Introduction

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Obituaries

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In addition to the preceding authors, the following notable writers died in 1997:

Kathy AckerApril 18, 1948–November 30, 1997American novelist, essayist, and short story writer

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Kathy Acker April 18, 1948–November 30, 1997 American novelist, essayist, and short story writer

A controversial avant-garde writer and cult figure of the punk movement, Kathy Acker was considered among the most significant proponents of radical feminism and the postmodern literary aesthetic. Associated with the discordant, irreverent music of punk rock, Acker's iconoclastic metafiction—an amalgam of extreme profanity, violence, graphic sex, autobiography, fragmented narrative, and plagiarized texts—rejects conventional morality and traditional modes of literary expression. Her best known works, including Great Expectations, Blood and Guts in High School, and Don Quixote, feature female protagonists whose psychosexual misadventures—involving rape, incest, suicide, and abortion—underscore their individual struggles to discover meaning and identity in deconstructed patriarchal language and sexual masochism. She believed it is through the body that people come to their deepest meanings, pleasures, and agonies. Acker was the author of the screenplay Variety, and her later works included Bodies of Work, a collection of essays, and Eurydice of the Underworld, a book of short stories.

Robbie Tilley BranscumJune 17, 1937–May 24, 1997American children's author

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Robbie Tilley Branscum June 17, 1937–May 24, 1997 American children's author

Branscum's stories for children mirrored the environment in which she was raised, and focused on the hardships and joys of country life. She grew up in Big Flat, Arkansas, dropped out of school in the seventh grade, married at age fifteen, divorced at age twenty-five, and after that worked on dirt farms. She was an avid reader and decided to try writing when a Southern Baptist newsletter accepted her essay "Men Who Walked with God." During her writing career she won many awards, including a Friends of American Writers Award in 1977 for Toby, Granny, and George and an Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1983 for The Murder of Hound Dog Bates: A Novel. Branscum wrote about rural America in her fiction, including topics such as moonshine, berry picking, and fried chicken. She frequently toured colleges and library associations to speak about her life and the trials of being a writer whose education had ended with the seventh grade.

Leon EdelSeptember 9, 1907–September 5, 1997American biographer and professor

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Leon Edel September 9, 1907–September 5, 1997 American biographer and professor

Best known for his five-volume biography of Henry James, Edel spent most of his life completing research for this work. It was while he was living in Paris that his interest in James was aroused, leading to his in-depth research. Edel talked to people who had known James, tracked down letters written by James, and had sole unrestricted use of thousands of manuscript letters at Harvard and elsewhere. He wore a ring that had belonged to James and, according to a London Times reviewer, colleagues teased Edel, telling him that he wasn't just researching James but was, in truth, married to his work. Edel taught at New York University from 1953 to 1978. He then moved to Hawaii, and continued to teach at the University of Hawaii. Edel received a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1963 for the second and third volumes of Henry James. Edel also wrote biographies on Willa Cather, Henry David Thoreau, and James Joyce.

Percy GrangerAugust 8, 1945–March 10, 1997American playwright, screenwriter, and actor

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Percy Granger August 8, 1945–March 10, 1997 American playwright, screenwriter, and actor

Granger, a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University, was a founding member of Manhattan's Ensemble Studio Theater. He made his Broadway playwrighting debut in 1982 with Eminent Domain. An active part of the theatre, he started producing plays in 1972 with The Complete Works of Stud Edsel, a semi-autobiographical work about an idealistic law student who flees to Canada to escape the draft. Granger was also the author of the plays Scheherezade, The Dolphin Position, and Vivien, and the screenplays My Brother's Wife and The Comeback. He was one of the creators of the daytime television soap opera Loving, and contributed to the soap As the World Turns.

Helene HanffApril 15, 1916–April 9, 1997American playwright, screenwriter, and author

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Helene Hanff April 15, 1916–April 9, 1997 American playwright, screenwriter, and author

Hanff was an unheard-of freelance author, writing for television shows like "Playhouse 90," "The Adventures of Ellery Queen," and "Hallmark Hall of Fame" before the release of her book 84, Charing Cross Road in 1970. Called charming by reviewers, the book is actually an epistolary memoir containing letters written between Hanff, in New York City, and Marks & Co bookseller Frank Doel, in London. Hanff, self-taught and a voracious reader, started writing to the used bookstore in 1949 when she began her life-long quest as a book collector. Although the letters from Doel were originally very succinct and business-like, by the time Doel died, he and Hanff were fast friends, and Hanff had been invited to visit him in London several times. It wasn't until after Doel's death, when Hanff published 84, Charing Cross Road, however, that she raised enough money to finally visit London. After her visit, where she met Doel's wife, she published The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Later books were Underfoot in Show Business and Letter from New York.

Charles KuraltSeptember 10, 1934–September 4, 1997American journalist and writer

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Charles Kuralt September 10, 1934–September 4, 1997 American journalist and writer

The recipient of three Peabody Awards and twelve Emmys, Kuralt worked for CBS for thirty-seven years as a journalist. At twenty-five he became the youngest correspondent for CBS, covering the Vietnam War and reporting from many Latin American countries, as well as becoming the anchor on "CBS News Sunday Morning." He was the author of over a half dozen books, including The Perfect Year and Dateline America, but his real fame came from his "On the Road" reports written over a period of thirteen years, from 1967 to 1980. Traveling around the country in a motor home, Kuralt covered stories that other reporters found unimportant. He did pieces on the wonders of nature and everyday miracles like the sharecropper in Mississippi who managed somehow to put nine children through college. Kuralt inherited his love of travel, he said, from his father, who used to take him on his social work supervisory trips, telling him history tidbits about the areas through which they were passing to keep him entertained. In 1981 Kuralt received the George Polk Memorial Award, and in 1985 he was named the Broadcaster of the Year by the International Radio-Television Society.

Judith MerrilJanuary 21, 1923–September 12, 1997American science fiction writer

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Judith Merril January 21, 1923–September 12, 1997 American science fiction writer

Merril was one of the first female writers to enter the science fiction genre. Known as a pioneer of feminist ideas, her first science fiction story, about a mother's devoted love for a child deformed by radiation, was published in 1948 in Astounding Science Fiction magazine. Along with Isaac Asimov, James Blish, C. M. Kornbluth, and Frederick Pohl, she was associated with a group of science fiction enthusiasts called the Futurians. She was the editor of several anthologies of the best science fiction stories, widening the horizons of what was accepted as science fiction by her choice of stories published outside the usual magazines. Her 1950 novel about nuclear war, Shadow on the Hearth, was made into the film Atomic Attack. She later donated her collection of science fiction books to the Toronto Public Library, forming the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy, one of the largest research centers for science fiction in the world.

Ann PetryOctober 12, 1908–April 28, 1997American educator and writer

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Ann Petry October 12, 1908–April 28, 1997 American educator and writer

Petry was best known for her first novel, The Street, the first major literary novel about life in Harlem. Petry grew up in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, a member of one of the few black families in the area, and was only exposed to Harlem for a nine-month period in which she worked in a Harlem experimental after-school program. However, she was considered a woman of great empathy and imagination, and her book about Ludie Johnson and Ludie's eight-year-old son Bub became an instant success upon its release in 1946. She wrote two other novels—Country Place, 1947, and The Narrows, 1953—but neither received the acclaim of her first novel. Petry later wrote books for young adults and children, including Tituba of Salem Village and Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad. After 1970 she limited herself to writing articles for college journals.

V. S. PritchettDecember 16, 1900–March 20, 1997British author, reviewer, biographer, and journalist

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V. S. Pritchett December 16, 1900–March 20, 1997 British author, reviewer, biographer, and journalist

Pritchett was a writer whose optimistic portrayals of everyday life gave him a career writing reviews and essays for the Christian Science Monitor, the New Statesman, and the Nation, as well as some forty books of short stories, essays, literary criticism, novels, biographies, and travelogues. Best known for his short stories, including "When My Girl Comes Home," "A Sense of Humor," "The Camberwell Beauty," and "The Fly in the Ointment," he was knighted in 1975 for his services to literature. Gore Vidal, the well-known American author, said of Pritchett, "I reviewed a book of his essays about twenty years ago. I said I thought it would be very nice for literature if he lived forever." In the first volume of his autobiography, A Cab at the Door, Pritchett describes his early childhood, punctuated by constant moves to escape his father's creditors. It was this, he relates, that led to his love of travel and to such books as Dublin: A Portrait. Pritchett was also known for his sensitive biographies, among them Balzac, The Gentle Barbarian: The Life and Work of Turgenev, and his most famous, Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free.

A. L. RowseDecember 4, 1903–October 3, 1997British historian and writer

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A. L. Rowse December 4, 1903–October 3, 1997 British historian and writer

Rowse, the author of one hundred books of history, poetry, literary criticism, biography, and autobiography, was known as an expert on the Elizabethan Age. He was a fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, and in 1996 was made the Companion of Honor, a coveted royal honor bestowed for "conspicuous national service." He is best known for his The Elizabethan Age, a four-volume set of books exploring Elizabethan history, that received nearly universal acclaim for being historically accurate and vividly written. He is also credited with discovering that the "Dark Lady" in Shakespearean sonnets was Emilia Bassano Lanier. His comment to London's Daily Telegraph about those who didn't believe his evidence in support of this discovery was, "You imagine the impudence of these people answering me back over the Dark Lady. If they haven't the sense to see that I am the greatest authority on the Elizabethan Age, then I've no objection to telling them." Famous for being acerbic and brutally honest, Rowse, in an interview with the London Times in 1983, summerized his reasons for studying British history in one sentence: "This country's past is infinitely more fascinating than its future."

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Obituaries (Vol. 119)