Alice K. Turner, who, as Playboy’s longtime fiction editor, nurtured fledgling authors and championed science fiction by publishing short stories that she said injected “some class” into the racy men’s magazine, died on Jan. 17 in Manhattan. She was 75.
The cause was pneumonia, her brother, Daniel Turner, said.
Ms. Turner had no illusions about why Playboy’s founder, Hugh Hefner, interspersed the magazine’s nude photos with serious fiction. She once recalled ruefully that in congratulating his centerfold models, Mr. Hefner said, “Without you, I would have had nothing but a literary magazine.”
Moreover, she said, the “ad sales guys” never appreciated fiction and would have “cut it out if they could, except for the fact that it adds certain respectability.”
But by sustaining that respectability for two decades, from 1980 to 2000, Ms. Turner helped keep literary short fiction on life support in the late 20th century, when few other publishers would or could. And writers like Terry Bisson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joyce Carol Oates, Bob Shacochis, Robert Silverberg, Dan Simmons, John Updike and David Foster Wallace were not shy about having their words abut illustrations of naked women.
“Think about what Playboy pays as compared to, say, Harper’s, and you tell me what working writer who is actually supporting himself is going to quibble over a few nudes?” Ms. Turner said in a 1984 interview with The Missouri Review.
Ms. Turner edited several anthologies while at Playboy, including “Playboy Stories: The Best of Forty Years of Short Fiction” and “The Playboy Book of Science Fiction.” She also wrote “The History of Hell,” which Andrew Greeley, the priest and sociologist, described in The New York Times in 1993 as “an insightful and balanced popular history of the growth and, one might almost say, the flowering of imagination about that place at the entrance of which all hope is abandoned.”
Ms. Turner cultivated her authors, novices or not. Defending Mr. Shacochis against a negative review, she wrote in 1985 that he “is a beginner and a serious writer and vulnerable on both counts.”
“He is also a very talented writer,” she added, “as I have reason to know, having published several of these stories in Playboy. But even an untalented writer deserves more respect than this.”
Mr. Shacochis became a prizewinning novelist.
Alice Kennedy Turner was born on May 29, 1939, in China, where her father was a diplomat. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1960 and earned an advanced degree in English literature from New York University. She abandoned acting (she appeared with Charles Boyer in “Man and Boy” in London in 1963) for a job as an editorial assistant at The New York Post, then moved to magazines, including Publishers Weekly, from which she was hired by Playboy in 1976.
“She had an unusual talent because of a physical problem with her eyes when she was very young,” said her brother, who is her sole survivor. Instead of moving her eyes left to right across a line, she would read speedily by moving down the page, which is how she absorbed the scores of submissions the magazine received every day.
Ms. Turner defined a good story as one that begins with a good plot. “All things considered, we would go for an upbeat touch,” she said. “Humor is always welcome. I myself have a certain weakness for fireworks, I guess. Magic shows. Rabbits out of hats. I like surprises.”
Good writers could break rules, she explained, “but, as with painters, good writers know anatomy.”
“If you’re good enough, like Picasso, you can put noses and breasts wherever you like,” she continued. “But first you have to know where they belong.”
Ms. Turner said she most enjoyed “the spider web aspect” of being an editor. “If you’re lucky,” she said, “you sit in the middle of a web with lines of interest and appreciation and often real affection reaching out all over the country, often to writers you’ve never published, and possibly never will. Pen pals. Word processor pals, I guess now.”