Professor Sondra Lear, the protagonist of my novels Oy Pioneer! (2003) and Oy Feminist Science Fiction (in press) – and some of my short fiction – appears in this story. I trot out Sondra whenever I imagine coping with reality in terms of science fictional premises. Sondra, then, is a Walter Mitty fantasy version of me. Yes, spending one’s professional life as a science fiction scholar is exceedingly interesting and exciting. But it does have its limitations. I can’t hang out with the feminist extraterrestrials who form the crux of my academic pursuits. I can’t beam up and down, time travel, or eat calorie free knishes which pop out of a spaceship food synthesizer. It is frustrating always at once to be so close and so galaxy-far-far away from these forever unreachable things. Sondra assuages this quandary. She enables me to position myself within a feminist science fiction scenario Holodeck. Through Sondra, I can dream my impossible feminist science fiction dream; fulfill my quest to follow that star.
Carolyn Heilbrun’s mystery novel series protagonist Amanda Cross inspired me to create Sondra Lear. But, unlike Heilbrun, Cross is not Jewish. (Amanda Cross would never say “oy”—which happens to be my favorite word. Ditto for Sondra.) Departing from Heilbrun’s creative model, I decided to imbue Sondra with the full spectrum of my very strong New York Jewish cultural identity. She can be understood as something akin to a feminist version of Fran Drescher using her own life as a model to create Fran Fine, the nanny from Queens. Sondra Lear, then, is the spaceship venturing feminist science fiction scholar from Queens. Ms. Fine lands in an alien Manhattan townhouse which constitutes a different universe in relation to her mother’s plastic slipcovered couch. Professor Lear lands in different fantastic scenarios which function similarly in relation to my mother’s plastic slipcovered couch.
Mothers form the center of Jewish women’s universes. In this story, I science-fictionally evoke the world of my mother’s youth on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. My mother went to high school with Lauren Bacall. She told me that after they got off the city bus they took to school, Bacall (a.k.a. Jewish New York girl Betty Joan Perske) sometimes came to her home on West End Avenue and enjoyed chatting with my grandfather. She also described how proud the New York Jewish community was when Bess Meyerson won the 1945 Miss America Pageant.
So, when I was really standing on the F.D.R. Drive watching July 4th fireworks, I somehow connected the event to a spaceship inhabited by feminist extraterrestrials named Lauren and Bess. I called upon my trusty alter ego Professor Sondra Lear to engage with them – and other great Greatest Generation Jewish women I threw in for good measure.
Sondra and I very much hope that you enjoy this story, which emanates from our real Jewish New York female personal and historical cultural inheritance. We are grateful to have the opportunity to share it with you.
Barr, Marleen S., "Oy It's the Cosmetics, Stupid: Or How Estee Lauder Changed the Post 9/11 World" (2013). CUNY Academic Works.