Arrowhead is the name that literary agent and science fiction writer Virginia Kidd, along with science fiction writer and critic James Blish, gave to their home in Milford, Pennsylvania when they moved there in 1953.
Virginia Kidd wrote poetry and short stories, including some works that were published under James Blish's name. She founded the world's first all science-fiction literary agency at Arrowhead; in addition to the expected business of a literary agency which is of course getting books published, Virgina Kidd served as mentor to at least three generations of writers, literary agents and even a translator here and there. Her daughter Elizabeth fondly recalls learning the ropes, then selling her first work as an agent herself. This was one of Anne McCaffery's juvenile "dragon" books — a book which, like many books that bear the touch of the Virginia Kidd Agency, went on to become so popular as to be a force unto itself. Many others have learned the craft of being a literary agent at Arrowhead, and it is no exaggeration to say that the entire science fiction and fantasy genre owes a significant debt to Virginia Kidd, and Arrowhead.
Virginia Kidd said: "There was a time when the introduction to book after book, as signed by the author or editor, and placed and dated, bore the name of the town of Milford."
Today, a very large number of copyright acknowledgements reference either Virginia Kidd or the Virginia Kidd Agency, but there is no other hint that it is Arrowhead, one of the original wellsprings of the golden age of science fiction, still enriching our reading experiences: One gossamer idea after another encouraged to fly free at the banks of the Sawkill.
James Blish wrote 27 books and innumerable short stories and poems at Arrowhead prior to his move to England. His best known works from the period included A Case of Conscience (Hugo awards, 1959 and 2004), Cities in Flight, Fallen Star, and Titan's Daughter. The rash of "pulp" science fiction magazines that came out of the second quarter of the 1900's were succeeded by a few standouts, in particular Amazing Stories, Galaxy, IF, and Analog. Should one look through a stack of these magazines, it is virtually impossible to go more than a very few issues before the name of James Blish is peering back at you from the cover. James Blish was an extremely productive writer.
Arrowhead deserves substantial credit for serving as a magnificent place to work from, as well as a significant focal point for writers and their ideas. James Blish's office was in the basement where the view of the Sawkill creek flowing through the back yard served as muse. A moment's pause in that space by an open window in the summer gifts the listener with gentle sounds of the Sawkill's waters; a calming remedy as potent as any medical concoction today.
As well as having been home to one of Science Fiction's founding fathers and the first science fiction literary agency, Arrowhead has been a focal point for science fiction writers for over fifty-five years. The formation of SFWA was partially conceived at Arrowhead; hundreds of gatherings of science fiction writers who were later prominent SFWA members took place there in those early days.
Writers and other members of the science fiction community were welcomed in a most open manner during the sixties and consequently Arrowhead occasionally took on many aspects of a commune, though perhaps it is fairer to describe those manifestly hospitable moments as a bed-and-breakfast for the literati. A constant stream of the erudite, the famous, and the frankly hopeful made the afternoons and evenings at Arrowhead merry and stimulating — and one of the best places in the entire world to get your copy of an award-winning book or story cheerfully signed by the author.
There were sleeping bags on the expansive porches, various writer-folk sitting around the kitchen table come morning through evening, and many a story idea was expounded, dissected, and fleshed out. Folk songs were sung, guitars and an upright piano backed decidedly non-professional voices who made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in technique. But Arrowhead also served as a focal point for professional level music. Felicity Joinson, an exquisite folk singer from Scotland, spent many hours at Arrowhead, and no one who heard her perform is ever likely to forget it. A voice like satin combined with solid instrumental skills kept Arrowhead's denizens spellbound late into many evenings. Rock bands practiced and jammed in Arrowhead's basement ad-hoc studio space during the 1970's. One alumnus of these sessions, Damon Knight's son Christopher, went on to found the Los Angeles Recording Workshop, one of the largest and most elaborate recording instruction facilities in the world. There are very old reel-to-reel tapes of some of this, but no attempt has been made to recover them as of 2021; they have become very fragile with time and there will probably be only one chance to make such an effort.
At one point during the late 1960s, the downstairs bathroom received a small graffiti from James Blish and Virginia Kidd's son, Ben. Instead of the cleaning and reprimand that one might reasonably expect, the entire bathroom slowly became covered floor to ceiling by remarks from eminent science fiction writers, agents, and not a few fans. The walls, the ceiling, the shower stall, even the sides of the bathtub did not escape from the onslaught of writers who found a tabula rasa, no matter if it was only a tiny clear space. Unfortunately, these were painted over in the 1980s. Only one graffito escaped the purge, and still remains as of 2005; an electronic diagram of a low power pirate radio station on the back of the bathroom medicine cabinet door. Instructions have been given by the owners of the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency that this last graffito never be removed or painted over, and that the cabinet itself be retrieved in the event that the agency is forced to move to new quarters.
The history of Arrowhead, the building, is nothing if not colorful. The grounds and structure were seriously flooded in 1955 by the remains of Hurricane Diane and then again in 2004 as a consequence of the deluges that accompanied the profoundly busy hurricane season that year. In the spring of 2005, the waters rose yet again and the scramble to save years of science fiction history began anew. Each time, evacuation, reconstruction and retrenchment followed; the building is manifestly sturdy, the oldest portions dating back to the 1700s. Remnants of Arrowhead's original electrical wiring (no longer carrying power) are still visible in less accessible areas of the building. As it was directly associated with the mill across the street, informed speculation has it that it may have been the first home to be electrified in the entire town. Arrowhead was rewired in modern fashion in the 1970's — until that point, turning on more than two major appliances was somewhat of a gamble.
Arrowhead's informal and somewhat commune-like openness was complemented by a huge, brooding mansion a mile or so away called The Anchorage. For a time, this was the home of Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm, and served as the focal point where the Science Fiction Writers of America was conceived by Damon Knight, James Blish and Judith Merril. SFWA, as this organization became known, grew to become the single most important organization in science fiction writing; every year, the writer's conference meetings at The Anchorage grew larger. It was only because the building was incredibly outsized that there was any chance at all of accommodating the influx of SF persons. Arrowhead, naturally enough, saw a large proportion of the same people during the various writer's conference events, serving as a venue for some functions while others went on at the Anchorage. The Anchorage, sadly, succumbed to fire. Yet Arrowhead remains to commemorate Milford's science fiction heritage.
In the 1970s, the US government instantiated the Tocks Island Dam project. This was to be a dam that blocked the flow of the Delaware River, and when completed, would flood a huge area that included where Arrowhead still stands as of 2005. Consequently, Virginia Kidd was forced to sell the building to the government. Despite this, she was able to negotiate an agreement whereby she could remain there until the dam was completed and the property actually in danger of flooding. To make a long story short, the Tocks Island Dam project was never completed, and the US park service obtained jurisdiction over all the properties that had been taken.
Virginia Kidd passed away in early 2003, yet her literary agency remains there to this day as a manifest part of her legacy to the science fiction community. James Blish passed away in 1975.
The Virginia Kidd Literary Agency has been operating continuously at Arrowhead since its founding over fifty years ago.
The following is a partial list of science fiction and fantasy personages Arrowhead has been privileged to house or host over the years:
Piers Anthony Isaac Asimov James Blish Ben Bova Arthur C. Clarke Rodgers Clemens (Roger Lovin) Avram Davidson Lester Del Rey Samuel R Delany Philip K Dick Gordon Dickson Tom Disch Gardner Dozois George Alec Effinger Harlan Ellison Carol Emshwiller Hugo Gernsback Robert A Heinlein L Ron Hubbard Virginia Kidd Damon Knight Cyril M. (C.M.) Kornbluth Keith Laumer Judith Ann Lawerence Ursula K Le Guin Fritz Leiber Walt and Lee Richmond Bob Lowndes Joan Matheson Marek Obtulowicz Henri-Luc Planchat Jane Rose (Sallis) Joanna Russ James Sallis Josephine Saxton Clifford Simak Norman Spinrad Anne McCaffery Judith Merril Ward Moore Michael Moorcock Frederik Pohl Kurt Vonnegut Cherry Wilder Kate Wilhelm Gene Wolfe Donald Wollheim Roger Zelazny