Phyllis Eisenstein (1946-2020)

Author Phyllis Eisenstein, 74, died December 7, 2020. She suffered a stroke in January 2020 and entered hospice care not long after.

Her first SF story was “The Trouble with the Past” (1971), co-written with husband Alex Eisenstein, who collaborated with her on many other works as well. Her debut Born to Exile (1978) collects her stories about Alaric the Minstrel, who also appeared in novel In the Red Lord’s Reach (1989). Sorcerer’s Son (1979) was nominated for a British Fantasy Award, and later had a sequel, The Crystal Palace (1988); a third volume, The City in Stone, was completed, but publisher Meisha Merlin ceased operations in 2007, and the book remains unreleased. Other novels include Shadow of Earth (1979) and In the Hands of Glory (1981).

Notable stories include Hugo and Nebula Award finalist “In the Western Tradition” (1981); Nebula Award nominees “Attachment” (1974) and “The Island in the Lake” (1998); Hugo Award finalist “Nightlife” (1982); and novella Walker Between the Worlds (2007). “Lost and Found” (1978) was adapted as an episode of The Twilight Zone in 1986. Some of her stories were collected in Night Lives: Nine Stories of the Dark Fantastic (2003). She edited anthologies Spec-Lit: Speculative Literature, No 1 (1997) and Spec-Lit: Speculative Literature, No 2 (1998), and has also written non-fiction.

Phyllis Leah Kleinstein was born February 26, 1946 in Chicago IL. She attended the University of Chicago, where she met Alex Eisenstein at a weekly meeting of SF fans; they were married in 1966. She lived in Germany for three years while her husband was posted there during his Air Force service. Afterward, they returned to Chicago. She went back to college, earning a BA in Anthropology in 1981 at the University of Illinois. She taught writing extensively, at Clarion, Michigan State University, and the Writer’s Digest School, and taught part-time for 20 years at Columbia College in Chicago. She received an “Excellence in Teaching” award from the college in 1999, and retired in 2009. She worked in advertising from 2000 until her retirement in 2015. Her husband survives her.

[Edit: We’ve seen several dates reported for when she died. The current one listed comes from]

2 thoughts on “Phyllis Eisenstein (1946-2020)

  • January 1, 2021 at 11:05 am

    I have the privilege of being the only person to have co-authored a book with Phyllis: Eisenstein, P. and S. M. Scheiner. 1997. Overcoming the Pain of Inflammatory Arthritis. Avery, New York. Phyllis had suffered from severe arthritis ever since her teenage years. None of the standard treatments helped. One day she saw an ad claiming that megavitamins would help. She tried them and to her delight, they greatly relieved her pain and other symptoms. Most people would be content to stop there, but not Phyllis. She realized that it had to be some specific vitamin and so, using herself as the test subject, she systematically went through each of the ingredients one at a time until she isolated the ciritical one: pantothenic acid. She then became a crusader, letting all of her friends who also suffered from arthritis about her discovery.

    This is where I came in. I knew Phyllis from U of Chicago fandom and saw her regularly at various Chicago and other Midwestern conventions. My wife also suffers from arthritis, tried pantothenic acid, and it worked for her. Now, I am a scientist and know something about experimental design. Phyllis and I discussed ways of getting her discovery more widely known and decided that we needed to do a controlled experiment demonstrated the efficacy of the vitamin. We designed the study, Phyllis recruited subjects, carried out the experiment, and then I analyzed the data and wrote up a scientific paper with her as co-author. Alas, we never did manage to get it published in a scientific journal. (Too small a sample size, despite the strong statistical significance, for the reviewers.)

    Simultaneously, Phyllis wrote a book that was partially autobiographical about her personal experiences, but also a terrific review of what was known about pantothenic acid and it relationship to arthritis. The publisher wanted someone with letters after their name on the cover, so I agreed to be the second author. Except from some minor editing, plus the addition of a revised version of our scientific paper as an appendix, the book is all hers. It is a great piece of science writing. That, along with her study, would have earned her a master’s degree in biology at many universities.

    So, celebrate Phyllis’ great SF writing. Her Alaric stories are a marvel. But she should also be remembered for her one non-fiction book and all of the people that she helped through it.


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