Jefferies Tubes #5: Convention Pioneer Joan Winston

By Maria Jose and John Tenuto - January 09, 2013

Crawling around the Jefferies Tubes this edition, with our palm beacons in hand, sociology professors and Star Trek fans John and Maria Jose Tenuto examine one of Trek's most important nonfiction books.

In 2006, we conducted a sociological survey of 8,000 science fiction fans from 54 nations, and among the “fascinating” results was that female Star Trek fans were among the most active in engaging their sci-fi hobby in creative ways: cos playing, writing fan fiction, and producing artwork generally more than their male counterparts. The strong connection with Star Trek by female fans has its roots in the initial days of fandom when pioneers like Bjo Trimble, Eileen Becker, Elyse Pines, Shirley Maiewski, Devra and Deborah Langsam, and Jacqueline Lichtenberg helped pave the way for many of the same fan activities in existence today.



One of the important pioneers was Joan “Joanie” Winston, who passed away in 2008. Fans from the 1970s remember Joan as one of the organizers of the original Star Trek conventions; modern fans know her from interviews featured in William Shatner’s book Get a Life! and the documentary Trekkies 2. In between, Joan Winston wrote fan fiction, books, attended conventions as an honored fan guest herself, and championed Star Trek and its fans to a mainstream press that did not always understand the franchise or its appeal.



Of her many contributions to the fan community, arguably one of the most important was her authorship of the 1977 text, The Making of the Trek Conventions. As 2012 marked the 35th anniversary of this book, it is an appropriate time to remember its place in Star Trek history.


The Making of the Trek Conventions begins by detailing the planning and organization of the 1972 con at the Statler Hilton Hotel in New York City by “The Committee,” a group of eventually more than 20 fans that included Winston.  Subsequent chapters are dedicated to each of the conventions that followed, in addition to a look at the general state of fandom in the late 1970s. Part documentarian text, part Erma Bombeck-like memoir, the book is filled with good humor and good history. Readers will find gems of trivia, such as the roles played by NASA and Isaac Asimov in the preliminary conventions, great stories about William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy’s first convention appearances ever, and how a then unknown young fan named Ben Stiller attended a convention with his famous mother Anne Meara. Most importantly, Winston’s book sheds light on the fans themselves, and their creative enthusiasm and camaraderie that helped keep alive a show that had been canceled years before.

For anyone who was active in Star Trek fandom during the 1960s and 1970s, reading Winston’s book will be a nostalgic reminder of a time when conventions were new. For newer fans, The Making of the Trek Conventions teaches about an important era in fandom history, before there were any movies, before there was the Internet. The words by Winston and the photographs included in the book describe a unique time when anything could happen at a Star Trek convention, from surprise appearances by celebrities to surprise announcements about Star Trek news.

In 1975, Winston was also co-author of Star Trek Lives! with Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Sondra Marshak. The book includes essays exploring Spock's popularity, interviews with creator Gene Roddenberry, and some of the first discussions in print of Star Trek's optimism being a reason for its popularity. In Chapter 7, Winston details the six days she spent on the Star Trek sets during December 1968 while the actors filmed the last episode, "Turnabout Intruder." The historically important photos of Winston with the actors included in this article are from that visit. Together, Star Trek Lives! and The Making of the Trek Conventions are invaluable resources for anyone wishing to learn about the early days of Trek fandom. No longer in active publication, these books are available at used books stores online for those interested in some Trek time travel.

 



In his own book, William Shatner described Winston as “bright, bubbly, and energetic beyond every law of human physiology and comprehension.” Thirty-five years after The Making of the Trek Conventions, 40 years after the first Star Trek convention, and closing in on 50 years since the filming of “The Cage,” Star Trek and its conventions indeed live thanks to that energetic work of those like Winston.

* Special thank you to fanzine pioneer and author Jacqueline Lichtenberg.

 

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Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They are currently researching all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode "Space Seed" and are excited to share some previously unreported information about Khan's first adventure with fellow fans next year when the research is complete. Contact the Tenutos at jtenuto@clcillinois.edu or mjtenuto@clcillinois.edu.

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