in 2020, leaving it in the hands of long-time associates and friends McKitterick and Kij Johnson, both spec-fic author-scholar-educators like him. He won national awards for his work as an editor and a director of public relations. He was awarded the Byron Caldwell Smith Award in recognition of literary achievement and the Edward Grier Award for excellence in teaching, was President of the Science Fiction Writers of America for 1971-72 and President of the Science Fiction Research Association from 1980-82, was guest of honor at many regional SF conventions, including SFeracon in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, and Polcon, the Polish National SF convention, in Katowice; was presented the Pilgrim Award of SFRA in 1976, a special award from the 1976 World SF Convention for Alternate Worlds, a Science Fiction Achievement Award (Hugo) by the 1983 World SF Convention for Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction, the Eaton Award in 1992 for lifetime achievement, and named Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 2007; was a KU Mellon Fellow in 1981 and 1984; and served from 1978-80 and 1985-2018 as chairman of the Campbell Award jury to select the best science-fiction novel of the year. He lectured in Denmark, China, Iceland, Japan, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union for the U.S. Information Agency.

At 95, Gunn released the final volume of the trilogy that began with Transcendental and Transgalactic, entitled Transformation - plus his memoir, Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction, his grad-school thesis. At 97, he was still publishing short fiction and essays in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine.

Gunn started writing SF in 1948, was a full-time freelance writer for four years, and had more than 100 stories published in magazines and books; most of them have been reprinted, some as many as a dozen times. He authored 30 books and edited 20; his master's thesis was serialized in a pulp magazine. Four of his stories were dramatized over NBC radio's "X Minus One"; "The Cave of Night" was dramatized on television's Desilu Playhouse in 1959 as "Man in Orbit"; and The Immortals was dramatized as an ABC-TV "Movie of the Week" in 1969 as "The Immortal" and became an hour-long series in 1970-71. His stories and books have been reprinted in Australia, China, England, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Scandinavia, South America, Spain, Taiwan, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia.

In 2014, James Gunn created a $1.5 million endowment for the James E. and Jane F. Gunn Professorship in Science Fiction at KU specifically tied to the J Wayne and Elsie M Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction (rather than any specific department), to support its educational and scholarly mission and to ensure the long-term legacy he established in SF Studies.

Jim was also a championship bridge player.

Gunn's publications are listed below. He recently sold several more books, including his newest trilogy of novels: Transcendental (2013), Transgalactic (2016), and Transformation (2017), and his memoir, Star-Begotten: A Life Lived in Science Fiction. Conference and SF Writers Workshop attendees have heard excerpts.

Co-authored with Jack Williamson in 1954 and originally published in 1955, Star Bridge has been published in Tor Books' classic reprint series.

Together the two novels, almost 60 years apart, bookend a career and in some ways the space epic itself. Also reprinted in 2013 was Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction, in China by the Beijing Division of the Shanghai Century Publishing Company. By a marvelous serendipity, the book was translated by Sasha Jiang, the center's 2011-2012 visiting scholar from China.

The first critical study on Gunn, Saving the World Through Science Fiction: James Gunn, Writer, Teacher, Scholar (U of Illinois Press Modern Masters of Science Fiction series), by Center Fellow Michael Page, came out in June, 2017.

Gunn newest trilogy, now available!

Published Books

James Gunn with vintage SF magazines, 2008

back to essays page

James Gunn's memoir,
out now from McFarland.

The first volume of James Gunn's first-ever trilogy, available from Tor Books.

James Gunn's newest nonfiction,
out now from Scarecrow Press.

Gunn's Social Media

SF luminary James Gunn



James Gunn's original Center for the Study of Science Fiction (1982-2021) was:

Founder James Gunn
Associate Director Kij Johnson
Director Chris McKitterick
...and many others.

This website is associated with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), the University of Kansas, and other organizations, and is owned by Chris McKitterick. Web developer since 1992 is Chris McKitterick.

This website and its contents are copyright 1992-present by Christopher McKitterick except where noted, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. (Feel free to use and adapt for non-profit purposes, with attribution. For publication or profit purposes, please contact McKitterick.)

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Works on this site are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

updated 6/23/2021