NEW YORK (AP) – Ian Morris, the famous journalist, historian, world traveler and science fiction writer who became a pioneer in the transgender movement in middle age, has died at the age of 94.
Morris died in Wales on Friday morning, according to her literary representative, United Agents. Her agent, Sophie Scard, confirmed her death. Morris was in poor health. Further details were not immediately available.
The British author lived as James Morris until the early 1970s, when she underwent surgery at a clinic in Casablanca and changed her name to Ian Morris. Her best-selling memoir, Conundrum, which came out in 1
“I no longer feel isolated and unreal,” she wrote. “Not only can I imagine more vividly how other people feel: finally freed from these old reins and turn signals, I’m beginning to know how I feel.”
Morris was a prolific and experienced author and journalist who wrote dozens of books in various genres and witnessed the story firsthand. As a young Times reporter, she accompanied a 1953 expedition to Asia led by Sir Edmund Hillary, and on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation announced the news that climber Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay had become the first climbers to rock Mount E .
She was so worried that rival reporters would steal her spoon, she used coded language to send her home, broadcast on an Indian military radio station: “Snow conditions, a bad stop, an advanced base abandoned yesterday, stops waiting for improvement.”
In 1956, she told the Manchester Guardian that French forces were secretly attacking Egypt during the so-called Suez Canal crisis, which threatened to start a world war. The French and British, who were also allies against Egypt, withdrew in embarrassment after denying initial reports, and British Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigned within months. In the early 1960s, it covered the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem.
Morris was praised for her fascinating journey, with Venice and Trieste being among her favorite places, as well as her stories about the British Empire, Pax Britannica, a trilogy that began as James Morris and ended as Ian Morris. In 1985, she was a finalist for the Booker Prize for an imaginary travelogue and political thriller “Last Letters from Hav” for a Mediterranean city-state, which is a stop on the author’s extensive knowledge and adventures, where visitors range from St. Paul and Marco Polo by Ernest Hemingway and Sigmund Freud.
The book was republished 21 years later as part of “Hav”, which includes a sequel to Maurice and an introduction by science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin.
“I read it (‘Hav’) as a brilliant description of the crossroads of West and East … seen by a woman who has really seen the world and who lives in it with twice as much intensity as most of us,” Le Guin writes.
Morris’s other works include the memoirs Herstory and Pleasures of Complicated Life, the essay collections Cities and Locations, and the anthology The World: Life and Travel 1950-2000. In 2019, a collection of diaries “In the Eye of My Mind” was published, and the second volume is scheduled for January. Allegorizings, a documentary with personal thoughts that she wrote more than a decade ago and asked not to be published for the rest of her life, will also be released in 2021.
Born James Humphrey Morris in Somerset, with a Welsh father and mother in English, Morris remembers questioning his gender at the age of four. She had an insight when she sat under her mother’s piano and thought that “she was born in the wrong body and you really have to be a girl. For about 20 years, she kept her feelings a secret, a “covenant” secret that became a prayer when she and fellow students observed a minute of silence at Oxford University as they worshiped in the school cathedral.
“In this pause, while my better ones, I suppose, begged for forgiveness or enlightenment, I silently inserted every night, year after year, throughout my boyhood, an appeal, less graceful but no less heartfelt:” And please God, let me be a girl. Amen, Morris wrote in his memoirs.
“I felt that, desiring so fervently and so constantly to become the body of a girl, I aspired only to a more divine state, to inner reconciliation.”
To the outside world, James Morris seemed to enjoy an exemplary male life. She was 17 when she joined the British Army during World War II, served as a spy in Palestine, and mastered the “military virtues of ‘courage, dash, loyalty, self-discipline.’ In 1949, Morris married Elizabeth Tucknis, by whom he had five children. (One died in infancy).
But in private, she felt “dark with indecision and anxiety” and even considered suicide. She had come a long, “well-beaten, expensive, and fruitless journey” of psychiatrists and sexologists. She had come to the conclusion that no one in her situation had ever “been” cured “by science in the entire history of psychiatry.”
Life as a woman changed the way Maurice saw the world and how the world saw Maurice. She would accept the notion that she could not repair a car or lift a heavy suitcase, she would be treated as inferior to men and trusted by women. She learned that “there is no aspect of existence, no moment of the day, no contact, no appointment, no answer that is not different for men and women.”
Morris and her wife are divorced, but they remain close and in 2008 formalized a new relationship in a civil union. They also promised to be buried together, under a stone written in both Welsh and English: “Here lie two friends, at the end of a life.”
Associated Press writer Jill Lawless contributed to this report from London.