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People who died: Authors we lost in 2009

January 1, 2010

Before we move on with hope and expectation to the new year, and say good riddance to the year (and wretched decade) just ending,  let’s pause for a moment to consider the writers, authors and poets we lost in 2009.

I’m beginning with Jim Carroll, 60, though he is in no way the most notable. Poet, memoirist, punk rocker, spoken-word artist, he is best known for The Basketball Diaries, an account of his teenage years as a drug addict and prostitute. I list him first in honor of “People Who Died,” a punk-rock anthem about the fiends he lost to overdose, disease, violence. It seems apt. I also like that he died at his desk, writing, felled by a heart attack.

The tallest oak harvested this year is no doubt John Updike, who died of lung caner at the age of 76. Best known for his “Rabbit” series of novels, he is arguably the greatest American novelist and short story writer of the last half of the 20th century. He published too much, producing a raft of mediocre work (Memories of the Ford Administration; Brazil), but no one chronicled American life better than he did. As a stylist, he is unsurpassed.

But Updike was not the only possibly great writer to pass in 2009. Feminist Marilyn French, 79, will long be remembered for her ground-breaking novel The Women’s Room. British novelist J.G. Ballard, 78, wrote a new kind of sci fi, although most people know him from his autobiographical book, The Empire of the Sun. Horton Foote, 92, quietly built a reputation as a brilliant playwright and screenwriter, winning the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for his play The Young Man From Atlanta. James Purdy, 94, may turn out to be one of our best novelists and short story writers (Dream Palace). Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.D. Snodgrass, 83, influenced a generation with his “confessional” poetry (Heart’s Needle). Frank McCourt, 79, produced one of the greatest books of the memoir age, Angela’s Ashes. Claud Levi-Straus (French), 100, is probably the 20th century’s most significant anthropologists, The Raw and the Cooked,

A number of writers who may not be of the first literary order nonetheless claim lasting importance: African-American novelist E. Lynn Harris, 54, (Just As I Am), created the black popular novel as a category. Dominick Dunn, 83, chronicled the rich and criminal and wrote popular novels (The Two Mrs. Grenvilles). Largely forgotten at the time of his death, Philip Jose Farmer, 94, was a leading sci-fi writer of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and should be remembered if only for his Kurt Vonnegut spoof, Venus on the Half Shell. Budd Schulberg, 95, made his mark as a screenwriter, but his novels, especially his early Hollywood expose, What Makes Sammy Run?, deserve memory.

British barrister, playwright and novelist John Mortimer, 86, is best known for Rumpole of the Bailey, but he was a busy and prolifc social satirists whose lesser known novels will find new appreciation as time goes by. Hortense Calisher, 97, may be little known today, but she was a National Book Award finalist three times for novels and short story collections like The New Yorkers.

The following list of writers, some more well known than others but all worthy of a moment’s appreciation, is not exhaustive. I’ve left out foreign writers, no matter how important, if their books are not easily available in translation. And doubtless I’ve overlooked a few, despite complining this list all week. Most entries include the title of a characteristic book.Unless otherwise noted, these writers are American:

Sheila Lukins, 66, food writer, The Siver Palate Cookbook. Nonfiction writer Courtlandt Bryan, 72, Friendly Fire. Novelist Milorad Pavic (Serbian),  Dictionary of the Khazars. Harry C. Crosby (Christopher Anvil), 84, sci-fi author. Robert Holdstock, 61, British sci fi/fantasy novelist, Mythago Wood. Geoffrey Moorehouse, 77, British  journalist and travel writer, To the Frontier. Donald Harington, 73, superb Arkansas regionalist, The Cockroaches of Staymore. Nien Cheng (Chinese), 94, Life and Death in Shanghai. Anna Mendelssohn, 61 British poet.  Lenore Kandel, 77, poet. Cinto Vitier (Cuban), 88, poet.

Ludovic Kennedy, 89, british journalist, true crime writer and antideath pentality activist, 10 Rillington Place. Norma Fox Mazer, 78, children’s author, Taking Terri Mueller. Nan C. Robertson, 83, Pulitzer-winning journalist and author, Getting Better: Inside Alcoholics Anonymous. Stuart Kaminsky, 75, prolific crime novelist, A Cold Red Sunrise. Reg McKay (Scottish), 59, journalist and crime novelist, The Ferris Conspiracy. Milton Meltzer, 94, historian.  William Safire 79, speechwriter, pundit, language maven.  Karla Kuskin, 77, children’s author. Robert Novak, 78, conservative columnist and reporter.

John Keel, 79, ufologist and paranormal researcher, The Mothman Prophecies. Aeronwyn Thomas Thomas (British, daughter of Dylan Thomas) 66, author and translator.  Stanley Middleton, 89, Britsh novelist, 1974 Booker Prize-winner for Holiday.  James Baker Hall, 74, poet laureate of Kentucky. Harold Norse, 92, poet. David Eddings, 77,  fantasy writer, The Belgariad series. Paul O. Williams, 74, sci fi author, the Pelbar Cycle. Don Goldsmith, 83, award-winning  Wesetern novelist, The Spanish Bit series. Fleur Cowles, 101, journalist, advertising executive, magazine editor and author.

Mario Benedetti, (Uruguayan)  88,  poet and novelist. James Kirkup, 91, British poet and travel writer. Amos Elon, 82, Israeli journalist and nonfiction writer. Deborah Digges, 59, poet and translator. Jack D. Hunter, 87, novelist,  The Blue Max. Thomas Braden, 92, novelist, Eight is Enough. Hans Holzer, 89, paranormal researcher, The Amityville Horror.  John Michell, 76, British New Age author and generalist, Who Wrote Shakespeare?.  Steven Bach, 79, film producer and historian, Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl. Joseph C. Martin, 84,  priest and addiction counselor, No Laughing Matter: Chalk Talks on Alcohol.  Billy C. Clarke, 80, Appalachian regionalist, A Long Row to Hoe, Blair Lent, 79, children’s author and illustrator, Tiki Tiki Tembo.

Christopher Nolan, 44, Irish poet, playwright, novelist and memoirist, Under the Eye of the Clock (Whitbread Award 1987). Robert Woodruff Anderson, 91, playwright and screenwriter, Tea and Sympathy. Daphne Rook, 94,  South African novelist, A Grove of Fever Trees. Elizabeth Berridge,  100, British novelist and short story writer, Across the Commons. Louise Cooper, 67, British fantasy writer, Time Master trilogy. Barbara Parker 62, Edgar-nominated South Florida crime novelist, the Suspicion seres. William G. Tapply, 69,  New England mystery novelist, the  Brady Coyne series.  Sheila Walsh, 80, British romance novelist,  The Golden Songbird. Keith Waterhouse, 80, British playwright, television writer and novelist, Billy Liar. Bud Shrake, 78, Texas novelist, sportswriter, celebrity biographer, screenwrite, Blessed McGill.

We salute you all for the pleasure you’ve given us. RIP.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. January 1, 2010 10:37 pm

    Wow, I didn’t realize so many greats were lost. Marilyn French’s book changed my life, my perspective, my marriage, my purpose . . . and just must say I am not a raging bra-burner, John Updike changed my view of fiction, my desire to write, my acceptance of my generation. Many nods to the others. Thanks for the summary Chauncey.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    January 2, 2010 12:11 am

    I thought it was important to note not only the easily recognized greats, but also some of the minor and genre writers who passed this year. They gave a lot of pleasure during their careers. And some writers who once were thought great but who fell by the wayside, like Hortense Calisher. W.D. Snodgrass, James Purdy, John Mortimer. Thanks for catching the blog on a holiday.

  3. Tommy permalink
    January 2, 2010 1:50 am

    What caught my eye is the age of all these departed writers.

    Woodruff Anderson, 91
    Norse, 92
    Rook, 94
    Calisher, 97

    With the majority of the rest living into their seventies and eighties. Long live writers, and writers live longer.

    With the exception being E. Lynn Harris, 54 (Basketball Jones) from cardiac arrest. Thanks to your blog I am now intrigued by this writer. IBM salesman turned author.. And a successful author at that. 10 consecutive New York Times best selling books. Most of which dealt with closeted homosexual African-Americans. I doubt very few fiction writers could have thought that scenario up. Seems like not only did the Gay and Lesbian community lose an advocate the world lost a brave writer.

  4. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    January 2, 2010 10:15 am

    Yes, Harris was a very successful pioneer of G&L and also African American popular fiction. He made the world safe for romantic books about black bisexual men and the communities in which they live. Keep in mind, however, that first and foremost he is a popular novelist. If you want something more literary and challenging, he’s not your guy.

  5. Nancy Fenske permalink
    January 2, 2010 1:34 pm

    Goodbye Stuart Kaminsky
    Despite my sadness, I had to smile when I read the NY Times Obit. They misspelled “Lew Fonesca”,, is a copy and paste of the correction. Life imitates art!

    This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
    Correction: October 15, 2009
    An obituary on Wednesday about the mystery novelist Stuart M. Kaminsky misspelled the surname of one of his series characters. The “depressive process server working in Sarasota” is Lew Fonesca, not Fonseca.

    Link to obit:

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 3, 2010 12:41 pm

      Stuart was a craftsman, so this would make him cringe, but he had a wry sense of humor, so I’m sure he’d be smiling, too.

  6. January 2, 2010 2:02 pm

    Great article. It brings back memories of some I did not know they had gone. I here a shrill woman’s voice saying loudly, ” Mortimer” Mortimer, where are you”
    I do not recall what it is from. Some great writers.

  7. Gerry McKay permalink
    January 3, 2010 7:34 pm

    It was really nice of you to mention my husband, Reg McKay, but it is right to mention that he was only 56.

  8. January 4, 2010 1:01 pm

    Updike’s death hit me the hardest. The Centaur is my favorite Updike novel, a work of profound literary art as are all four of the Rabbit books, especially Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, as are Couples and In the Beauty of the Lilies and probably more, but those are the novels I’ve read, along with perhaps forty or so of his short stories, among which “Pigeon Feathers,” “A&P,” and “The Music School” are tidy little masterpieces. “Pigeon Feathers” sums up his heartbreaking view of dying: “His own dying, in a specific bed in a specific room, specific walls mottled with a particular wallpaper, the dry whistle of his breathing, the murmuring doctors, the dutiful relatives going in and out, but for him no way out but down, into that hole. Never walk again, never touch a doorknob again.” He hated leaving us, and I personally hate it that he’s gone.

  9. rachel permalink
    January 7, 2010 12:53 pm

    This is really sad. It is also really comforting in some way. I mean partially at least because most of the numbers were in the 70s and 80s.

    Sorry for the late commenting.

    Marilyn French’s “The Women’s Room” changed my life. And like Deborah, it changed my perspective and my purpose. It really made me think about who I am and how I act in the world and how I am treated by men, by women, by society and how I want people to treat me.

    W.D. Snodgrass had a great impact on me. He wrote one of the best poems I have ever read, a poem which has lived inside me since I was a teenager: “A Locked House.”

    I think that this is a great thing you have done here Chauncey Mabe. And I wish I could have seen it in print. On a page that I could hold in my hands. But this will have to do. Thank you.

  10. June 25, 2010 6:10 pm

    Nice one =)) =^_^=

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