(July 1, 1907 – September 2, 1969)
Jonquil “Johnny” Leiber (née Stephens) was an English poet and fan of weird fiction. Born in England, she was educated in Wales and immigrated to the United States for college.
On January 18, 1936, she married Fritz Leiber, whom she’d met in 1933 while attending the University of Chicago. They shared a love for supernatural stories. That fall, she entered into a correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft, writing him care of Weird Tales. Their letters would be a great influence on Fritz Leiber.
The Leibers lived in LA in the 1950s and ’60s. Jonquil’s not listed among the official members of LASFS, but she did socialize with the club. A young Matthew B. Tepper ran errands for her. In 1953, she and Leiber were photographed in costume at a con.
In Shangri L'Affairs 59 (November-December 1961), Fred Patten wrote:
On Sunday, Dec. 24, a birthday dinner was held at Mathom House for Fritz Leiber. This was a nice, quiet affair (even after the ARBM Boys assembled in full force, it stayed relatively quiet). The biggest attraction was Fritz himself; his casual dinner conversation is as good as a convention speech. Jonquil Leiber served Yorkshire Pudding, leading to talk of starting a Yorkshire Pudding Fandom. The post-dinner gathering was small & pleasant; filk songs supplied by Pelz & Johnstone.
Jonquil was the inspiration for her husband’s novel Conjure Wife, and he put together a chapbook of poems of hers and others he had written to her, Sonnets to Jonquil and All (Roy A. Squires, publisher), in 1978.
Leiber described Jonquil in “Not Much Disorder and Not So Early Sex: An Autobiographic Essay” in The Ghost Light (1984):
She was small (four foot ten; best weight, ninety pounds), had bright blue eyes that were at times violet; she was fast (at Cyfartha Castle school in Wales she’d been a great scorer in field hockey; her method: get the ball and dodge your way to the enemy goal, no teamwork needed—you can always dodge big girls) and a good apache dancer; she had natural grace and artistry (early on she’d done illuminated manuscripts just as had the hero of Machen’s The Hill of Dreams); in America she posed for silk stocking advertisements; she was a great party planner and giver, a gifted fortuneteller, enthusiastic, and friendly, but capable of sudden vast dignified reserves, again just like a kitten.
The Leibers had one child, Justin Leiber, who also wrote sf. The family lived in a wooded area in Pacific Palisades, with a figural fountain based on Justin.
After Jonquil died of a heart attack in 1969, Leiber moved to San Francisco, where he struggled with alcoholism and barbiturate abuse; the situation inspired Our Lady of Darkness.
Like her husband, Jonquil often drank to excess. “Once I was talking on the phone with her,” Tepper recalled in 2021, “and it sounded like she’d passed out. I called the police. After that, she didn’t call me again.”
- “Her Letters to Lovecraft: Jonquil Leiber” by Bobby Derie.
- Jonquil Stephens Leiber's papers
- Find a Grave entry.
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