People who died: Authors we lost in 2009
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.