Tanith Lee was born 19 September 1947 in London, England. Her parents Bernard and Hylda Lee were ballroom dancers.
Lee attended a number of primary schools. Following the completion of her secondary education, she was employed in a variety of jobs, including file clerk, assistant librarian, shop assistant and waitress. She also attended art college for one year, but quickly came to the conclusion that she would rather express herself through words than pictures.
An aspiring writer from the age of nine, her first professional sale was "Eustace," a 90 word vignette which appeared in The Ninth Pan Book Of Horror Stories (1968), edited by Herbert van Thal.
In the fall of 1968, a friend took one of her early short stories and set it in type to experiment with his printing press. According to the author, "there were about six copies" of the resulting book, titled The Betrothed. One copy was sent to the British Museum, where it was received on 25 November 1968 and subsequently listed in the British Museum General Catalogue Of Printed Books, much to the consternation of future fans and collectors (and bibliographers!)
While working as an assistant librarian, Lee wrote a children's story which was accepted for publication. A number of additional stories were also purchased, but none of them were ever published, due to a slump in the publishing firm's sales. Finally, in 1971, Macmillan published The Dragon Hoard, a children's novel, followed by Animal Castle, a children's picture book, and Princess Hynchatti & Some Other Surprises, a short story collection (both 1972).
After receiving numerous rejections from British publishers for her adult fantasy novel The Birthgrave, she wrote a letter of inquiry to DAW Books, the American publishing firm founded by well-known science fiction fan and editor Donald A. Wolheim. DAW published The Birthgrave in 1975, beginning a relationship that lasted until 1989 and saw the publication of 28 books altogether. Following the publication of her second and third books from DAW, Dont Bite The Sun and The Storm Lord (both 1976), Lee quit her day job to become a full-time freelance writer.
Tanith Lee has won or been nominated for a variety of awards, including the World Fantasy Award, the August Derleth Award and the Nebula. She has appeared as Guest of Honour at a number of science fiction conventions, including Boskone XVIII in Boston in 1981, and the 1984 World Fantasy Convention in Ottawa.
In 1987, she met John Kaiine, a British writer and artist. The couple married in 1992 and currently live in the south of England.
Note: this brief biography draws on a number of sources, including Lillian Heldreth's "Author Profile" in Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Review Annual 1990, the interview "Tanith Lee: Love & Death & Publishers" in Locus No 447, and the author's own autobiograhical notes, which were published in Fantasy Macabre No 4.
Return to Table of Contents