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Jo's maternal grandmother was a mail-order bride. She married a man in Oklahoma whose first two wives had died in childbirth. Jo's grandparents had two daughters. They left Oklahoma and moved to California a year before the dust bowl, but Jo's grandfather, at 60, was considered too old to run a farm, so he leased his family out as laborers.
One day Jo's mother, Bessie, and her sister went swimming in the river and Bessie's sister drowned. Bessie had to ride back to town with her dead sister in the back of a cart. Bessie resolved that all her children would learn to swim, and they did.
In the '30s, Bessie eloped to Carson City, and Jo was "Born in Modesto, California, February 15, 1939 in a hospital they tore down soon afterward. Named after Jo in Little Women--prenatally predestined to a writing career?" Jo was "Raised on a sandhill that shook whenever the San Andreas Fault hiccuped. Learned the perversity of nature from the cows and a pinto horse called Chief with a propensity for charging through barbwire fences." Jo and her three sisters shared a bedroom, and they told each other bedtime stories. Penn, one of Jo's sisters, said Jo's stories were always the best, full of science fiction and fantasy elements.
Jo's parents promised that all three sisters would go to college and they all did. Jo graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Southern California in 1963. After graduation, Jo taught in Bell, California, near Los Angeles. Of teaching, Jo said, "Labored as a teacher in assorted inner cities where my students taught me more than they ever learned from me. Quit after thirteen years only just on the right side of sanity (though I'm not too sure any longer what that side is)."
In 1969, Jo underwent a religious conversion and moved to New Orleans to join the Sisters of Mount Carmel, a Catholic Church teaching order, as a novice nun. Jo left the Sisters of Mount Carmel after three years, before taking final vows as a nun.
While living in New Orleans, Jo supplemented her teacher's income by selling paintings and sketches in Jackson Square. She would talk to children, ask them to describe their pets, then draw pictures of the pets. The children would drag their parents over, and of course the parents bought the pictures of the pets. As her writing became more successful, Jo quit teaching to write full time.
Finally, the risk-factors of New Orleans life got to Jo (she was robbed a couple of times), so she packed up and moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1983. Jo once said of living in Portland: "Currently living in Portland, Oregon, watching the rain fall and the wind blow and writing to support myself and two cats in something resembling reasonable comfort." Jo's companions during her years in Portland were two cats: Owl and Tigerlily, and all of her friends on Genie.
In the summer of 1996, the multiple myeloma finally caught up with Jo. She had been feeling pain in her back, which is a symptom of myeloma, for some time before the event she later called "my fortunate fall." Jo reported to her friends on Genie that she had fallen and was in pain, and then no one heard from her online for several days. This led Deborah Wheeler, a friend who lives in California, to call Mary Rosenblum, who lives in Portland. Mary checked on Jo, and, with the assistance of Jim Fiscus and others, helped Jo get into the hospital when it became clear that she was seriously ill. After Jo was hospitalized, Christy Marx, a longtime friend, offered to take Owl and Tigerlily in and make them part of her Moggy Horde.
During her long struggle with myeloma, Jo was helped by a number of friends: local, national, and international. Jo referred to her fall as "my fortunate fall" because she discovered how many people loved and cared about her, and in some ways the last 19 months of her life were among the best. Elizabeth and Mark Bourne were Jo's medical advocates, and several people in Portland and the Northwest visited Jo on a regular basis, bringing treats and conversation. Jo said, shortly before she died, that the cards, letters, and gifts she received, as well as the visitors, made the last year and a half of her life wonderful. You can read reports by the Bournes about Jo's time in the hospital.
Aside from completing Drum Warning and writing much of the third Drums of Chaos book while she was in the hospital, Jo also taught the staff at Good Samaritan about courage, determination, and grace under difficult circumstances. She was involved in Good Samaratin's gardening program, which helps patients rehabilitate by having them work with plants. Jo's interest in helping the staff implement programs caused Good Samaratin to change some of its patient care practices.
Jo also mobilized the science fiction and fantasy community to raise funds to help writers in similar circumstances, and brought attention to the need for medical coverage for writers. Lack of insurance kept Jo from seeking medical attention when she first started feeling pain.
It is to her credit that Oregon Science Fiction Conventions, Inc., is now working on an information packet for Pacific Northwest writers who need insurance. The Oregon SF Emergency Fund has been re-named The Clayton Memorial Medical Fund in Jo's honor.
Jo was also a mentor to many writers in the SF and Fantasy community. She loved to teach, and mentoring was one way she could continue to teach. Jo was very generous with her time and energy in that regard.
Jo will be missed.
Copyright © 1998-2006, The Estate of Jo Clayton
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