1911 was an important year in Indianapolis history. That year saw the first Indy 500 race, then called the International 500-Mile Sweepstakes Race. Several months before then, on January 24th of that same year, another important event was happening; the birth of speculative fiction author C.L. Moore, whose work in the genres of science fiction and fantasy would show that women, too, could write in those predominantly male fields of literature.
Catherine Lucille Moore was sick much of her childhood, and thus she turned to books. She was particularly fond of fantasy and science fiction, reading the works of Lewis Carroll and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Moore enrolled at Indiana University in Bloomington. While there, she contributed to The Vagabond, a student-run magazine, and saw three of her short stories published under the name “Catherine Moore.”
During the Great Depression she left college to move back to Indianapolis, where she was lucky enough to find a job as a secretary to the vice president of Fletcher Trust Company, a financial institution. She kept writing and submitting her work to magazines, using her initials “C.L.” not to hide her gender, as was common for female authors, but to hide her side gig from the bank. Her first professional sale was to Weird Tales in 1933, as the bank was undergoing bankruptcy. That story starred a character who would become one of her most famous: roguish adventurer Northwest Smith.
The next year, Weird Tales published the first appearance of what would become Moore’s other most famous character, Jirel of Joiry. Jirel was one of the few women protagonists in the fantasy and science fiction genre who didn’t give up a career or a life of adventuring for the love of a man, nor did she sacrifice her empathy for a sword. Much like Jirel, Moore would find love herself and continue her adventures in writing for decades. While she only produced a handful of novels, her 25 published short stories have been republished in numerous anthologies.
Moore married twice. She and author Henry Kuttner, who would become her first husband, were part of the “Lovecraft Circle” of authors and fans who corresponded with the master of horror. Moore was not afraid to debate with Lovecraft about the work of other authors and his own universe, even though she herself never wrote within that mythos. Lovecraft mentioned Moore to Kuttner as one of the best writers of the period, and Kuttner wrote her a fan letter assuming she was male in 1936. The couple collaborated as writers (with Moore writing under the names “Lawrence O’Donnell” and “Lewis Padgett”) and continued to do so after their marriage in 1940.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the couple continued to publish individually as well as collaboratively. Of the two, many critics today consider Moore to be the stronger writer, wondering if some of Kuttner’s works might also be partly collaborations, based on the depth of the characters who recurred in various stories.
Moore’s work was noteworthy for focusing on the limitations of humans within the universe, creating a horrific sense within the often brighter genres of science fiction and fantasy. The stories tackled sexuality and gender in such a way that they could be read as a critique of the assumptions she had to face in life. Indeed, the adventures of her characters have been seen as either twists on gothic horror or subversive feminism, even though Moore does not seem to have been aligned with the movement.
Kuttner died in 1958, soon after the couple got jobs at Warner Brothers as scriptwriters. Moore continued to work there under the name “Catherine Kuttner” until 1963, when she married her second husband, Thomas Reggie.
She never published another short story or novel, but she remained active in literary salons and attended fan conventions through the 1970s until Alzheimer’s made it too difficult for her to attend. In 1973, the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society gave her a Forry Award, and in 1977 she got the Count Dracula Society Award for Literature. In 1981, Moore was given two literary awards. The first was the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Gandalf Grand Master Award from the World Science Fiction Society. She was nominated as a Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1983, but her husband asked for it to be withdrawn as the couple struggled with her illness.
After her death from Alzheimer’s in 1987, Moore’s impact on fantasy and science fiction remained. Her stories routinely appear in anthologies, and she is consistently mentioned in “best of” lists of genre authors. Moore was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2004, her collaborative work with Kuttner was honored with the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award.