Monday, September 1, 2014

Jay Kay Klein's Astounding Bequest


You don't have to be exceptionally good at what you do to be important.  Sometimes a combination of hard work, persistence, and caring for the right thing will suffice.

Case in point:  Jay Kay Klein.

Jay Kay was a fixture in science fiction long before I discovered fandom, and for decades thereafter.  At every convention he attended -- and he went to lots -- he was constantly wandering about, taking pictures of greats, near-greats, and obscurities of science fiction receiving awards, speaking on panels, taking part in costume events.  He began taking photographs in the 1940s and continued doing so until he could no longer attend science fiction events.  How many thousands of photos did he take?  I couldn't tell you.  But I do know that every single one of them had his photographer's stamp on the back, along with a penciled notation of who the photo was of, when it was taken, and at what event.  Thus making them extremely useful to scholars and literary historians.

Jay Kay was a competent photographer, nothing special.  His pics were clear and in focus, but only rarely striking.  They were good snapshots, for the most part.  But the number and range and comprehensiveness of them made them extremely valuable.

How valuable?  Well, he willed them to the University of California Riverside's Eaton Collection of Science Fiction & Fantasy, reputedly "the largest publicly accessible collection of its kind in the world."  Which had them appraised as being worth $1.4 million dollars.


There's a lesson to be learned here, and I'm not above pointing it out to you:  Even if you don't have a special ability to paint or create music or write fiction, you can still lead a life of importance.  All it takes is gumption, hard work, and the ability to stick to a useful task.

And falling in love with the right thing, of course.

You can read io9's account here.  And UCR/Today's account here.

And as a happy side-effect . . .

Generous man that he was, Jay Kay Klein also left cash to the Eaton Collection.  Specifically, he left $3.5 million dollars.

Again, wow.

This may have had the happy side-effect of saving the Eaton Collection.  Recently, it looked like a new university administration -- not understanding the value of an archive dedicated not to the history of chemistry or Jacobean tragedy or Japanese ukiyo-e, or anything self-evidently worthwhile but to science fiction and fantasy, literary forms so young that there are still many of doubt their validity -- was going to downsize the collection or even fold it into some other department in their library system.

Jay Kay's bequest has surely saved the collection from any such fate, however.  Because this is America and in America nothing validates an intellectual endeavor like money.

And how cool is the Eaton Collection . . . ?

I have almost no idea.  But I do know that they recently bought Gardner Dozois's correspondence,  dating back to long before he became an editor.  Letters from writers like Gene Wolfe, George R. R. Martin, and William Gibson back when they were perfect unknowns.  Or the letter from a writer whose name I have conveniently forgotten, writing from Paris and signed "Your sniveling poodle."  Or the round-robin story beginning "There are seven silent salacious ways to fellate Robert A. Heinlein," and continuing in another hand (each writer got to contribute one sentence at a time) "And six of them don't work."  Or . . .

Oh, there's some juicy stuff in there, all right.  Scholars are going to have a great glimpse behind the curtain at how literature is really collected, once the stuff is available.

And once again . . .

I've told this story before, but what the heck.  I ran into Jay Kay Klein at the Millennial Philcon in 2000, and stopped to chat.  He told me he'd been at the 1953 Worldcon, the first one held in Philadelphia.  "I know things about it that nobody else remembers," he said.

"Oh yeah?" I replied.  "Like what?"

"Like the fact that I was there."

And now you've had the last laugh, Jay Kay.  For as long as scholars care about science fiction -- and I am confident that will be a long, long time -- there will be people who are grateful that you were there.

Above:  The image of Jay Kay Klein at work was taken from Mike Glyer's legendary fanzine File 770.  Click here to see their 2012 obituary of him.



Steven Spruill said...

A nice remembrance, Michael. Thanks!

Joyce said...

I am glad to hear the news Michael. Somehow SF fandom forgets the reality of the people underlying itself. Thanks for reminding me.

Jim Van Pelt said...

I met Jay at Bucconeer in '98. Stan Schmidt asked me to meet up with him so he could take a picture for me for a possible Biolog article. Stan said he would do the biolog when I made future appearances in Analog. Since I thought my first appearance was a total fluke, I assumed he was just being kind. Jay took the picture, and then I asked if he'd let me buy him lunch. I spent the whole time quizzing him about Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, among others whom I'd loved but never met. Jay was such an awesome resource.