Quentin BellAugust 19, 1910–December 16, 1996British author, artist, critic, and biographer

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Quentin Bell August 19, 1910–December 16, 1996 British author, artist, critic, and biographer

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Bell is best known as the biographer of his aunt, Virginia Woolf. The son of Woolf's older sister, Vanessa Bell, and Clive Bell, his childhood was influenced by the writers and artists who made up the Bloomsbury Group, including Woolf., E. M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, and Vita Sackville-West. Upon its publication in 1972, Bell's Virginia Woolf: A Biography became a definitive source among Woolf scholars and established Bell as a careful, fair-minded writer. As was the case with the other Bloomsbury personalities, Bell was accomplished in a number of fields. In addition to nonfiction writing, which included studies of fashion, art, and design, Bell wrote a novel, The Brandon Papers (1985), and a memoir, Bloomsbury Recalled (1996). Bell was a lecturer in art education at King's College and professor of fine art at Oxford and the University of Leeds, and also served as chair of history and theory of art at the University of Sussex.

Erma BombeckFebruary 21, 1927–April 22, 1996American journalist and humorist

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Erma Bombeck February 21, 1927–April 22, 1996 American journalist and humorist

By finding humor in life's most annoying situations, Bombeck became one of America's most popular writers. Her syndicated column, "At Wit's End," which debuted in 1965, was a lighthearted look at the challenges of family life and led to more than a dozen best-selling books of her collected essays, including At Wit's End (1967), The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank (1976), If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1978), Family: The Ties That Bind … And Gag! (1987), and When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It's Time to Go Home (1991). Bombeck donated her $1.5 million advance fee and all proceeds from I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise (1989), in which children with cancer and their families recount their stories, to cancer research; she received the American Cancer Society Medal of Honor in 1990. Bombeck had lived with polycystic kidney disease since age 20; she died of complications after a kidney transplant.

Joseph ErodskyMay 24, 1940–January 28, 1996Russian-bom American poet, author, and educator

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Joseph Erodsky May 24, 1940–January 28, 1996 Russian-bom American poet, author, and educator

Brodsky's poetry earned him the wrath of the government in his native Russia and the love of critics, peers, and readers in his adopted America. After enduring ten years of persecution, a trial, and sentencing to an Arctic labor camp for his poetry, deemed inflammatory by the Russian government, Brodsky was exiled and emigrated to the United States in 1972. Settling in Michigan with the help of W. H. Auden, Brodsky began his academic career as poet-in-residence at the University of Michigan. He became a U.S. citizen in 1977. Brodsky's writings brought him considerable acclaim, including the 1981 MacArthur Award, the 1986 National Book Critics Circle Award (for the 1984 memoir Less Than One), and the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature. He became the first foreign-born person to serve as U.S. Poet Laureate in 1991. Among his best-known works are the poetry collections A Part of Speech (1977) and To Urania (1988), and Less Than One. His most recent publications included a play, Marbles (1989), and a book of prose, Watermark (1992). For the last fifteen years of his life, Brodsky was Andrew Mellon Professor of Literature at Mount Holyoke College. Though he traveled widely, Brodsky never returned to Russia. [For further information on Brodsky's life and career, see CLC, Volumes 4, 6, 13, 36, and 50.]

Georges DubyOctober 7, 1919–December 2, 1996French historian, author, and editor

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Georges Duby October 7, 1919–December 2, 1996 French historian, author, and editor

Duby was a medievalist noted for his ability to bring history to life. "A fine and prolific writer, in France he did more than almost anyone else to stimulate popular interest in history," a London Times obituarist noted. Among his writings were Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West (1962), The Age of the Cathedrals: Art and Society 980-1420 (1976), and what many consider his finest work, Le dimanche de Bouvines (1973), translated as The Legend of Bouvines (1990).

Hannah Green1927–October 16, 1996American novelist and educator

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Hannah Green 1927–October 16, 1996 American novelist and educator

Green published just one novel in her lifetime, but it was, according to Robert McG. Thomas Jr., "one slender novel of such delicately distilled perfection that she could hardly bring herself to compose another." The Dead of the House met with widespread critical acclaim upon its initial publication in 1972 and again when it was reissued in 1996. Critics lauded Green's painstaking attention to the craft of fiction writing, noting that the "new author" was a forty-six-year-old creative writing teacher who had studied with Vladimir Nabokov and Wallace Stegner and had worked on The Dead of the House for close to twenty years. Green began a second book in 1971 and spent twenty-five years perfecting it. Golden Spark, Little Saint: My Book of the Hours of Saint Foy, a fact-and-fiction account of the life of a twelve-year-old French girl betrayed by her father and martyred when she refused to renounce her faith, is scheduled to be published by Random House next year. [For further information on Green's life and career, see CLC, Volume 3.]

Eugene "Guy" Izzi1953(?)–December 7, 1996American mystery writer

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Eugene "Guy" Izzi 1953(?)–December 7, 1996 American mystery writer

The death of "Guy" Izzi, a crime writer whose own tough upbringing in a steel-mill neighborhood on Chicago's South Side provided much of the gritty background for his novels, was officially ruled a suicide but remains a mystery to many. Izzi was found hanging outside the window of his locked fourteenth-floor office in Chicago, an apparent suicide, but he was wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying chemical defense spray and brass knuckles in his pocket, and his face and body were bruised, prompting some to suspect murder. Izzi's friends and family said he had no reason to kill himself—he had a wife and children and a new book set for publication—and also said that Izzi had recently received threats from a militia group angered by his undercover investigation of their operations. A third theory, that the author's death was accidental, was prompted by investigators' discovery at the scene of several computer diskettes containing an unfinished novel which ends with the protagonist, a Chicago mystery writer, suffering an attack by militia members who tie a noose around his neck, attach the rope to a metal desk, and throw him from his office window. The story ends, however, with the writer pulling himself back up the rope and killing his attackers. The similarities of the story and Izzi's death prompted some to speculate that the author may have been attempting to simulate the action in the story in an effort to add realism to his writing. Izzi's novels include Bad Guys and Eighth Victim (1988), The Booster and King of the Hustlers (1989), Invasions and Prime Roll (1990), Tribal Secrets (1992), and Tony's Justice (1993). A Matter of Honor: A Novel of Chicago, Izzi's last work, was published May 1, 1997.

Walter KerrJuly 8, 1913–October 9, 1996American journalist, author, playwright, and drama critic

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Walter Kerr July 8, 1913–October 9, 1996 American journalist, author, playwright, and drama critic

Respected for his vivid, involving accounts of theatrical productions, Kerr earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for the body of his critical work. Kerr received bachelor's and master's degrees in speech from Northwestern University, then joined the faculty of Washington, D.C.'s Catholic University, where he directed, wrote, and adapted plays for student productions, some of which reached professional theaters and even Broadway. Having developed Catholic University's drama program into what was described in Time magazine as "the finest nonprofessional theater in the country," Kerr began his career as a critic in 1949 with Commonweal, but built his reputation writing for the New York Herald Tribune from 1951 to 1966. When the Herald ceased publication, Kerr moved to the New York Times, where he worked until his retirement in 1983. In addition to his collected criticism, Kerr wrote books including How Not to Write a Play, Criticism and Censorship, and The Silent Clowns, now considered the definitive source on the comedians of the silent film era. The Ritz Theater in Manhattan was restored and renamed the Walter Kerr Theater in 1990. Upon the announcement of his death, Broadway theaters' marquee lights were dimmed in his honor.

Paul Henry Oehser1904–December 4, 1996American writer, editor, and conservationist

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Paul Henry Oehser 1904–December 4, 1996 American writer, editor, and conservationist

Oehser was affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, serving in the editorial division from the early 1930s until his retirement as editor in chief in 1962. Before joining the Smithsonian staff, he had worked as a scientific editor for the Bureau of Biological Survey in the U.S. Agriculture Department. After his retirement, Oehser edited scientific reports for the National Geographic Society until 1975. Oehser was a member of a number of conservationist groups, and served on the Governing Council of the Wilderness Society. Among his writings were the history books Sons of Science and The Smithsonian Institution and two poetry collections, Fifty Poems and The Witch of Scrapfaggot Green.

Margret ReyMay, 1906–December 21, 1996German-born American children's author and illustrator

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Margret Rey May, 1906–December 21, 1996 German-born American children's author and illustrator

Rey and her husband, H. A. Rey, were the creators of "Curious George," the much-loved, mischievous monkey of children's stories. Both Reys were artists, but for the Curious George books she wrote the stories and he created the illustrations. The couple wrote the first Curious George adventure in the 1930s while living in Paris; they rode bicycles out of town to escape the German occupation in 1940, carrying the unsold manuscript with them. After making their way to New York, the Reys sold Curious George to Houghton Mifflin, which published it in 1941. The pair went on to pen six more original Curious George stories, and Rey created 28 more tales with Alan J. Shalleck. The series has sold more than 20 million copies in 12 languages. Rey also published five other books, including Spotty and Pretzel, and oversaw the large merchandising program of Curious George products. Shortly before her death, Rey contributed $1 million each to the Boston Public Library to improve the children's rooms in its branches and to Beth Israel Hospital's Center for Alternative Medicine for Research.

Carl SaganNovember 9, 1934–December 20, 1996American physicist, astronomer, and author

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Carl Sagan November 9, 1934–December 20, 1996 American physicist, astronomer, and author

An astronomer who brought the universe's "billions and billions" of stars into the nation's living rooms with the television series Cosmos in 1980, Sagan became a best-selling and Pulitzer Prizewinning author and a popular television personality. Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, remarked, "Carl Sagan, more than any contemporary scientist I can think of, knew what it takes to stir passion within the public when it comes to the wonder and importance of science." Among Sagan's research topics were the search for life elsewhere in the universe, the origin of life on Earth, and the potential for a devastating cooling of the atmosphere, or "nuclear winter," after a nuclear war. In addition to his numerous nonfiction works, including Cosmos, Pale Blue Dot, and Comet, Sagan wrote a novel, Contact, which became a best-seller and will be released as a film next year. Along with his Pulitzer, Sagan received numerous awards from the scientific community, including the National Academy of Science's highest honor, the Public Welfare Medal, and the NASA Medal for Distinguished Public Service twice. [For further information on Sagan's life and career, see CLC, Volume 30.]

George StarbuckJune 15, 1931–August 15, 1996American poet and educator

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George Starbuck June 15, 1931–August 15, 1996 American poet and educator

Once described as the "thinking man's Ogden Nash," Starbuck was known for poems that "explored profound themes with such a dazzling display of pun, parody and pyrotechnic wit that critics seemed too busy laughing out loud to take him seriously," Robert McG. Thomas Jr. noted. Starbuck began college at age 16 intending to become a mathematician, but soon turned to poetry writing. He spent years at Cal Tech, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and Harvard, where he studied with Archibald MacLeish and Robert Lowell and associated with fellow students Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, but never received a degree. He did, however, receive the Yale Younger Poets Award in 1960 for his first collection, Bone Thoughts. Later collections included White Paper (1968), Elegy in a Country Church Yard (1974), and The Argot Merchant Disaster: New and Selective Poems (1982). Starbuck taught at several schools early in his career and served almost twenty years as director of the graduate writing program at Boston University. [For further information on Starbuck's life and career, see CLC, Volume 53.]

Diana TrillingJuly 21, 1905–October 23, 1996American essayist, editor, and literary critic

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Diana Trilling July 21, 1905–October 23, 1996 American essayist, editor, and literary critic

A respected author, editor, and critic in her own right, Trilling fought to build a reputation for herself apart from that of her husband, Lionel Trilling, one of the century's leading literary critics and authors. She often joked that the headline of her obituary would read, "Diana Trilling Dies at 150. Widow of Distinguished Professor and Literary Critic Lionel Trilling," Trilling was hired as the Nation's book reviewer on the recommendation of her husband; there she began the work that would lead to five books and three collections of essays and reviews, while gaining respect among readers and other critics as an uncompromising, intelligent and insightful writer. After her husband's death in 1975, Trilling edited a twelve-volume edition of his work. The book that brought her the greatest amount of public attention was Mrs. Harris: The Death of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor (1981), a journalistic account of the trial of Jean Harris for the murder of her husband, Herman Tarnower. In 1993, as macular degeneration robbed her of her sight, Trilling dictated her memoir, The Beginning of the Journey: The Marriage of Diana and Lionel Trilling. Early in 1996, she finished her last book, A Visit to Camelot, about an evening at the White House during John F. Kennedy's presidency.

Laurens van der PostDecember 13, 1906–December 15, 1996South African poet, linguist, philosopher, anthropologist, and explorer

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Laurens van der Post December 13, 1906–December 15, 1996 South African poet, linguist, philosopher, anthropologist, and explorer

In a life filled with a variety of experiences and accomplishments, Van der Post grew up in South Africa, survived for over three years in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II, later attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel and served on the staff of Lord Mountbatten, and became a trusted advisor to Britain's Prince Charles and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who knighted him in 1981. At age 21, he began writing what would be the first anti-apartheid novel ever published, In a Province (1934); in later writings he sought to prevent the destruction of the Kalahari Desert and its indigenous Bushmen (The Lost World of the Kalahari, 1958, and The Heart of the Hunter, 1961), and encouraged forgiveness for his Japanese torturers in the memoir The Seed and the Sower (1971), later filmed as Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Van der Post was a proponent of Carl Jung's theory of the collective subconscious, and influenced Prince Charles's thinking on that and a number of other topics, from multiculturalism to the need for modern Britain to tolerate non-Christian religions. [For further information on van der Post's life and career, see CLC, Volume 5.]

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Obituaries (Vol. 91)