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The Lookout | May 13, 2021

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Late LCC professor’s legacy lives on

Late LCC professor’s legacy lives on
hookl
  • On November 6, 2020

By Maddy Warren
Editor In Chief

Most newspaper features on teachers and professors cover people who are still living. Occasionally, there is a story of someone who has passed on, and the legacy they left behind. This is one of those stories.

Joan C. Holly was born Sept. 25, 1932, in Lansing. She graduated from Michigan State University in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree. Holly died of lung cancer Oct. 19, 1982, in Lansing.

Holly was a professor at LCC for many years and wrote numerous science fiction novels.

Joan C. Holly is pictured in a 1977 photo from The Lookout archives.

She was a member of Science Fiction Writers of America, serving as treasurer from 1976 to 1979, and a member of the Academy of Science Fiction and Fantasy Films.

Her career was put on pause due to a brain tumor. She had it removed in 1970 and resumed writing.

“Joan initially wrote under the pen name J. Hunter Holly because of sexism in the book publishing and science fiction industry at the time,” said Chad Hunter, a distant relative of Holly. “Hunter was her father’s middle name and my connection to her, so even though her legal name was Joan Carol Holly, she used J. Hunter Holly, and later decided to use her first name.

“My grandparents first mentioned Joan, and that she was a writer back in the 1990s, to me,” Hunter said. “My Great Uncle Tom, still living, remembers taking Joan to high school dances in Lansing. They were pallbearers at her funeral.

“Around 2010, I did a bit of research on her books and started to buy and read them. I realized there wasn’t much information at all about her on the web, so I decided to start a Facebook page, and started to connect with some of her family, friends and fans.”

Hunter said his ultimate goal is to work with Holly’s family to release some of her unpublished works. 

“I have several short stories that a fan of Joan’s has compiled into a trilogy that we’d like to publish,” Hunter said. “In general, I just want to raise awareness of her work. I may create a website devoted to her work in the future, too.”

Vincent Tomanica worked at The Lookout from 1976-1978. He took Holly’s LCC Short Story Writing class in 1977. He is a retired teacher and writer.

The pair formed a friendship and Holly confided in Tomanica about her cancer. She told Tomanica he would be a successful author and encouraged him to get published.

“I was encouraged by her confidence in me,” Tomanica said. “She was very kind … soft spoken and very thoughtful … she was very contained and self-possessed.

Holly urged Tomanica to get back in touch with her after he got published.

“I got busy … but I still found time to submit manuscripts to publishers anyway,” Tomanica said. “A couple years after taking her class I did get published in a national magazine and I eagerly contacted LCC’s Communications Department to pass my good news along to Joan. You can imagine how devastated I was to hear that she had passed away because of cancer.”

Tomanica said Holly’s memory should be embraced by LCC, perhaps with a memorial plaque in the Communications Department or in the A&S classroom where she taught.

“She was likely the most successful fiction writer the Lansing area has ever had … very rare even among published writers because she published many novels and in many languages,” Tomanica said.

“She is part of the LCC family, having taught there for several years, so she is therefore part of the identity and heritage of the student body and alumni … Her historical legacy can be an inspiration for future generations of LCC students.”

Author Joan C. Holly was apparently a cat lover as well as a book lover. Courtesy photo

Ron Tufft is an Englishman living overseas in Poland. He became a fan of Holly’s work when he was a child.

He is a retired magazine and newspaper article composer, and he said his favorite work by Holly is “The Grey Aliens.”

“Maybe I was 10, 11 even,” Tufft said. “Every week I went to the local co-op with my mom to get the weekly groceries. Next to the checkout till was a creaky old cylindrical thing which held cheap, two bob American throwaway novels with per-usual ‘60s style covers.

“Most of them looked naff, but one caught my attention, ‘The Grey Aliens’ by J. Hunter Holly … I would pester my mom to buy me the book – but every week she refused, ‘a waste of money, American rubbish.’

“At last, mom relented to my pleading and gave me the four shiny tanners needed to buy the book … I read until late that night using a torch under my eiderdown and reached page 54 until mental exhaustion kicked in.”

Tufft said it wasn’t until later in life – he is now 54 – that he discovered that J. Hunter Holly was a woman.

“I began collecting all her books – a difficult task still ongoing. ‘The Grey Aliens’ started a reading addiction that I’ve never, ever lost and I owe JHH a big thank you for many pleasurable hours spent ‘nose in a book.’”

“Joan studied at LCC, she lived in Lansing, she was one of you; leaving behind a legacy of her time,” Tufft added.

The Facebook page about Holly can be found at https://www.facebook.com/JHunterHolly,.

Additionally, all of Holly’s papers and personal collections of books were donated here: https://archives.lib.ku.edu/repositories/3/resources/4916

Anyone interested in Holly’s work can find it on Amazon and through booksellers.