When Don DeLillo Switched Genders


The fuss continues over the crime novel that J.K. Rowling published using a pseudonym, because, well, she’s basically the biggest literary celebrity in the world, and she felt that writing a book under the name Robert Galbraith made sense. Born Joanne, Rowling published the Harry Potter books that made her rich and famous under the androgynous pen name that we all know so well. She picked another male pseudonym for The Cuckoo’s Calling, “just for the joy of it,” as Stephen King observed.

Even though the adoption of a pseudonym isn’t really news, Rowling’s use of a man’s name does call to mind the time another author, one maybe not as commercially successful like Rowling, but no doubt as influential wrote a book under a woman’s name: Don DeLillo.

Cleo Birdwell’s author photo

Keith Gessen called Amazons, “the closest thing we have to a great American hockey novel,” and that statement couldn’t be more accurate since readers aren’t really clamoring for somebody to write anything better on the 4th or 5th most popular professional sport in the United States. Written under the moniker Cleo Birdwell, the book is subtitled: “An intimate memoir by the first woman ever to play hockey in the National Hockey League.”

Amazons was — I’ll admit — my own introduction to DeLillo, when I picked a copy up at a used bookstore as a kid, because hockey and books have always been the two things I get the most excited about. Years later, and even though the book was co-written with DeLillo’s friend Sue Buck, it still holds up as a pretty good novel — and once you’ve read a few of DeLillo’s other books, you realize it was something he obviously had a hand in. Sadly, this funny book (which doesn’t actually include a lot of actual hockey playing) is long out of print, all due to DeLillo’s unexplained insistance that it remain buried.